Breakthrough. A voicetech powered wheelchair for under $250

Image: 张 学欢 on Unsplash
Alex Stockwell

Indian EEE students create remarkable voicetech powered wheelchair at a remarkably accessible price

For their final year project, six engineering students hailing from Pallakad, southern India, have used their skills and collective know-how to create a lightweight and affordable voicetech powered wheelchair.

Rather than just focusing on just getting good grades alone, the Electrical and Electronics Engineering (EEE) students decided on building something helpful and socially relevant as well, opting to work on a voice-controlled chair for people who couldn’t afford an expensive, high-end wheelchair.

After two months of development the team of young inventors are hoping it’s well received by the medical community, potentially turning their idea into a lucrative start-up.

Homespun voice-controlled wheelchair made affordable

Today there is still a huge sector of the global populace finding it difficult to get through their daily activities without the assistance of a wheelchair, and typically that wheelchair is either push-based, or motorized and controlled with a joystick.

Not only are these motorized or automatic chairs not always suitable for those with acute disabilities such as paraplegia or quadriplegia, they’re also insanely expensive.

Electric wheelchairs in India can cost anywhere between $600 and $6000 USD, but the voice-controlled wheelchair developed by the students in Pallakad cost them just Rs 8,000 to build. That’s barely $120!

Granted, the chair is still very much a prototype, but they do say that, if built properly using a fiber frame, the final product would still cost a little over Rs 15,000 or $225. The lighter weight material would also reduce the weight of the wheelchair and improve its operation.

Currently, the device is comprised of an iron frame attached with a set of cycle wheels, and is capable of carrying weight of up to 165lb.

The chair is powered by using the motor of a car windshield wiper, and processes voice commands via a small chip called a “voice module” attached to the wheelchair’s micro controller.

“Right now we have programmed the device in such a way that it listens to English commands, but it can be easily be re-programmed for any Indian languages,” says Mithun Mohan, one of the young developers of the device.

The team is looking to the future for their device after receiving an initial positive response, “A doctor recently made a call to know more the device. We would like to take the initiative forward depending on the enquiries we get,” Mithun concludes.

The future for smart tech in accessibility

If money wasn’t a constraint, engineers like the team at Pallakad could undoubtedly deploy a number of emerging technologies to create the very best of accessibility technology.

Students from MIT are developing a device called AlterEgo, which essentially is like a mind reading device that can tell what it is you want to say before the words have passed your lips. Using electrodes to pick up on miniscule electrical signals, the device can figure out what you’re internally verbalizing and then use accompanying processing to speak it for you.

Imagine then combining the wheelchair developed by the students from Pallakad, and the AlterEgo device from MIT, in order to create a state-of-the-art chair for those with conditions such as pseudocoma or other forms of extreme paralysis.

Now we’re motoring!

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