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Self-driving wheelchairs may help those with spinal cord injuries

Canadians with disabilities often seek technology to accomplish daily tasks. Those with spinal cord injuries across British Columbia may have a new option soon. A team of researchers have developed self-driving technology for power wheelchairs.

The hype about self-driving cars led a team of Canadians to consider how wheelchairs could be improved with artificial intelligence. Their research has found ways to make wheelchairs not only more user-friendly, but also less expensive. They claim the product they are developing will cost between $300 and $700, a far cry from the $30,000 price tag of other autonomous wheelchairs currently on the market.

The technology is designed to help people who have issues that limit upper body movement. These include those with hand tremors, ALS or spinal chord injuries. The technology is a work in progress, but if developed it could provide many opportunities for people with mobility issues and secondary issues that make traditional wheelchair operations challenging.

Currently, the technology for individuals in British Columbia who cannot use a wheelchair joystick is limited to eye-tracking technology or "sip and puff" devices. These can be very tedious to use. An alternative such as an autonomous wheelchair would be a helpful alternative to these people. The sensors affixed to the models in development will help the chair avoid obstacles and could be utilised in non-autonomous wheelchairs as well to ensure a smoother pathway.

While researchers are working to create a low-cost product, the reality for many people with spinal cord injuries is that the tools and support needed to accomplish daily tasks can be incredibly expensive. Liability, insurance and other issues come into play when dealing with these expenses. A lawyer can help to ensure these expenses are appropriately covered for those who have been in an accident.

Source: sudbury.com, "Canadian researchers develop technology for self-driving wheelchairs", Michelle McQuigge, July 21, 2017

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