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University team developing voice-activated automatic wheelchair

Professor Daisuke Azuma, right, and another member of the research team test out the automatic wheelchair in Kurume, Fukuoka Prefecture, on Aug. 21, 2017. (Mainichi)

KURUME, Fukuoka -- A research group has developed an automatic wheelchair that responds to voice commands, and performed a demonstration of the technology here on Aug. 21.

    The Kurume Institute of Technology team designed the self-driving device so that those with disabilities and the elderly could casually get about. Starting with experiments at a local shopping district, the researchers are aiming to have a working model after three to five years.

    The wheelchair would allow a user to say the name of their desired destination to a smartphone or other device, which would confirm the place using GPS. From there, a route calculated using information from the internet could be selected. Video from a camera installed in the chair would be analyzed using AI technology to avoid obstacles as it travels automatically to the destination.

    If the user says, "I'm hungry," a list of restaurants would be displayed. Likewise, if the rider needed to use the restroom, nearby facilities would be suggested. The destinations need to be registered to the device ahead of time, and possible locations would be limited to museums, shopping districts and sightseeing spots at the moment.

    "We want to spread a new system throughout society that both increases opportunities for those with mobility issues to go out more often while also lessening the burden on their caretakers," said professor Daisuke Azuma, the head of the university's intelligent mobility laboratory.

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