Researchers from Luleå University of Technology in Sweden are developing a wheelchair that senses its environment in 3D and transmits this information to its user. It features a laser scanner that uses a time-of-flight technique to map its surroundings in 3D. A haptic robot, held in the left hand, translates this data to useful information for the user, enabling one to feel obstacles, essentially acting as a virtual white cane. A joystick is used with the right hand for steering.
The wheelchair is now in the initial testing phases, being trialed out in the corridors of the university buildings. Future improvements include modification of the laser to detect low-height objects using full 2D measurements with a 3D camera. The wheelchair might be available in approximately five years according to the researchers.
Press release: Successful first test drive of “sighted” wheelchair…
(hat tip: Engadget)