New Tech Allows Users to Drive Wheelchairs With Facial Expressions

By |2018-12-28T12:52:43+00:00December 28th, 2018|
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Tablet mounted on wheelchair shows woman who is driving chair using facial expressions

When is a smile more than a smile? When it lets you drive your wheelchair. On December 3, Intel and Brazil-based robotics company Hoobox announced an innovative technology that combines artificial intelligence and facial recognition to allow users to drive a power wheelchair using facial expressions.

The product, called the Wheelie 7, is being offered as a kit that the companies say can attach to 95 percent of wheelchairs on the market. The name refers to the seven minutes Hoobox estimates it will take to retrofit an existing wheelchair with the drive system — an Intel 3D RealSense Depth Camera, a navigation sensor, an on-board computer and a “gripper” that controls the wheelchair’s joystick.

Designed for those who don’t have the hand or arm function to operate a joystick, users can choose from nine different facial expressions to drive the chair. According to the Hoobox website, “Most people prefer to use the kissy face to drive forward, a half smile to turn right, tongue out to drive backward, a wrinkled nose to turn left, and a full smile to stop the wheelchair.”

For real world performance, the company says that the system recognizes when the user is having a conversation, allowing you to talk while driving without interfering with navigation. Four seconds of raised eyebrows allow you to enable or disable the system. For a better idea of how the system works, check out the below video of a Hoobox employee using the Wheelie 7 to drive a course in the company’s offices.

Sixty users in the United States are currently testing the device. While there’s no word yet on insurance coverage, the system isn’t cheap. Hoobox is currently offering the system for $300/month on a subscription service.