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The Warsaw Voice » The Polish Science Voice » November 28, 2013
Technology
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Breath-Controlled Wheelchair
November 28, 2013   
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A movement of the head and blowing air into a special tube are enough to move a wheelchair built by a young researcher from the Wrocław University of Technology in southeastern Poland. He is now working to upgrade his invention to make it more intuitive.

At first glance, this breath-controlled wheelchair built by Marcin Skóra, a Ph.D. student at the Faculty of Electrical Engineering at the Wrocław University of Technology, looks like an office swivel chair with an additional pair of wheels and a handset with a tube attached to it. The wheelchair is intended for patients who do not have enough strength in their legs and arms to operate an ordinary wheelchair. The wheelchair can also be used by people who have paralyzed limbs but can freely move their heads.

Getting around in this wheelchair is simple. It is enough to just sit in it, put on the headphones with a tube attached to them, blow air into the tube, and tilt your head—and off you go, Skóra says.

The direction of the wheelchair’s movement and its speed depend on how the user tilts their head. If the user tilts his or her head at an angle to the left or right, the wheelchair will turn in the desired direction. The greater the head tilt, the faster the wheelchair will travel.

Blowing air into a pressure sensor placed in the tube, together with a movement of the head, signals to the device that the user wants to move.

Learning to operate the wheelchair does not take too long, but first-time users need some practice. “At first you are not very precise, but you can quickly master the basic movements,” says Skóra.

The wheelchair moves on four wheels, two of which are powered by separate motors. The headphones and related components serve as a control module for the device. The main purpose of the headphones is to be a platform for the accompanying equipment. The main measurement and control component is a circuit board that has to be placed on the user’s head. The tube and the pressure sensor are attached to it.

Skóra has developed the wheelchair as part of his master’s project at the Institute of Electrical Machines, Drives and Measurements at the Wrocław University of Technology.

Skóra says he now wants to upgrade his design as part of his doctoral dissertation. He plans to improve the control system so that the wheelchair becomes more intuitive and user friendly. He also wants to use modern motors in the wheelchair and minimize the occurrence of electronic and drive-system failures.

It is difficult to say at this point how much the wheelchair will cost after it is put on the market, Skóra says. The cost of the parts and components used to build the prototype was about zl.2,500. However, this does not include the cost of hiring employees or workshop equipment, Skóra says.

Although the media have reported extensively on the innovative wheelchair, there has been little response from industry and investors, Skóra says, adding that sponsors are needed to help continue work on the wheelchair.

The breath-controlled wheelchair was singled out for praise at a national contest for young innovative researchers organized earlier this year by the Industrial Research Institute for Automation and Measurements in Warsaw. The inventor has also won an award from the Siemens company.

Skóra says he does not plan to apply for a patent for his wheelchair, because the design is already widely known after having being described in detail by the media.

Olga Majewska
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