Thought control wheelchair: The 'Aviator' is a thought-controlled wheelchair developed in NSW, Hung Nguyen describes how it works.
Life could soon get easier for those with a severe disability.
Researchers at the University of Technology, Sydney have developed technology to allow severely disabled people to move around more easily by using their minds to control their wheelchairs.
They hope to commercialise the project within three years.
At present, there are few ways for those who are severely disabled to move around in their wheelchairs. The two most common ways are the "chin stick" and "sip and puff" methods.
Both methods require physical movement. The chin stick method requires a user to operate a wheelchair using their chins, while the sip and puff method requires a user to blow air on to sensors to move around.
Nguyen and his team at the Centre for Health Technologies have been working on a product that reads brainwaves using an electrode, which allows the user to command a wheelchair, telling it which way to go.
There are four commands: forward, left, right and stop. To go forward, you simply need to think of a dice moving forward. If you want to go left, you compose a letter. If you want to go right, you think of solving a maths problem, and if you want to stop, you close your eyes.
Nguyen told this website that the thought-controlled wheelchair was for those "with severe disabilities [who] cannot use their hands, for example". Over the years, he said, he has been working on "a few different technologies" to deal with those in wheelchairs with severe disabilities. One technology involves wearing a baseball cap and moving your head the way you want to go.
Nguyen said the technology had been 15 years in the making. "I started with the head movement [technology] first," he said. "I've been working with neuroscience for more than 10 years now - to understand how the brain works - and we've developed the electronics [to] interface with the wheelchair [so that it can] be made smaller and [still] decipher the information."
How it works
Nguyen said the thought-controlled wheelchair worked by looking at certain brainwaves and how they react to certain thoughts. "But we don't look at that specifically," he said. "We look across the board at what is actually happening. We look at the spectrum and we decipher the information directly. At first we'll try to have one size fits all but we'll have in the device later on the ability to adapt it to what you think."
Nguyen said he was "not actually sure at the moment" how much it was actually going to cost. "I hope it will be, it could be, maybe $1000 or $3000," he said. "It depends on the complexity, you know, what we want to have - the features with the device." He said the technology was still in prototype and that his team was trying to get people to fund it. "We're starting to have financial support and that sort of thing," he said.
Put to the test
Nguyen said the technology had still to be tested on severely disabled people, but that it had been tested on those without a disability. "I only start with people without disabilities for now because we want to be careful," he said. "I've been working with people at the .... rehab centre and so they are very aware of what we do and so once we're ready we will have a number of different studies involving people with severe disabilities but we just want to make sure that everything is working fine first." He said his team would need about $1 million to get the project commercialised and that, so far, the project had received grants of more than $500,000.
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