About 288,000 people are currently living with spinal cord injuries in the United States, resulting from car accidents, falls, or gunshot wounds. And close to 18,000 new people join this number every year. One big challenge these people face daily is moving around with ease. With motorized wheelchairs, this challenge is less, however, only to a point. Not every one of them can control wheelchairs based on their injuries.
Hoobox Robotics has introduced a new adapter kit, which is plugged to any motorized chair, Wheelie 7 to remedy this situation. The kit is designed to be controlled by the user’s smile, wink, or raise of an eyebrow. Hoobox specializes in the use of artificial intelligence and facial recognition in improving human well-being. It partnered with Intel’s AI for Good division to develop the Wheelie 7.
Returning autonomy and mobility to wheelchair users
The Wheelie 7 comes with an Intel RealSense computer vision camera which assists in capturing the different facial expressions. There is also an onboard mini-computer with Intel Core processors the device uses to interpret incoming signals as fast as possible. With the help of the Intel’s OpenVINO (Visual Inference & Neural Network Optimization) toolkit, there is a delay of not more than 100-milliseconds.
At least five different face moves are required to effectively control Wheelie 7. Each of these facial moves is tied to a directional command (i.e. forward, back, left, right, or stop). However, the device has provision for up to 10 different facial expressions. One can decide to use nose wrinkles, eyebrow raises or even a partial smile. This is helpful as it allows people to use whatever they are most comfortable with.The kit is designed to be controlled by the user’s smile, wink, or raise of an eyebrow.
Paulo Gurgel Pinheiro, CEO and co-founder of Hoobox, disclosed that the Wheelie 7 was a mixture of both creative ideas as well as the right hardware using the right AI platform. The intention, according to him, is to return autonomy and mobility back to wheelchair users. Paulo initiated this concept after a memorable smile was flashed at him at an airport by someone on a wheelchair several years ago.
Wheelie 7 setup time (time to attach and deploy) is about seven minutes, hence the name. While some high-tech solutions designed for people having severe motion limitations have physically intrusive stuff like specialized body sensors, Wheelie 7 does not. The company is currently testing the prototypes with 60 users who spend an average of four hours per day in transit. Reports from the testing as released by Intel says that the camera has been effective for both direct sunlight situation and near dark spots situations like the movie theaters.
The commercial availability of Wheelie 7 units will be from March 2019, and the subscription fee at $300 per month. 400 kits of the adapter will be released as the first batch. However, most of them are reserved already.
Anna Bethke, the head of Intel AI for Good disclosed that Intel wants to empower Hoobox and other companies that use both hardware and software capabilities in improving peoples’ well-being in similar projects. She also added that the solutions people come up with regularly are amazing. And as such, Intel will continually seek to connect such groups to the AI technology they need.