A team at Chiba Institute of Technology has rolled out a new robotic wheelchair that can climb over steps, ditches, and other roadblocks.
The four-wheel-drive, five-axis vehicle maneuvers like a typical wheelchair — except when it encounters an obstacle. Then it uses its wheels like legs. The Chiba chair can also align its wheels for easier turning in tight spaces.
“The robot has five sensors on its feet, to see if there’s anything nearby,” team leader Shuro Nakajima, a Chiba associate professor, says in the DigInfo TV video below. “It can also see how far it is from a step.” The robot’s various sensors can also assess a stair’s size, a step up from current stair-climbing wheelchairs that require level steps to operate.
The wheelchair user commands the direction of the device using a joystick, but the robot does the rest of the work. It can keep its seat level when it senses uneven terrain such as a bumpy lawn, and can also line up its wheels and extend stabilizers to the left and right, enabling it to turn in a circle. This maneuver makes it easy for users to reverse direction, even in narrow spaces.