Conventional electric mobility scooter being hauled on trailer could serve as model for My Robot Companion
This conventional electric mobility scooter being hauled on trailer could serve as model for My Robot Companion.

My Robot Companion

Authors propose melding carsharing and robotics to give the wheelchair-bound electric mobility.

By Aaron Allen & Andrea Depalo

The Electric Vehicle (EV) "car-sharing" market is offering a strong opportunity of rethink the concept of mobility, but combining two of the biggest trends in the transportation sector, we have also to keep in mind the needs of the disabled people.

The big limit of doing this is now represented by the need of special accessible vans, but this can be overcome with a solution that can allow the disabled driver to be loaded and unloaded from a classic EV. 'Share-Cars', which can be rented for short trips by swiping the credit card over the windshield. Are a good solution to do this: electric is included, and insurance too.

The car is dropped and taken back when the driver has finished is "time" and he will get a statement at the end of the month that will be charged on his credit card.

That looks great for a person that has a strong disability, he can use a car anytime he needs without afford the big expenses needed to buy his own accessible Van.

But for a renting company, investing in some accessible vans to satisfy the needs of a relatively small marked could look like a nonsense.

A solution can be represented by a tailored electric wheelchair: the "robot companion" .

This robotic wheelchair will load (and unload) a classic car seat on the car, so the disabled can drive the car without moving from the seat, that will be the same seat of the wheelchair.

This will also a good solution for the renting company: the only modification that must be done on the EV (excluding the installation of mechanical secondary controls for physically impaired, but this type of controls will not affect the possibility of driving to users that don't need them) will be the installation of a docking system, in order to secure the seat. But this system can also secure a conventional driver seat, so the car can be rented also to other users.

Another main aspect to consider is that this "robot companion" will allow the user to go beyond the limits of a conventional wheelchair and do things like:

- Reach things on shelves in stores, shops, or at home.
- Ring doorbells
- Reach public telephone
- Operate vending machines and ATMs

So a disabled person can rent a classic EV car, with the integrated robotic wheelchair, go to the supermarket, to the bank or to work, and drop all back when done.

Now let's see how the "robot companion" system will work......

My Robot Companion would meld electric wheelchair and robotic technologies

The "Robot Companion": The concept of the "robot companion" is very simple and consists in the installation of a seat positioned on a robotic arm, that is a part of a tracked robot, as shown in the picture.

The creation of a remote IR command with two joysticks will allow the user to drive the base of this new wheelchair as a conventional electric wheelchairs and to move the seat

The first problem that will be solved will be the accessibility of the cars: at the moment the disabled people must buy accessible and expensive vans.

This revolutionary chair, with the dedicated "robot-arm" that normally holds the seat, will allow to lifting the driver without moving him/her from the seat and placing him/her in their vehicle.

The "robot companion"will have also two 'stability arms' (like tractors and large trucks ) : the stabilizers would prevent falling over when transferring the disabled person and the seat in the vehicle.

The seat, after being unloaded from the "robot companion" body, will be secured to the car using a docking system.

The compatibility between "robot companion"and this worldwide used docking system will be reached simply installing a compatible hook under the seat's base.

This system can be used also to secure a classic car seat, that will allow the company to use standard cars that can be also driven by disabled people just attaching a trailer that is holding the "robot companion".

Loading the Robot: The body of the "robot companion", with the seat unloaded, will have small dimensions. The user has only to activate the right sequence of commands on the IR remote to "drive" the "robot companion" to the trailer and to unload it, to get out of the car and start to use it as a conventional wheelchair.

Not Limited to Car Sharing: This concept can be applied easily to an owned EV: the "robot companion" can be a perfect integration to an EV owned by a disabled: Andrea Depalo is currently working, with Tom Sines, on the "Accessible EVette" project, the car is a perfect solution to give freedom and independence to wheelchair-bound drivers, because of his key characteristics:

- A joystick "drive-by-wire" steering control that makes driving less physically demanding
- Can carry a large payload of batteries
- Incredibly maneuverable
- Fully customizable configuration (user can add more mi. or hp).

This concept guarantees easy access to the driving position because of the turnable driver seat, and the folded wheelchair will be stored rear the seat, a dedicated robot will help the loading operation.

For a wheelchair user operate the EVette will be easy: in fact the driver seat will turn and come outside of the car to allow the transfer from the wheelchair because the car has not mechanical controls, so the seat can go more forward than that in a normal car, and there’s enough space to store a folded wheelchair rear the turnable driver seat with the help of a dedicated robot.

But what will happen if the wheelchair user has not enough physical ability to transfer him/herself from the wheelchair to the seat?

The integration of "robot companion" can be the solution: a person with a serious handicap can do everything just with one hand, because the EVette can be controlled with a joystick like the "robot companion" .

Car Sharing or Not? -- Final Considerations: The actual technologies, used to build military robots can be transferred to this everyday situation and this could be surely a good approach to the car-sharing for the disabled person, but not the only one.

Another one, that will require less investments, is to share with the car the assistance of a qualified person that can drive it and help the disabled person, like a taxi service.

Anyway the idea of creating a world-wide car-sharing structure where members can use the cars in many countries can solve the majority of the mobility problems that people with disability are experiencing, but is not indicated for who has the need to use a car on a daily basis: in fact a wheelchair accessible EV (like the EVette) is often tailored on the needs of the user, and is the best choice for a person who drives often.

At the same time the car sharing network could be a good solution for a disabled person who needs a car for a limited range or for a limited commuting ( for example from home to the supermarket) for few times a week, because this will reduce the economical impact of the mobility, avoiding them to buy a vehicle that is used for a short period of time.

-- Andrea Depalo and Aaron Allen

Times Article Viewed: 9555
Published: 30-Jun-2009


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