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A robotic wheelchair trainer: design overview and a feasibility study

  • Author(s): Marchal-Crespo, Laura
  • Furumasu, Jan
  • Reinkensmeyer, David J
  • et al.
Abstract

Background: Experiencing independent mobility is important for children with a severe movement disability, but learning to drive a powered wheelchair can be labor intensive, requiring hand over hand assistance from a skilled therapist. Methods: To improve accessibility to training, we developed a robotic wheelchair trainer that steers itself along a course marked by a line on the floor using computer vision, haptically guiding the driver's hand in appropriate steering motions using a force feedback joystick, as the driver tries to catch a mobile robot in a game of "robot tag". This paper provides a detailed design description of the computer vision and control system. In addition, we present data from a pilot study in which we used the chair to teach children without motor impairment aged 4-9 (n = 22) to drive the wheelchair in a single training session, in order to verify that the wheelchair could enable learning by the non-impaired motor system, and to establish normative values of learning rates. Results and Discussion: Training with haptic guidance from the robotic wheelchair trainer improved the steering ability of children without motor impairment significantly more than training without guidance. We also report the results of a case study with one 8-year-old child with a severe motor impairment due to cerebral palsy, who replicated the single-session training protocol that the non-disabled children participated in. This child also improved steering ability after training with guidance from the joystick by an amount even greater than the children without motor impairment. Conclusions: The system not only provided a safe, fun context for automating driver's training, but also enhanced motor learning by the non-impaired motor system, presumably by demonstrating through intuitive movement and force of the joystick itself exemplary control to follow the course. The case study indicates that a child with a motor system impaired by CP can also gain a short-term benefit from driver's training with haptic guidance.

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