Constantly being talked down to is bad enough, but wheelchair users also have to deal with the problem of accessing items that are often located out of their reach. A research team from Taiwan’s National Cheng Kung University (NCKU) has developed the “i-Transport” robotic vehicle that is designed to get wheelchair users on their feet so they can carry out conversations eye to eye and grasp hard-to-reach items.
Developed by a team led by professors Fong-Chin Su and Tain-Song Chen from the NCKU Department of BioMedical Engineering (BME), the i-Transport lets users move around while seated, then lifts them upright to a standing position (or anything in between) when required. The user is supported by the seat, which shifts from a horizontal to an almost vertical position, a padded harness that sits against the user’s lower back, shin pads and handlebars at the front that the user can lean on.
The electric robotic vehicle is powered by a field-programmable gate array (FPGA) chip containing a Nios II multi-core processor and can calculate whether the vehicle’s current load or configuration – be it sitting or standing –is unsafe for the user based on physiological parameters. The vehicle also features an embedded health monitoring system that tracks the user’s blood pressure and breathing.
“The invention is definitely a boon for the physically challenged people,” said a student who tried out the i-Transport at BME, adding that the device, which is designed to help the daily lives of the disabled, has become much lighter and more mobile.
Whether the vehicle actually makes it out of the NCKU lab to help the disabled remains to be seen, but its creators say it attracted a lot of attention when displayed at a recent forum hosted by Taiwan's Ministry of Education.