A Robotic Wheelchair That Can Climb Stairs

By David Wharton | 8 years ago

For a long time, folks confined to wheelchairs had the same problem as Doctor Who’s Daleks: stairs were a serious problem. Sure, most places have elevators or ramps to help accommodate people, there are inevitably going to be times when somebody needs to get somewhere and the only path is up some stars. The good news: while we don’t have Dalek antigravity technology, we do have a wheelchair that can climb stairs.

That snazzy contraption was cobbled together by the fine people of the Chiba Institute of Technology. The “robotic wheelchair” concept has a base that can rotate on five axes. That allows it, as demonstrated in the video above, to lift its wheels into the air and make its way up stairs or over obstacles. Now, I’m betting this wouldn’t work for every type of stairs — I’m imagining spiral staircases would still be a serious problem — but for small flights, say leading up to a shop, this could work out great.

Here are some more details on how the robo-wheelchair works, courtesy of the Chiba Institute of Technology.

The robot has sensors on its feet, to see if there’s anything nearby. It can also see how far it is from a step. It actually has various sensors, and it uses them in combination, to assess how big a step is. Even if the sensors are in error, and the wheels touch an obstacle, the wheel torque can vary, so the robot can use that as back-up, too. In this way, the robot can detect the road surface reliably.

If a sensor detects a step, the robot calculates whether it can lift that leg. It can’t raise its wheels right away, so the steering system at the rear makes preparatory motions to gain stability. When the wheels can be raised stably, the robot lifts its legs.

It’s a very cool concept, so let’s hope it soon becomes available. It’s the sort of thing that could really help improve a lot of people’s lives in a very basic way.

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