Moving autonomously is something that most of us do every day without being fully aware of its significance. But imagine for a moment that you no longer have control of your legs, your hands, or your body. Everyday life suddenly becomes impossible to deal with in that same carefree way. This is the situation that every day faces people with diseases that affect the motor neuron system, of which the most widely-known is ALS. The only way to get around is the wheelchair, but this is a passive object, over which the user has little or no control.
A collaboration between the University of Trento, Xtensa and Robosense aims to change this situation.
The already existing relationship between the two startups and the collaboration with the University were the catalyst for plans to apply their proprietary technologies in synergy, creating a new line of development parallel to the original ones. The aim is to develop a semi-autonomous wheelchair that allows the user to feel in control of their ability to move again.
With an initial working prototype already produced, the Roboeye project is based on the union of the different knowhow from work and experience in the sectors of computer science, computer vision, mobile robotics and mechatronics. Xtensa has developed and put on the market an innovative eye-tracking system, while Robosense works in the area of sensors and industrial robotics. The integration of their respective software and hardware onto a standard electric wheelchair has created a robotic system with an eye-controlled interface that allows the user to control their movement with their gaze, so becoming more independent.
The system offers 3 driving modes: direct similar to a joystick, semi-assisted for short movements in everyday life (for example moving to be near the television, window or table), and autonomous for movement around the domestic environment (so as not to tire the user). Another distinctive element is the choice and organization of the different technologies; the system integrates low and high level hardware (PLC + tablet), an optimal configuration both in terms of automation and reliability and in terms of customization of the interface for the user. This gives a high level of versatility in the configuration and in the use of the wheelchair, a fundamental requirement in order to make this technology suitable for the widest possible number of potential users, who obviously have different abilities and needs.
The project is currently in the development stage, and is the subject of several theses, as well as internships and work in the two startups. The goal for the near future is to identify sources of funding for the further development and certification of the system.