Singapore is steadily becoming a hotbed of innovation, and this is being represented overseas as well. A Singaporean team has won a Hackathon at MIT Hacking Medicine Robotics on 32 Carpenter Street. Using software and hardware provided by Segway called Loomo, all competitors found their own way of turning the technology into one useful for healthcare. Botler, the winning team, has made autonomous wheelchairs. Whilst the technology is not consumer ready, it’s a fascinating look into the future.
Botler and autonomous wheelchairs
Speaking with e27 at the event, team leader Kok Yuan Yik explains what made them focus on making an autonomous wheelchair. “We observed the challenges faced when hiring caregivers and the labour intensity involved in managing wheelchair users. Thus, we asked ourselves why not ‘hack’ Loomo to autonomously ferry the wheelchair users around?” With this technology, patients can be moved to where they need to be without someone in attendance. Like so much else these days, there is an accompanying app to keep an eye on all wheelchairs.
Botler admits that there is still a lot of work to do before it can even be considered for consumer use. Significantly, auto-charging was a difficult issue to solve. The hardware used to transform the wheelchairs have a range of 29km which is not insignificant. However, for a device designed to lessen reliance on helpers, this is a serious issue. “Other than the capability to attach itself to the wheelchair autonomously, the mechanism would also need to be adapted to the unique driving behaviour of a self-balancing Segway. To also make it fully autonomous, we included a self-charging capability which was incorporated into the Botler docking mechanism further adding to its complexity,” Kok explains. Other than that, the main issue is that the wheelchairs move too quickly. The baseline robot moves at 17.7km/hr, which could throw the occupant from their seat.
Should Botler be able to make a finalised product, there is no shortage of potential patients. Dementia sufferers, for example, will greatly appreciate the afforded mobility. In any case, this is a commendable achievement by a Singaporean team.