An Ottawa computer engineer is developing a power wheelchair users can move around with a smartphone or remote control with voice commands.
Ke Wang is a McMaster graduate and founder of Ottawa-based tech company Eightfold Technologies. He has used a power wheelchair since he was struck by an SUV while waiting for a bus around 10 years ago.
Wang said he was frustrated with always needing help to move his chair away and back again when he gets off it to watch TV from the couch or go to the bathroom.
"I'm looking at the chair, I can see the chair, it's right there, but there's nothing I can do about it. And that's when I thought 'I can make this happen,'" he said in an interview on Wednesday.
"I thought I can do some alteration on the wheelchair that solves the problem a lot of people like me face and at the same time, keep me busy, keep my skill, feel a sense of accomplishment, as well. That's how this whole thing started."
Manual or automatic features
Wang's "SmartChair" prototype lets users remotely control the chair with their smartphone over Bluetooth or have it follow lines on the floor, such as tape, by pushing a button or giving a voice command if they don't have enough mobility to control the wheelchair in other ways.
"This way, if you outfit somebody's home with this technology they can just push a button or say, 'I want to go to the kitchen' or 'I want to watch TV' and the chair will take them there," he said.
"Every little bit of independence is invaluable to a disabled person like me."
Sienna Beaudoin, a Grade 11 student in Ottawa who currently uses a special joystick to move her power wheelchair around, said she likes the idea.
"For an example if I was in the living room, watching TV on the couch … I could just send it away so it's not blocking my view," she said.
"I think it would help me a lot."
Wang said his company is testing prototypes of the SmartChair and hopes to have them in production within a year.