Robotic Wheelchair: Mall Shoppers Dream Come True?

May 31, 2011
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This is a sweet project that might make people who don’t even need a wheelchair want to try it out. You make an appointment via a smartphone for this robotic wheelchair to meet you outside of a shopping mall. It drives itself, has plenty of safety features for maneuvering within crowds, and can take a shopper directly to a specifically requested department. This wheelchair even remembers a shopper’s favorite / regular products, suggesting and navigating to those items automatically.

At ATR Intelligent Robotics and Communication Laboratories, researchers showed off this cool new robotic wheelchair from the Ubiquitous Network Robot (UNR) project. It’s coming out of the robot capitol of the world, Japan. The wheelchair is packed pull of innovative platforms like GPS, ubiquitous sensor networks and mobile devices to automatically meet a shopper at the mall entrance to pick her up and take her shopping.

As seen in the video below, an elderly lady called ahead via her smartphone to reserve the wheelchair which logged her details and GPS coordinates in order to meet her outside the front of the mall at the appointed time. She needed no additional human assistant to get inside the mall or to shop. This chair can also be controlled by a Wii controller.

Not only does this robotic wheelchair seemed to be aimed toward aging baby boomers, it is fitted with many safety features to keep the shopper feeling at ease. The on-board laser rangefinders help prevent any collisions when maneuvering around other shoppers and obstacles within the mall. The shopper can choose to drive the chair, or can sit back and let the robotic wheelchair do all the driving. Being GPS-enabled, the chair can plot the best route even when the mall is overly busy and packed with people.

Another “backup” safety feature includes a remote operator. This allows a person to remotely steer the shopper and chair by using a combination of 3D graphical interface rich map data, human positioning data, and video from an omni-directional camera.
Future versions of this robotic chair might include “linking” with smartgrid appliances like a shopper’s refrigerator to automatically create a shopping list and then guide the shopper to those products in a grocery or department store.

Image credit: ATR Intelligent Robotics and Communication Laboratories

Author: Tessa