Saitama University’s Human-Robot Interaction Center is doing R&D on care support robots.
This wheelchair, developed by the Center, is a standard wheelchair with a camera and laser sensor attached. It has been designed to automatically track and follow the person next to it.
“The wheelchair uses this distance sensor to check the position of the person. With position checking alone, the wheelchair can follow behind someone. But when the wheelchair is moving alongside someone, it needs to be able to detect which direction that person wants to go. For this reason, the wheelchair uses a distance sensor to check which way the person’s shoulders are facing. That tells the wheelchair which direction the person wants to go, and it automatically adjusts its own position, so it keeps to the left of the person.”
The wheelchair can move together with a companion while automatically making decisions, such as moving in single file in narrow corridors and when passing people coming the other way.
“This wheelchair is currently being field-tested in care facilities. Such facilities sometimes don’t have enough staff, so a single helper has to push two wheelchairs. In that case, with wheelchairs like this, which can follow automatically, you can have two, three, or four moving together. And because wheelchairs can move alongside helpers, it’s easy for people to talk. So we aim to use this type of wheelchair in practical applications.”