Robotics such as this, which showcase the idea that robots can be explicitly utilized to help humans, has us eagerly anticipating the future. Just watching the video below, which shows how easy the wheelchair handles following a human companion around, makes us realize how helpful robots will be the more advanced they become. That whole "self-aware" thing aside, this robotic chair from the Human-Robot Interaction Center in Saitama University, in Japan, is a great way for helpers to help those confined to a wheelchair.
The image may not show it off well enough, but the chair is rigged with a few sensors, and a camera that sits atop that extended piece above the back of the chair. The camera system works to track not only the person that it is following, but also those around it. It's able to follow someone because it tracks the position of the companion's shoulders, and anticipates which directly they are facing, so it knows which way to turn, and how far to go. The video showcases why it's such a great idea: a wheelchair-bound person's companion usually has to push them around, and therefore if something comes up where they need immediate assistance, they may not be able to get to them fast enough. But, having the wheelchair follow them, and therefore freeing up their hands, makes that assistant all the more helpful.
And thanks to the distance sensor, the wheelchair can avoid not only stationary obstacles, like chairs and desks, but also people. If a group, or an individual, is walking toward the chair, it will automatically avoid that obstacle. And according to the engineers behind the project, apparently they can have two chairs follow a single person. Check out the video below to see it in action, thanks to DigInfoNews out of Tokyo.