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December 7, 2011
School of Engineering, Amritapuri
He has impacted the lives of more than 25 million people; at least that many bought his bestselling book, A Brief History of Time. Besides writing, this Emeritus Cambridge University Professor also made great contributions to the fields of cosmology and quantum gravity.
Stephen Hawking achieved all of this with the aid of his high-tech wheelchair, among other things.
High-Tech Wheelchair
Today, Amrita is furthering technological advances so that physically challenged people like Hawkings can lead rich, full lives. Amrita’s innovative gesture-based wheelchair project begun by students in 2010, has in a short period of time, already received substantial national and international recognition, funding and distinguished awards.
The project team recently received their latest accolade, when they were invited to submit a chapter for publication in the book titled Autonomous Robots: Control, Sensing and Perception.
The book was published by Germany’s Cuvillier-Verlag this past October.
A collection of current robotics advances, the book details theoretical and experimental research results in order to inspire new developments in robotics applications. The book was compiled from chapters submitted by various experts on different topics related to robotics such as environment mapping, robots mechanical design and mobile robotics.
In September 2010, the book’s editors, Edgar A. Martinez-Garcia and Luz Abril Torres-Mendez invited Br. Rajesh Kannan, who is overseeing the gesture-based wheelchair project, to be on the book’s advisory board and submit a chapter.
Br. Rajesh and B.Tech students Sai Manoj Prakhya, Ramesh Nammily Nair, and Mithun Mohan adapted the team’s original research paper on Intelligent Home Navigation System for the Elderly and Physically Challenged, to fit with the book’s vision.
This was published as chapter ten in the book.
The team was motivated by the mobility problems of the handicapped and aged residing at the Amritapuri ashram. “We found that the elders and the physically challenged folks at the ashram couldn’t afford electric-based wheelchairs due to high cost. They depend on others to move their non-electric wheelchairs about,” explained Br. Rajesh.
“The few who did own such a wheelchair found the joystick difficult to control,” he added.
Br. Rajesh and his team of students designed a user-friendly and affordable, gesture-based wheelchair that solves these problems.
Chancellor Amma’s guidance served to inspire. “Amma emphasized a wheelchair’s high cost (an internationally-made electric wheelchair with joystick can cost Rs. 2.5 lakhs) and said we have to come up with a low-cost solution,” explained Br. Rajesh.
A prototype of the gesture-based wheelchair is complete; the team hopes to include a health monitoring system for elders who might have heart problems, diabetes or other conditions.
“We’re designing an electronic gadget to continuously monitor temperature and heart rate. It will wirelessly transmit critical changes to a monitoring system, which then will immediately message a doctor, medical services or family members. We are working on porting it,” he said.
The book Autonomous Robots: Control, Sensing and Perception highlights numerous applications of robotics for serving humanity. Amrita’s gesture-based electric wheelchair, designed by undergraduate B.Tech. students, is helping bring about a positive change in people’s lives. We’re confident it will be a best seller.

Wheelchair Operated by Using Hand Gestures

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