- Deakin University’s Applied AI Institute (A2I2) worked with Australian med-tech pioneers, Control Bionics, in developing the world’s first autonomous driving wheelchair module for the home.
- The module can be added to a user’s electric wheelchair.
- The system can guide a wheelchair within a home environment to any number of locations within centimeters to give precise location accuracy and safe, controlled movement every time.
When the doorbell would ring at Brodie Shaw’s home, she would have to wait in her chair wherever she was in the house for someone to tell her who was there. Now, with the launch of world’s first autonomous driving wheelchair module for the home, Brodie can travel up the hall and see who is there for herself.
It is a small freedom, but the smile on her face tells us everything we need to know about the difference autonomy can make for wheelchair users like Brodie in their homes.
The word Brodie used to describe the feeling of her chair navigating around her home without another person controlling it was ‘calm’.
DROVE gives users like Brodie a newfound sense of freedom to navigate the world. Image: Control Bionics
World-first tech to improve independence
This incredible lifestyle change for people like Brodie has been bought about by researchers from Deakin University’s Applied AI Institute (A2I2), working with Australian med-tech pioneers, Control Bionics, to develop the world’s first autonomous driving wheelchair module for the home.
The DROVE module can be added to a user’s electric wheelchair and can guide a wheelchair in a home environment to any number of locations within centimeters, giving precise location accuracy and safe, controlled movement every time.
The DROVE technology integrates with Control Bionics’ wireless sensor device NeuroNode, to give those living with restricted movement, cerebral palsy, motor neurone disease, multiple sclerosis or spinal cord injuries greater independence.
Deakin Project Lead, Dr Srikanth Thudumu, said the challenge was to overcome the limitations of traditional joystick-controlled models of electric wheelchairs, offering a more user-friendly and autonomous navigation experience.
“At A2I2, we developed a state-of-the-art digital twin with a user interface that displays a virtual representation of a user’s home. This interface enables users to select a destination, while our advanced control system ensures safe navigation within the home environment.”
DROVE can enable wheelchairs to navigate doorways and tight hallways, reverse and detect and stop for unexpected obstacles. The system can also make tasks easier by ensuring the wheelchair is always in the correct position.
“Additionally, we have incorporated an override mechanism that allows users to regain manual control at any time,” Dr Thudumu said.
DROVE can enable wheelchairs to navigate doorways and tight hallways, reverse and detect and stop for unexpected obstacles. Image: Control Bionics
A successful collaboration
Access to assistive devices can greatly improve a users’ quality of life, and there is a growing market in Australia for cutting-edge assistive technology thanks to funding through the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). The world-first scheme currently supports around 600,000 participants with individualised funding plans – the DROVE device can be funded under the scheme for eligible participants.
With the expanding capabilities of AI and internet of things (IoT) devices, there are more opportunities to improve assistive technologies and enhance peoples’ independence.
Control Bionics is a key player in the assistive technology industry, creating dedicated speech generating devices and accessories for people with complex communication and physical needs.
The ASX-listed company, which has offices in Australia, the US, Canada and Japan, connected with A2I2 to capitalise off the Institute’s unique expertise and testing rigour to develop the digital twin.
Lester Lo, Product Executive at Control Bionics said the team at A2I2 brought a wealth of AI and robotics skills for the development of the digital twin project.
“The process (of collaborating with Deakin) was quite smooth – the A2I2 team picked up the tech quickly and were able to complete their testing independently.”
A2I2 has a valuable and strong collection of intelligent scientists that are familiar with the newest innovations in technology. They bought a regimented and deep knowledge to testing DROVE and on report writing.
Lester Lo, Control Bionics
Dr Thudumu and the team at A2I2 specialise in translational AI research, focusing on applying state-of-the-art AI advancements to solve real-world problems, working with industry and government partners including Australia’s Defence Science Technology Group.
The development of the world-first technology behind the DROVE module was supported by an Australian Government Innovation Connections grant, facilitated by CSIRO.
The SME Connect program helps Australian start-ups, small and medium take ideas from concept through to execution to drive business growth.
CSIRO SME Connect Facilitator Angela Wu said it has been a pleasure being involved with the DROVE project.
“As an SME Connect Facilitator, it’s so rewarding to support this kind of innovation,” Wu said.
“The launch of DROVE is a testament to Australia’s talented research community and innovative companies. It also shows what we can achieve with collaboration and a vision to use technology to change people’s lives for the better.”