- World’s first wheelchair-assisting technology for helping in stair navigation and upright movement.
- Anticipated technological advancement to elevate life quality for individuals with lower-limb disabilities.
The Korea Institute of Machinery and Materials (KIMM) has unveiled a robot wheelchair with innovative features to assist people with lower-limb disabilities. The wheelchair incorporates two primary modules: a “stair-climbing module” and a “standing module”.Researchers emphasized the shift from merely offering mobility to genuinely enhancing accessibility for disabled individuals. They highlighted the university’s commitment to bettering the lives of disabled people and developing compassionate robot technologies for humanity’s welfare. This research is part of the institute’s foundational project to support the independent lives of individuals with lower-limb disabilities.
Innovative Crawler Design
The stair-climbing module, devised by a team from KIMM’s AI Robot Research Division, employs a concealed “ㄹ”-shaped crawler, similar to tank tracks, positioned beneath the wheelchair. This crawler emerges when needed, aiding in ascending and descending stairs and overcoming previous challenges faced by conventional crawler-based wheelchairs, which often slide on staircases.
The standing module utilizes a distinctive parallelogram structure combined with self-weight compensation technology. This technology reduces the torque produced by the robot’s weight, allowing the wheelchair’s motor power to be diminished by up to 80%. The module facilitates five different user postures: standing, lying back, leaning forward or backward, and adjusting the seat height. These posture changes alleviate pressure points, potentially preventing bedsores and enhancing blood circulation.
The two modules can function separately or be combined into a singular robot wheelchair. This integrated design allows users to climb stairs, stand, and transition between various postures. Such advancements are anticipated to alleviate spatial restrictions faced by individuals with lower-limb disabilities substantially.
Further advancing the technology, the research team introduced “transforming wheels”. These wheels, inspired by the surface tension of water droplets, change their rigidity and form based on encountered obstacles. On flat terrain, they function as regular wheels. However, upon encountering barriers, they adapt to navigate over them. This breakthrough holds promise for future robot wheelchair designs and other mobility robots.