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A robotic wheelchair trainer: design overview and a feasibility study

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eScholarship - University of California
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Abstract

Abstract Background Experiencing independent mobility is important for children with a severe movement disability, but learning to drive a powered wheelchair can be labor intensive, requiring hand-over-hand assistance from a skilled therapist. Methods To improve accessibility to training, we developed a robotic wheelchair trainer that steers itself along a course marked by a line on the floor using computer vision, haptically guiding the driver's hand in appropriate steering motions using a force feedback joystick, as the driver tries to catch a mobile robot in a game of "robot tag". This paper provides a detailed design description of the computer vision and control system. In addition, we present data from a pilot study in which we used the chair to teach children without motor impairment aged 4-9 (n = 22) to drive the wheelchair in a single training session, in order to verify that the wheelchair could enable learning by the non-impaired motor system, and to establish normative values of learning rates. Results and Discussion Training with haptic guidance from the robotic wheelchair trainer improved the steering ability of children without motor impairment significantly more than training without guidance. We also report the results of a case study with one 8-year-old child with a severe motor impairment due to cerebral palsy, who replicated the single-session training protocol that the non-disabled children participated in. This child also improved steering ability after training with guidance from the joystick by an amount even greater than the children without motor impairment. Conclusions The system not only provided a safe, fun context for automating driver's training, but also enhanced motor learning by the non-impaired motor system, presumably by demonstrating through intuitive movement and force of the joystick itself exemplary control to follow the course. The case study indicates that a child with a motor system impaired by CP can also gain a short-term benefit from driver's training with haptic guidance.

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