Brazilian researchers develop a wheelchair that can be controlled through small facial, head or iris movements. Roselle Chen reports.
Brazilian researchers have developed this powered wheelchair that can be controlled through small facial, head or iris movements. They say it could be used by people who have suffered a stroke or have limited use of their hands and arms. The team, based at the Campinas State University in Sao Paulo, began looking into signals that allow communication between the brain and an external device in 2011. Paulo Gurgel Pinheiro is part of the research team and founded start-up company Hoo-Box to help develop the project for the market. SOUNDBITE (Portuguese) PAULO GURGEL PINHEIRO, RESEARCHER, SAYING: "We can say this is the first program in the world capable of extracting the user's facial expressions to control a wheelchair without our needing to place a sensor on the user's face. It works with great efficiency, allowing the user to use the wheelchair in their day to day life." The prototype was built from a standard motorized wheelchair. The team removed the joystick and added sensors that gauge distances. A 3D RealSense camera, capable of identifying 78 facial points, is attached to a laptop, which processes and sends commands directly to the chair. With this, simple movements around the mouth, nose and eyes can be translated into forward, backward, left, right and stop commands. Wi-Fi was also installed in the chair, allowing a caregiver to take the helm through a remote control, should the wheelchair user get tired. The team hopes to develop the project to be available on the market within the next two years.