SYSIASS Project makes progress towards truly intelligent wheelchairs

The SYSIASS Autonomous and Intelligent Healthcare System Project has developed an intelligent wheelchair demonstrating how the information society can help improve healthcare systems and social inclusion. The wheelchair can either be controlled by the patient, or autonomously. In addition, the wheelchair can provide automatically updating health-care-related data, allowing a patient to be monitored while mobile.

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SYIASS Project co-ordinators and volunteers  © SYIASS SYIASS Project co-ordinators and volunteers © SYIASS

" The SYSIASS Autonomous and Intelligent Healthcare System Project was an excellent opportunity to build a network to develop more innovative products with a multidisciplinary and multicultural team. It was also a way to develop a strong working relationship and identify common areas of interest and a positive environment in which to learn from different cultural attitudes, helping to understand how and why we operate as well as to learn from similarities. We learned to work together for a common shared objective. "

AnneMarie Kokosy, ISEN

Social inclusion

The driving ambition behind the project was to create a wheelchair that allowed disabled people, or those with limited mobility, to have greater control over their lives. The additional autonomy allows disabled people safer and more ‘intelligent’ navigation of their environment. The ability to move without depending on others improves the quality of life of those in wheelchairs. This new-found autonomy is not only liberating for wheelchair users, it also benefits families and support services.

Europe has an ageing population and by 2020 more than 25 % of Europeans will be over 60. Disability and reduced mobility have been declining due to better medical treatment and lifestyles. Nevertheless, as the population ages and life expectancy is extended, more and more people will need assistance with mobility. It is vital for the EU to find ways to improve the quality of life of the elderly and offer them as much autonomy as possible.

Hospital use

In-built information sharing of health information was an important part of the project. The interface allowed the transmission and sharing of a patient’s medical data. Much research was needed to ensure that this data was secure and that it wasn’t at risk of interfering with other medical equipment being used.

The wheelchair was tested in hospitals in the UK and France, as well as in a school for disabled children. By taking a cross-border approach it is more likely that the project will produce scalable results that can be used in other countries.

Project development

Trials in France identified two new significant challenges. The first was that the basic concept of slowing down and then stopping the chair if an obstacle was detected was found to be unsatisfactory for users. The second was that the correct alignment of the chair with a doorway was critical if collisions were to be avoided, so the research team developed a second system, which was tested in Canterbury hospital in the UK.

Volunteers with brain injuries have been important in evaluating the driver assistance system. As expert users they thought the system would be of particular benefit to those learning to drive and who had difficulty with fine control of the powered chair. The volunteer input was very valuable to the SYSIASS project and has resulted in new ideas for future developments.

Total investment and EU funding

Total investment for the project “SYSIASS Autonomous and Intelligent Healthcare System” is EUR 2 466 400, of which the EU’s European Regional Development Fund is contributing EUR 1 233 200 from the Operational Programme “Two Seas” for the 2007 to 2013 programming period.

Draft date