Researchers develop wheelchair controlled by facial expressions

Click to play video: 'Researchers develop wheelchair controlled by facial expressions' Researchers develop wheelchair controlled by facial expressions
WATCH: See the Wheelie, a hands-free wheelchair controlled by facial expressions, in action – May 26, 2016

Researchers at a Brazilian robotics startup have developed technology that allows a person to control a wheelchair with simple facial expressions.

HOOBOX, a São Paulo-based company, saw a gap in the market for wheelchair users who needed an efficient hands-free option that didn’t require sensors or contraptions attached to the user’s body.

“We compared technologies developed 10 years ago to technologies today and we noticed that the improvements were not so significant,” wrote HOOBOX CEO Paulo Pinheiro in an email to Global News.

“We accepted the challenge of using our knowledge in assistive robotics to create the next generation of interfaces to drive wheelchairs. These interfaces should not require sensors placed on the user’s body but should have a high efficiency for its application in day to day life.”

The Wheelie uses a laptop or tablet hooked up to a facial recognition camera which reads 80 points on a human face. So far, the technology recognizes eight expressions which can each be assigned to a certain movement or to stop the wheelchair.

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HOOBOX CEO Paulo Pinheiro shows the facial expressions recognized by the Wheelie. HOOBOX

Pinheiro said the user can still maintain “moderate conversation” without interrupting the operation of the Wheelie and said the second generation prototype is already able to recognize voice commands, head and iris movements. Functions such as the voice command can toggle the interface on and off if the user wants to stop and engage in an expressive conversation.

The company said it has already received its first round of funding from investors and expects the first Wheelie model to be on the market by the end of 2018.

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