Japanese to develop mind-controlled wheelchair

Japanese to develop mind-controlled wheelchair

The Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry said it aims to start a project to develop "robot wheelchairs," which detect the user's intentions from their brain waves and automatically move in line with the user's will.

While the graying of Japan's population continues, the ministry expects that robot wheelchairs will be put to practical use in nursing care facilities, where a labour shortage is predicted.

The ministry aims to utilize the robot wheelchairs at 2020 Tokyo Paralympic venues to introduce them to the rest of the world as an advanced technology.

The ministry included 500 million yen (S$6 million) for development costs in its initial budget request for next fiscal year's government budget.

In cooperation with research institutes, telecommunications companies and machinery manufacturers, the ministry aims to put the technology to practical use possibly in 2017.

The planned robot wheelchairs will have sensors that detect users' intentions by analysing their brain waves and nervous system activity, moving automatically.

Some research institutions, such as Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute International based in Kyoto Prefecture, have studied technologies needed for the robot wheelchairs. They include a system in which computers recognise users' intentions if users think about the directions, for example right or left, in which they want to move.

In their experiments, wheelchairs have successfully moved short distances and other machines have been made to perform simple operations with home electronic appliances.

The ministry also plans to establish a telecommunication technology with which multiple wheelchairs will be connected by networks so that their users will be able to share information about obstacles and uneven surfaces.

Under the planned system, wheelchairs will calculate current locations and routes to destinations. The latest information from wheelchairs that have passed through dangerous places will be sent to other wheelchairs to help them choose routes that avoid danger.

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