AI Wheelchair watches out for danger

During a senior citizen's charity barn dance last year, my grandmother was the victim of a very slow hit-and-run incident when one of the other participant's wheelchairs ran over her foot.  With tragedy like this lacing our streets on an almost bi-daily basis, it's a corn-fed shock to the system that wheelchair users are not required to pass some sort of pavement safety testing scheme.  Thankfully, Japan's National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) are doing something about it.

This complicated and somewhat floral camera array is capable of 360 degree observation, giving whatever computer it is attached to a blind-spot free image of the surrounding world.  In co-operation with the National Rehabilitation Center for Persons with Disabilities, AIST have fashioned a concept wheelchair which borrows from the risk-monitoring systems used in the automotive industry, the same systems which allow, say, the Mercedes S-Class to automatically apply the brakes should it calculate a collision with the car ahead is likely.

Combined, these technologies of environmental monitoring and risk assessment results in a wheelchair which remains aware of potential hazards around it and its occupant and can decelerate or stop accordingly.  Given the reliable and pervasive AI, the wheelchair is even capable of being commanded into motion by pointing in the direction the occupant wishes to go.

The prototype will be demonstrated at the 2006 Home Care and Rehabilitation Exhibition taking place in Tokyo between September 27th and 29th, following which it will be run through the rigorous testing that is required prior to reaching a commercial point.

AIST press release [via Pink Tentacle]