Helen Keller once said: The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision. It is often doleful that even after being blessed with a good eyesight, hearing and energetic bodies, we often fall out to have a vision for our lives. But these bunch of kids from Caarmel Engineering College, Pathanamthitta have a clear vision. The 10 final year mechanical engineering students of the college have designed and developed a smart wheelchair that can assist visually challenged and ageing people who have mobility problems. An ‘Intelligent Wheelchair’ or Smart Assistant Module (SAM) is what the students would like to call their innovation which is aimed to provide common man a low-cost wheelchair that is equipped with smart features of super expensive powerdrive wheelchairs that are available in the market today. “When we thought about a project, our aim was to develop something that will benefit poor people. We see thousands of people out there who are visually challenged or people who have lost eyesight because of ageing. These people have to either depend on walking sticks or normal wheelchairs. But both these need the assistance of other people. Our aim is to implement a new technology in the form of a ‘wheel chair’ which is specially designed for blind people. They can use our wheel chair to carry out basic necessities without others’ help,” says Ashwin Nair, team leader of the project.
The students have built-in four technologies in SAM. “SAM has the capability of self-changing directions and recognising the obstacles before it. We have included the latest solar panel technology, highly developed heat sensors and IR range finders which enhances the mobility of this model. Improved agility is obtained by voice control system technology,” explains Ashwin.
In the model, the 10-member group has used ultrasonic infrared technology that helps in the detection of obstacles that come before the wheelchair. “The second technology is a vibrator motor that is provided along the hand rest which aids the user in knowing the proximity of obstacle. Now in our demo model we have set the detection of the obstacle from .5 to 1.5m. The distance can be changed with the use of sonic sensors,” says Ashwin. “Then we have developed vocal assistance. Voice control system enhances the mobility for the users by reducing the number of collisions on a simple navigation task,” he adds.
Another highlight of the design is that it uses solar technology. “While the wheelchair is not in use, just keep it outside, and it will get charged using solar energy. One can use the wheelchair continuously for two to three days with a two-hour exposure to the sun,” says Ashwin.
The students also assure that SAM if manufactured in large scale can be made available for `1,500 with all the technologies built-in. “Now the cost of existing power drive wheelchairs in the market is above `50,000. It is expensive and only rich people can afford it.
Usually in these costly wheelchairs YAMAHA JW2 power assist hubs are used and thus the increased cost but in our SAM we are using brushless DC motor technology for power generation,” he adds.
“Apart from these technologies, we are also planning to include a technology that will be helpful while climbing stairs. So once it is also developed we are planning to apply for patent,” says Ashwin.
Apart from Ashwin the team comprises of Eby K Peter, Ebin Sam Abraham, Arun Sadan, Aswin S Nair, Abraham Thomsom, Jobin Johnson Mathew, Manu Mathew, Nichal Prakash, Ranjith G Jacob and Sumin Sunny Joseph.
The team is also in the workshop of developing a Air Curtain Refrigerator (ACRO). “Through this technology, we aim to conserve electricity used by the refrigerators when the casing is opened.
It has the ability to conserve electricity as well as control the consumption of power by smart continuous monitoring of the conditions inside the refrigerator.
It targets in keeping the cold air inside the refrigerator, henceforth making the compressor working less as compared to the normal case and also reduces the warm ambient air from entering the refrigerator cases,” he adds.