Research news

A wheelchair that can handle stairs

Robotic wheelchair during stair climbing.
Image source: Sebastjan Šlajpah, Faculty of Electrical Engineering, University of Ljubljana

Publish Date: 03.12.2018

Category: Outstanding research achievements, Interdisciplinary research

A robotic electric-powered wheelchair, developed at the Faculty of Electrical Engineering at the University of Ljubljana, can overcome most common obstacles encountered by disabled people—stairs, curbs and slopes. 

Authors: Matjaž Mihelj, Janez Podobnik, Jure Rejc, Sebastjan Šlajpah, Marko Munih

Electric-powered wheelchairs considerably improve the quality of life of persons with motor disabilities, but beside normal driving, they cannot overcome the most common obstacles (stairs, curbs, slopes). In Robolab, a laboratory of the Faculty of Electrical Engineering at the University of Ljubljana, a group of researchers (Matjaž Mihelj, Janez Podobnik, Jure Rejc, Sebastjan Šlajpah, Marko Munih) developed a wheelchair concept with:

  •  Four-wheel drive with independent turning of each wheel (allowing normal driving, parallel left/right movement and turning on place);
  • Track system for traversing more demanding terrain (pavements, stairs, slopes);
  • Ergonomically designed seat with the ability to actively adjust the inclination (ensures the stability of the wheelchair on the ramp and the comfort of the user);

Fourteen motors provide functionality, while thirty sensors and an advanced control system are responsible for controlling the wheelchair and advanced driving modes. A partially autonomous ride was tested. The solution allows the implementation of advanced sensor technologies and studies of ergonomics. The current system is useful for research purposes and is a good basis for developing a consumer version of the wheelchair.

At the Cybathlon Competition (Zürich, Switzerland), which promotes the development of assistive technologies, a paraplegic user with the team of the University of Ljubljana overcame all the obstacles and achieved a bronze medal. A unique achievement is the cover paper in the IEEE journal RAM.

Reference: Podobnik J., Rejc J., Šlajpah S., MunihM. Mihelj M. All-Terrain Wheelchair: Increasing Personal Mobility with a Powered Wheel-Track Hybrid Wheelchair, IEEE Robot Autom. Mag., 4 (2017), 26-36.

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