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Wheelie, innovative technology for driving motorized wheelchairs

Grant number: 17/07367-8
Support Opportunities:Research Grants - Innovative Research in Small Business - PIPE
Duration: November 01, 2017 - October 31, 2019
Field of knowledge:Engineering - Electrical Engineering
Convênio/Acordo: FINEP - PIPE/PAPPE Grant
Principal Investigator:Paulo Gurgel Pinheiro
Grantee:Paulo Gurgel Pinheiro
Host Company:Hoobox Robotics Tecnologia do Brasil Ltda. - ME
CNAE: Desenvolvimento de programas de computador sob encomenda
Desenvolvimento e licenciamento de programas de computador customizáveis
Desenvolvimento e licenciamento de programas de computador não-customizáveis
City: Campinas
Associated research grant:15/22624-1 - Wheelie and Gimme, innovative technology to drive motorized wheelchairs, AP.PIPE
Associated scholarship(s):18/02070-0 - Gimme: innovative mechanism for wheelchair control, BP.TT
18/01856-0 - Wheelie and Wheelie Relloquent software development, BP.TT
17/25484-1 - Wheelie Relloquent: software research and development for facial expressions use in alternative communication, BP.TT
17/22570-4 - Wheelie, innovative technology for driving motorized wheelchairs, BP.PIPE


There is an estimate of 45 million people with some sort of disability in Brazil, from which about 10% are potential wheelchair users with extreme difficulty or inability to walk. For instance, the city of São Paulo concentrates the larger amount of these wheelchair users and despite of some neighborhoods there are still a lot of difficulties. Furthermore, there are some severe disability cases where even the most favorable infrastructure would not suffice for the employment of a regular wheelchair, even electric powered ones. This group encompass people with no superior limbs, suffering from any kind of muscular atrophy or lack of coordination to physically propel a wheelchair or even manipulate a joystick. Only in the United States, more than 1.2 million people are in this situation. They are quadriplegic individuals and patients with neurodegenerative diseases such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and multiple sclerosis. For these diseases, not only mobility, but verbal communication becomes a challenge. Several research and development efforts have already been made to create accessibility interfaces for this demand. However, even if there is a social, strategic and technological demand, there is still a serious shyness in popularizing and marketing such tools. The first problem and commercial challenge is the complexity of the equipment that wheelchairs need to be able to deal with such interfaces. These wheelchairs lose their motorized status to become robotic wheelchairs with on-board computers, controllers and complex interaction systems needed to translate the pulsed signals into the motors. The second problem is the requirement to wear body sensors, which is invasive and uncomfortable, becoming the number one reason for not being used by the users. In PIPE phase 1, we developed the 'Wheelie' technology, the world's first computer program capable of translating facial expressions in commands to control equipment (like wheelchairs) without any body sensors. And the 'Gimme', a mechanism that transforms a motorized wheelchair into a robotic one. The aim now is to use this developed technology to solve the next challenges that involve the creation of functionalities such as combination of facial expressions, verbal communication, comfortable navigation and the use of the facial expressions amplitudes for controlling the speed. Starting from the obtained results from phase 1, we will i) improve Wheelie to support a combination of facial expressions, ii) verify the possibility of using the facial expression amplitude to control speed, iii) search and create an alternative communication system controlled by facial expressions, (iv) research and develop an efficient controller for dealing with different users' weights, and (v) research and validate the use of facial expressions for communication with at least one electronic device (light ambience). The main result will be a 'kit', consisting of software and hardware, capable of being installed in a motorized wheelchair to control it. Another version will be capable of, using the same technology, providing an interface the user can use to communicate with other people or electronic devices. The results directly impact on the autonomy, mobility and especially in self-esteem of users and their relatives. (AU)

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Articles published in Agência FAPESP Newsletter about the research grant:
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