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FRoSt Lab
Field Robotic Systems Lab

Autonomous Wheelchair Navigation

By leveraging techniques from autonomous driving, we are developing an autonomous all-terrain stairclimbing wheelchair that can enable those with limited control to experience the outdoors and travel to locations not previously accessible to them.

Why Autonomous Wheelchair Navigation?

Over 3 million Americans have disabilities that require them to use a wheelchair full-time. While ADA regulations have improved accessibility in many areas, for example by requiring ramps that provide access to buildings and extra space for unloading wheelchairs from vans in parking lots, our society is not truly accessible. Obstacles such as a simple curb can often be a significant barrier to someone with mobility difficulties. The outdoors in particular can be especially out-of-reach. Hiking or walking paths that are labeled as "easy" or "stroller-friendly" are often impassible to someone with a wheelchair.

Furthermore, the freedom and independence that a wheelchair provides are not accessible to everyone with a mobility disability. Many people with significant brain or spinal injuries do not have sufficient control to operate a wheelchair through complex, dynamic, or unsafe environments.

We are interested in utilizing autonomy and many of the sensors and techniques used in robotic navigation to support people with these disabilities and enable them to access environments and experiences currently out-of-reach.

Our Goal

We are developing an all-terrain, autonomous wheelchair system that utilizes the same sensors, algorithms, and methods used by autonomous cars and fighter jets to enable people with a range of disabilities greater access to their environment and our world (both indoors and out).

By utilizing state-of-the-art navigation and localization techniques our system is able to create a 3D map of its surroundings and determine its location within that map with a high degree of accuracy. After estimating this 3D model of the environment, we can use it to make decisions about where to go and what to do resulting in an autonomous wheelchair that is able to navigate through environments entirely on its own.

We can then build on this ability to develop a system that balances an individuals goals, desires, and control with autonomy resulting in a merged-control system that optimally utilizes the autonomy to give the user the help they desire while maximizing their independence.