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A team of U of I researchers has developed a new robotic wheelchair

A man is sitting in a robotic wheelchair, with other wheelchairs sitting nearby. He is wearing a blue t-shirt and jeans.
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With the help of a $1.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation, a team that includes representatives from The Grainger College of Engineering, College of Fine and Applied Arts, Carle Illinois College of Medicine, College of Applied Health Sciences, and the Beckman Institute for Science and Technology has come up with a prototype for a new type of robotic wheelchair that can improve mobility for wheelchair users.

It’s called PURE, which stands for Personalized Unique Rolling Experience. Here’s a description from the College of Engineering website:

[PURE is] a hands-free wheelchair that operates similarly to a Segway where the rider leans in a desired direction. The unique aspect of PURE is that it rolls on a ball or “spherical” wheel. It is based on the concept of a dynamically stable ball-based robot (ballbot) and uses an omniwheel system to drive and control the spherical wheel. PURE automatically transitions between three driving behaviors. Steer and Spin are similar to a typical wheelchair, in which the user can steer forward, backward or spin in place. Slide is unique and allows the user to move laterally, like an office chair. To accommodate for limited torso range of motion of some users, PURE uses sensors to estimate leaning and twisting motions and amplifies these signals to control the ballbot’s direction and speed.

There is a patent pending, and the team continues to work on improving the prototype. You can read more about it here, or check out the video below.

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