Electric Powered wheelchairs (EPWs) are essential for improving quality of life for those with limited mobility. Currently available EPWs perform well in flat indoor environments, but fare worse when encountering common outdoor conditions such as slick or rocky terrain, steep slopes, and curbs or stairs. Lost stability can lead to falls and serious injuries. The Mobility Enhancement Robotic Wheelchair (MEBot) is a rugged indoor/outdoor alternative that allows users to negotiate natural and architectural obstacles while maintaining a level seat.

Technology Description

MEBot is a dual power system of air and electricity. Its base uses a six-wheel design, similar to many current EPWs. What sets MEBot apart is that the position of each wheel is controlled by six independent pneumatic actuators. The MEBot is also outfitted with sensors and an onboard computer that allow the chair to detect and conquer obstacles automatically. Currently, the MEBot can climb a curb or single step in the laboratory without user guidance. Likewise, when the MEBot encounters a slippery surface that would leave other EPWs spinning their wheels, its sensors activate a program that inches the chair along by picking up the smaller casters, extending them, and placing them down again. While overcoming these obstacles, the combination of sensors and pneumatic actuators maintains a stable, level seat.

Advantages

  • Can be used both indoors and outdoors
  • Automatically handles slopes, curbs, and challenging terrain
  • Maintains a level seat to prevent falls

Applications

  • Increasing mobility and independence of wheelchair users in both urban and natural settings
  • Autonomous military robots

IP Status

PCT patent filed on September 23, 2016

Stage of Development

The MEBot wheelchair is in transition from prototype to clinical trials where 10 able-bodied subjects will use MEBot to test feasibility and repeatability of the wheelchair while 10 wheelchair users will rate MEBot with their own wheelchair under controlled real-world environments.

Notable Mentions

  • Earned the title of “Best New Concept” in the 2016 Blackwood Design Awards in Scotland, with the judges citing that “it was very clear that it was designed by wheelchair users, for wheelchair users”
  • Competed in the first ever Cybathlon for Robot-Assisted Parathletes in Switzerland in 2016