Published: 05th July 2018
These students from Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham developed a self-driven wheelchair that costs less than Rs 1 lakh
The students' biggest challenge was to curb the cost within Rs 1 lakh. But they made sure that they develop a product that is accessible to the common man
Twenty one-year-old BTech student Chinta Ravi Teja, with his classmates Sarath Shreekantha and Akhil Raj at Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, was working on developing a joystick-controlled wheelchair for his college project. It could help the wheelchair-bound to commute without having to accessing the wheels. But the trio wasn't happy with their product. For them, there was something missing — they wanted to make something that has not been built before.
"That's when we thought that we should build a wheelchair that doesn't need a joystick," Teja begins. That was the beginning of Self-E, a revolutionary wheelchair that is capable of autonomous navigation. It's exactly what you think it is — a wheelchair that helps you move without you having to even move a finger. Self-E’s autonomous operation allows users to relax and sip a cup of coffee, read a newspaper or chat with friends as the wheelchair takes them to the desired destination point on its own. But how does it do it?
Teja explains how: It creates a map of the surrounding space using a laser sensor and displays it through a smartphone app. The user can then touch any point on the generated map, and the wheelchair will drive to that place automatically without user intervention, he says. And the smart kids also have a way to deal with the obstacles on the way. "As it work on laser technology, the wheelchair stops and re-routes in case it senses a obstacle in the way," Teja says.
The trio has also made sure that it reaches the common man. "The sensors that the companies use are expensive and aren't affordable. Our aim to make this wheelchair accessible to all," he said. So, the young inventors of Amrita have managed to produce the prototype at a cost below Rs 1 lakh. "Developing a cost-efficient self-driving wheelchair wasn't easy for us. We used a single LiDAR sensor to keep the overall costs of the product as low as possible," Teja said.
The development of an algorithm for the self-driving wheelchair to perfectly map the environment and plan the proper path to the destination was the first challenge. We used the Robotic Operating System (ROS) to address this successfully. The second challenge was avoiding dynamic obstacles like people and pets while the Self-E was navigating to the destination. The LiDAR sensor along with the Robotic Operating System helped by detecting such obstacles and recalculating a new path to the destination.
Sarath Shreekanth, student at Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham
All a user has to do is set the surroundings on a the map and download the app and they are good to go. It can be used at home, public indoor places, community halls and where they have to visit frequently.
Dr Rajesh Kannan Megalingam, Assistant Professor of Electronics and Communications and Director of the Humanitarian Technology Lab at Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, mentored the undergraduate engineering students and was the brains behind the project. He said, “The Self-E self-driving wheelchair is unique in the sense that it is the first self-driving wheelchair in India built by research lab of a university without any collaboration with foreign universities or companies. It now needs to be tested in different environments like hospitals and airports with patients and wheelchair users. The current version is a successful prototype and, with the help of the Technology Business Incubator of Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, we hope to commercialise the product.”
And it looks like it will be commercialised soon. The trio worked really hard on it even after their exams were over in December. "We worked day in and day out on this project even after our exams. And it is paying off well now," he says.