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Young students make head motion wheelchairs practical

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Wheelchairs controlled by head motion may bring new hope to people with disabilities in Việt Nam. Young students are pushing to make the equipment affordable for all.

Đạt and Khánh try using the head motion wheelchair. — VNA/VNS Photo Thanh Thương


Nguyễn Công Khánh and Nguyễn Hữu Thành Đạt, two senior students from Bắc Ninh Province High School for the Gifted, successfully invented a wheelchair operated by head motion, voice activation and smart phones. The wheelchairs are intended for use by people with missing limbs.

Their project competed against hundreds of others and received first prize in the 2018 National Science and Technology Competition for high school students in the northern region. 

When asked what inspired them to start the project, Khánh and Đạt said that their old and weak grandfathers were their greatest inspiration.

Although a head motion wheelchair is not a new innovation in the world, its high cost is a real obstruction to Vietnamese people with disabilities. Moreover, high repairing expenses, its inability to climb up stairs and the difficulty in acquiring replacement components are other drawbacks of the machine.

The idea was built up based on their knowledge of the pros and cons of wheelchairs available on Việt Nam’s market. With the assistance of their teacher Hoàng Thị Hà in coding, the first prototype of a wheelchair operated by head motion, voice and a smart phone was assembled in just four months.

“Starting with an everyday wheelchair, we developed and added new gadgets, enabling our product to perform various functions such as climbing stairs,” Khánh said.

The ability to climb stairs is what makes their product unique. The process requires heavy load wheels with high friction which prevent the wheelchairs from tumbling when ascending or descending stairs.

The students installed four cross-shaped wheels which were designed based on the structure of stairs. This addition allows users to operate the wheelchairs independently and reduces repairing expenses.

Besides the innovation in the wheel system, Khánh and Đạt studied different operational methods, such as head motion and voice control, to make their products accessible to people with a range of different disabilities.

After eight months of trial and error, the final version of their wheelchair was successfully assembled. A special built-in sensor measuring the angle of inclination makes it possible for users with disfigured hands or without arms to freely operate the wheelchair using head motion to direct it. It is also equipped with a SOS button and an automatic brake system, ensuring maximum safety for users.

Not only the Bắc Ninh high school students, a group of students from the HCM City University of Transportation were also inspired to make a wheelchair for people without limbs.

The HCM City students used an inertial measurement unit (IMU), which is commonly used to maneuver aircraft, in their wheelchair. The group used IMU to measure and report a user’s body force and angular rate to calculate acceleration and speed when operating their wheelchair.

Lâm Quang Thái, a group member, said that their wheelchair aimed to serve people with severe mobility impairments. They only have to move their heads in the direction they want to go, and keep their head still to stop.

Nguyễn Văn Huy, another member, said that besides the fully functioning wheelchair, they will develop kits so that users can choose additional gadgets to add into their chairs, allowing them to better serve their own needs.

The future common mission of the two groups, they say, is to have their products in general circulation.

 “Our fully functional wheelchair costs only VNĐ7 million (US$300) per unit," said Thái, "Meanwhile, on the market, a normal manually operated one is VNĐ10 million ($440). Therefore, we wholeheartedly believe in our product potential to compete. We are seeking for an investor to mass produce it in the near future.”

Khánh and Đạt, the two high school students, said that their biggest desire was to make their head motion wheelchairs popular and approach more people with disabilities in the community they live in.

Using users’ brain wave to control the device, they said, is another ambitious goal they want to achieve to innovate the product.


Source: VNS

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