A Hands-Free Interface for Controlling Virtual Electric-Powered Wheelchairs

Tauseef Gulrez*, Alessandro Tognetti, Woon Jong Yoon, Manolya Kavakli, John John Cabibihan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper focuses on how to provide mobility to people with motor impairments with the integration of robotics and wearable computing systems. The burden of learning to control powered mobility devices should not fall entirely on the people with disabilities. Instead, the system should be able to learn the user's movements. This requires learning the degrees of freedom of user movement, and mapping these degrees of freedom onto electric-powered wheelchair (EPW) controls. Such mapping cannot be static because in some cases users will eventually improve with practice. Our goal in this paper is to present a hands-free interface (HFI) that can be customized to the varying needs of EPW users with appropriate mapping between the users' degrees of freedom and EPW controls. EPW users with different impairment types must learn how to operate a wheelchair with their residual body motions. EPW interfaces are often customized to fit their needs. An HFI utilizes the signals generated by the user's voluntary shoulder and elbow movements and translates them into an EPW control scheme. We examine the correlation of kinematics that occur during moderately paced repetitive elbow and shoulder movements for a range of motion. The output of upper-limb movements (shoulder and elbows) was tested on six participants, and compared with an output of a precision position tracking (PPT) optical system for validation. We find strong correlations between the HFI signal counts and PPT optical system during different upper-limb movements (ranged from r = 0.86 to 0.94). We also tested the HFI performance in driving the EPW in a virtual reality environment on a spinal-cord-injured (SCI) patient. The results showed that the HFI was able to adapt and translate the residual mobility of the SCI patient into efficient control commands within a week's training. The results are encouraging for the development of more efficient HFIs, especially for wheelchair users.

Original languageEnglish
Article number62028
JournalInternational Journal of Advanced Robotic Systems
Issue number2
Early online date1 Jan 2016
Publication statusPublished - 9 Mar 2016

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  • Assistive Technologies
  • Electric-powered Wheelchair
  • Hands-free Interface


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