Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


The “MeBot” robotic wheelchair can climb steps on its own


Pittsburgh-based Human Engineering Research Lab (HERL) has developed the first ever robotic wheelchair – the MeBot – capable of climbing steps and mounting curbs on its own. The innovation came up against other systems at the first Cybathlon, which will take place at ETH Zürich in Kloten, Switzerland on October 8.

Steps and curbs currently pose a significant issue for wheelchair users. Even the most modern technologies are unable to surmount these obstacles automatically – instead, users have to ask for help, or need a ramp or have to build up momentum to climb up. As Rory Cooper, Director of the HERL points out, “The latter option is particularly dangerous for users, as they risk falling out of the wheelchair, injuring themselves or even being hit by a car”.

Fraunhofer IPA has integrated a radar unit in the MeBot, which accurately detects obstacles like stairs and triggers the automated mounting process.

Source: Fraunhofer IPA, Photo credit: Rainer Bez

With three wheel units, the robotic wheelchair known as “MeBot” makes it possible for the first time to climb steps and curbstones.

Source: HERL, Photo credit: Michael Lain

Six-wheeled wheelchairs can get over obstacles bit by bit

The HERL hopes that the MeBot will provide a solution to this issue. The world’s largest research laboratory with a focus on wheelchairs has developed a robotic system which can automatically climb steps and curbs. The base of the robot is a pedestal with six wheels, arranged in pairs. The central and largest wheel unit is for driving, while the forward and rear wheel units are for steering.

All three pairs of wheels can move horizontally and vertically, independently of each other. As soon as the robot detects an obstacle, the first pair of wheels extends, lifting the vehicle. The middle unit then rises independently which lifts the vehicle over the edge. The final pair of wheels then follows suit. Cooper explains that “This mechanism allows the system to mount obstacles, bit by bit – like a caterpillar”.

Radar module allows object recognition, whatever the weather

Expertise in signal recognition and processing is necessary for the MeBot to mount curbs and steps. This is where researchers at Fraunhofer IPA came into play. The team, led by Bernhard Kleiner, Group Manager for Motion Control Systems, has integrated a radar unit which detects objects with a high degree of accuracy and activates the automated process to mount the obstacle. For this to happen, the system emits beams, which measure the height of the step or curb.

This data allows the steering unit to know exactly how the wheelchair needs to be positioned in order to mount the obstacle. If the wheelchair is parallel with the object, the automated mounting process is launched and the step is mounted. Kleiner explains: “We chose a radar measuring unit because, unlike laser or infrared technologies, the system is resistant to environmental influences. Rain, the cold, fog or humidity should not pose a problem”. These features mean that radar systems can be used for many different industrial applications. For example, the IPA scientists have already developed a human detector for robots, as well as other industry 4.0 technologies.

Strengthening international research cooperation

At the Cybathlon, held at ETH Zürich, the MeBot will demonstrate that it is capable of far more than just climbing steps. The demanding course features six obstacles, including narrow doors, a slalom course and ramps. Although it will take several years before the innovation can be put into practice, Kleiner is sure that “HERL’s wheelchair competence combined with our expertise in signal processing means that MeBot is fully capable of maneuvering the chicanes. Our colleagues at the HERL have developed an initial prototype, which we now need to test and make faster”.

The MeBot is not the only innovation being developed jointly by Fraunhofer IPA and the HERL. The two institutes have collaborated in the field of military and civil rehabilitation for many years. Kleiner explains: “HERL experts are focused on wheelchair technologies, whereas we are responsible for drive technology and sensor concepts”. Together, the two partners have worked on a number of developments, including a pneumatically driven wheelchair.

Specialist contact persons:

Bernhard Kleiner (Fraunhofer IPA), Tel. +49 711 970-3718,

Rory A. Cooper (HERL), Tel. +49 412 822-3700,

Weitere Informationen:

Jörg Walz | Fraunhofer-Institut für Produktionstechnik und Automatisierung IPA

More articles from Power and Electrical Engineering:

nachricht 'Super yeast' has the power to improve economics of biofuels
18.10.2016 | University of Wisconsin-Madison

nachricht Engineers reveal fabrication process for revolutionary transparent sensors
14.10.2016 | University of Wisconsin-Madison

All articles from Power and Electrical Engineering >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia

21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine

Stanford researchers create new special-purpose computer that may someday save us billions

21.10.2016 | Information Technology

From ancient fossils to future cars

21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>