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
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, email@example.com
Rory A. Cooper (HERL), Tel. +49 412 822-3700, firstname.lastname@example.org
Jörg Walz | Fraunhofer-Institut für Produktionstechnik und Automatisierung IPA
A big nano boost for solar cells
18.01.2017 | Kyoto University and Osaka Gas effort doubles current efficiencies
Multiregional brain on a chip
16.01.2017 | Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences
An important step towards a completely new experimental access to quantum physics has been made at University of Konstanz. The team of scientists headed by...
Yersiniae cause severe intestinal infections. Studies using Yersinia pseudotuberculosis as a model organism aim to elucidate the infection mechanisms of these...
Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.
While superconductivity and magnetism are generally believed to be mutually exclusive, surprisingly, in this new material, superconducting correlations...
Laser-driving of semimetals allows creating novel quasiparticle states within condensed matter systems and switching between different states on ultrafast time scales
Studying properties of fundamental particles in condensed matter systems is a promising approach to quantum field theory. Quasiparticles offer the opportunity...
Among the general public, solar thermal energy is currently associated with dark blue, rectangular collectors on building roofs. Technologies are needed for aesthetically high quality architecture which offer the architect more room for manoeuvre when it comes to low- and plus-energy buildings. With the “ArKol” project, researchers at Fraunhofer ISE together with partners are currently developing two façade collectors for solar thermal energy generation, which permit a high degree of design flexibility: a strip collector for opaque façade sections and a solar thermal blind for transparent sections. The current state of the two developments will be presented at the BAU 2017 trade fair.
As part of the “ArKol – development of architecturally highly integrated façade collectors with heat pipes” project, Fraunhofer ISE together with its partners...
19.01.2017 | Event News
10.01.2017 | Event News
09.01.2017 | Event News
20.01.2017 | Awards Funding
20.01.2017 | Materials Sciences
20.01.2017 | Life Sciences