A robotic wheelchair is being developed that will help children learn to 'drive'.
Researchers writing in BioMed Central's open access Journal of Neuro-Engineering and Rehabilitation describe the testing of ROLY - RObot-assisted Learning for Young drivers - in a group of children without disabilities and one child with cerebral palsy.
Laura Marchal-Crespo, worked with a team of researchers at the University of California at Irvine, USA, to carry out the study. She said, "The conventional approach for powered wheelchair driver's training is expensive and labor-intense, typically requiring the hand-over-hand assistance of a skilled therapist. To lower the cost and improve accessibility to training, we have developed a robotic powered wheelchair system on which young children with a disability can safely develop driving skills at their own pace with minimum assistance".
The researcher's technique involves the trainee learning to chase a small robot along a line painted on the floor.
The force feedback joystick used to steer the wheelchair can also give physical assistance to the driver, at a level appropriate to their ongoing performance. When caught, the robot performs a dance and the chair plays a little tune.
The joystick haptic assistance was found to enhance learning in both the non-disabled children trained with haptic guidance and in the child with a severe motor impairment.
Speaking about the results, Marchal-Crespo said, "Ultimately, we envision creating a training experience that compares favorably with the fun children experience with the best amusement park rides, but that facilitates the development of driving skill".
BioMed Central (www.biomedcentral.com) is an STM (Science, Technology and Medicine) publisher which has pioneered the open access publishing model.
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