There is nothing better than seeing youth working on hardware projects, and this eye controlled wheel chair spotted on Hackaday really got me excited. Myrijam Stoetzer and Paul Foltin are two makers in Germany who are inspired to help people in wheelchairs. In fact, they thought of Stephen Hawking with his ability to use his eyes and cheek muscle to initiate movement. Anyone that mentions Hawking gets bonus points in my book!
If you look closely at the picture, you can see Paul is holding a small model. They’ve been testing different hardware options and now they are working on a full size prototype. They started by creating their own eye tracker using safety glasses with a webcam and LEDs.
For hardware, they worked with a Raspberry Pi and Arduino, but apparently it couldn’t handle enough frames per second, so they shifted to something more powerful.
The image processing is handled by an Odroid U3 – a compact, low cost ARM Quad Core SBC capable of running Ubuntu, Android, and other Linux OS systems.
People often ask me about kids and programming. What is interesting is that this duo had only worked with Lego Mindstorms programming, but now they have ventured into Python. It’s so nice when those building blocks start stacking up! They created a program to use the eye movement for their small robotic platform.
The web cam video stream is filtered to obtain the pupil position, and this is compared to four presets for forward, reverse, left and right. The presets can be adjusted using the potentiometers. An enable switch, manually activated at present is used to ensure the wheel chair moves only when commanded. Their plan is to later replace this switch with tongue activation or maybe cheek muscle twitch detection.
They have already had their share of successes–including first place in their local science fair. Now they are working with an actual used wheel chair and they’ve decided to go with the new Raspberry Pi 2B–it’s got power and it offers affordability so anyone will be able to build their own chair. Of course, this project is open source and anyone can help out. Check out Myrijam’s blog for more info about the project.
Not to get all sentimental here, but people ask me why it’s helpful to learn about circuits or programming, and I always tell them that most appliances and gadgets have some form of these things inside of them. When you give this power to young children, they can imagine possibilities so quickly. They don’t get hung up on electrical equations or code errors; they concentrate on the possibilities, and sometimes that is all you need for the next amazing invention. Well done, Myrijam and Paul, and I can’t wait to see what movements and switches you invent for your chair. For everyone else, give the gift that keeps on giving in ways your kids can only imagine–a Raspberry Pi. It’s a great way to learn about Linux, Scratch, Python and whatever else you want to hook up. Go open source!
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