Driverless technology has gone beneficial not just for the transport sector itself but for the mankind as a whole.
MIT has introduced a self-driving wheelchair that can mobilize and help greatly the people who can’t walk.
Over the past few months, CSAIL’s (MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory) self-driving wheelchair has become a familiar sight around the MIT halls.
The invention has become a great opportunity to test the mobility device in a real world setting. As students wander by in groups, deep in conversation or face down in their smartphones, their paths are unpredictable and collisions are a very real possibility.
Talking about significance, the real world testing is exactly why the chair exists in the first place. It’s hard to test autonomous cars in out on the streets.
It turns out there’s a lot of red tape involved when it comes to trying out driverless technology in the real world — particularly in a densely populated city like Boston.
Nearby military bases have popped up on the list of possible locations, but in the meantime, the school needed ways to try out their ideas before scaling them up to two ton pieces of rolling metal. The wheelchair serves as a good middle ground between real and remote control cars, letting researchers iterate more quickly on their ideas. The fact that the product could have real world applications for people with mobility issues is something of a happy coincidence.
“The current research that’s being done is using it more as a platform, but there are people who are discussing doing research specifically on the chair,” says Thomas Balch, an MIT robotics software engineer.
Balch said MIT has invested researches that greatly beneficial to people with disabilities over the past years of his career in the institution.
“A lot of the research I’ve seen people doing since I’ve been [at CSAIL] has been focused on helping people with disabilities deal with things more easily,” Balch said.
Furthermore, the chair feature the same LIDAR scanners the school is using on their full-sized cars, along with a mapping technology CSAIL developed way back in 2010 for use on the streets of Singapore, long before autonomy became the buzz word it is today.
Also that system, mounted on top of the wheelchair, creates a 3D map of the fixed points around it — in this case, the irregularly-spaced walls of the Frank Geary-designed Stata Center. A smaller scanner up front, meanwhile, detects obstacles in its way.
Speaking about the experience, the ride is slow and smooth — as you’d hope from an electric wheelchair. When the system detects a person, it slowly comes to a full stop, readjusts its position and drives around the person in its way.
The process took around 10 to 15 seconds. If anything, the system is probably overly cautious at this point, stopping any time someone passes in its periphery.
An abundance of caution is a fine quality in a wheelchair, but in this case, probably not something you want in a car.
As of now, the invention will greatly help the disability communities in the world.
The availability of the self-driving wheelchair has not yet disclosed to public as of writing.