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AL Wheelchair Providing Invisible Wings for ALS Patients
May 6, 2019

    On March 9thZhang Wei, the first Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) patient who successfully crested Mount Hua (Huashan), received a unexpected gift: an intelligent multifunctional wheelchair. Under the instructions of Prof. Li Jiaocheng and Prof. Sun Qigong, from the School of Artificial Intelligence at Xidian University, over the course of two years, the postgraduate team have successfully put the first intelligent wheelchair in application.

“I used to see Stephen Hawking ’s wheelchair only on TV. I never expect to own such a high-tech device, and I am so grateful to you all.” said an excited Wei.“Stephen Hawking’ s wheelchairs”, designed by tech giants such as Intel, are not affordable for ordinary people. Therefore the wheelchair was developed with the aim of letting every single ALS patients equally enjoy their lives. 

In summer vacation 2017, the postgraduate team, formed to develop the intelligent wheelchair, met. It comprised five members: Wang Haoran, Bai Yidong, Wang Zexin, Gao Jie and Li Xiufang, all of whom just newly became postgraduates of XDU. After a two-month marathon, they produced the first iteration of the wheelchair and won the second place in the China Robot and Artificial Intelligence Competition.

After the first generation of the wheelchair, the team found out that there was still considerable room to improve safety and portability; for example, the patient couldn't go out unaccompanied. To fix this problem, a new team was set up, including Bai Yidong, Sun Long, Yang Yuting, Zhou Jinliu, Huang Zhongjian, Shao Yilin and Wang Haoran. Compared with the first version, the second generation better meets the needs of users in real life.

The 2018 postgraduate team scaled new heights. Based on the “Wheelchair 2.0” combined with smart home technology, “Wheelchair 3.0” was introduced. By identifying and tracking the eyeball, the system obtains information such as the effective gaze time of the eyeball and focus position,  using these to deduce the current intentions of the ALS patients through calculation. 

ALS patients can independently control the wheelchair to move along their selected path, and to operate smart home devices such as locks, lights, curtains, televisions, and air conditioners. At the same time, the project also added a music function, so that users can use their eyes to select and listen to songs.With the help of the media, they contacted Zhang Wei, 29, a native of Heze, Shandong Province. He was diagnosed with ALS at the age of 16. Suffering for years, Zhang Wei is still an optimist. He once said, "In my most difficult time, my mother and many good people gave me so much help and love. I feel that life is fair, there is no resentment and negativity in my heart. Destiny took a lot from me and gave me a lot.”

The team decided to customize a brand-new wheelchair for Zhang. In response to Zhang Wei's situation, the R&D team combined Zhang Wei's opinions and made personalized adjustments to the wheelchair.  Zhang Wei said that his hobby was to listen to Ping Shu, so headrest speakers were added;his voice was low in daily life, so there came microphone amplifiers. Every detail was considered to fully improve the practicality of the wheelchair and ensure its safety.

The R&D team said that only by donating the wheelchair to Zhang Wei could their research and development realize their value. In the process of development, they kept trying to make improvementsstanding in theusers' shoes;however theiranalysis wasnotperfect, so donating offered a way to improve the wheelchair through Zhang Wei's real experience of usage. 

     At present, the wheelchair has already solved the basic problem for ALS patients in everyday life, and the team is working on infrared obstacle avoidance, laser drawing, and semi-automatic driving. In the future, they hope the wheelchair can even help ALS patients “move”, “speak”, and live as others.


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