Wheelchair operates by power of thought alone

ZARAGOZA, SPAIN – Scientists at the University of Zaragoza have developed a wheelchair controlled by the power of thought.

The chair is equipped with a laser sensor and a screen to display a real-time virtual reconstruction of the surroundings. Sensors on the wheels keep track of the chair’s position as it moves.

As the user looks at the screen, a blue dot flashes in sequence over each possible destination. When the dot reaches the area where the user wants to go, their brainwaves change slightly.

These millisecond-long fluctuations in brain activity are picked up by an EEG and transferred to the autonomous navigation system which drives the wheelchair to the desired location.
The laser scanner detects obstacles so that collisions are avoided, allowing the chair to be used in unfamiliar surroundings.

Because each person’s pattern of brain activity is different, the chair needs to adapt to its user. Nevertheless, when the device was tested by five volunteers, they were all able to control the chair with their thoughts alone after just 45 minutes’ practice.

Right now, the chair has its limitations – it can only handle two thoughts every minute, so nobody’s going to be using it in the Wheelchair Olympics any time soon. It also has an effective limitation of two hours, as the gel used to fix the electrodes to the user’s head loses its effectiveness after this time.

But the researchers are working on an improved version that could go into commercial production.