Scientists from the Chiba Institute of Technology have built a robotic wheelchair that can climb steps and overcome various other obstacles.
The wheelchair, which is currently only a prototype, can lift its wheels to go over obstacles, adjust the seat to stay level when traversing uneven terrain, and turn while standing in one spot.
The user does not need to worry about the details — simply aiming the wheelchair into the desired direction with a joystick is enough to start moving, and the robotic sensors, together with the four-wheel drive will take care of the rest. Once it encounters a tough obstacle, it can also use its wheels as legs.
“We were particular about using wheels, because this kind of vehicle will mostly move on ordinary paved surfaces. The most efficient way of getting around on paved surfaces is to use wheels, like a car. So, this robot mainly uses wheels, but the wheels can become legs,” says Shuro Nakajima, project leader and associate professor at the Chiba Institute of Technology.
The wheelchair is not yet ready for mass production, but it’s working well enough to show it to the world, says Nakajima. “In the next phase, we’ll get a variety of people to try it, so we can fine-tune the user experience,” he says.