Autonomous cars and trucks are capturing lots of media attention, but for people with limited mobility, the “last mile” problem remains. For those unable to move about on their own in a wheelchair, they have no way to move independently from their home to a smart car. Researchers at MIT are working with National University of Singapore (NUS) to solve this problem.

Researchers with the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART) have been working on autonomous vehicles since 2014. Last year, we reported on their autonomous scooter program. Now they have come up with an autonomous wheelchair that provides more support and stability than the scooter. The six-wheel design can navigate through narrow spaces, and is able to detect and avoid both stationary and moving obstacles (such as pedestrians). The wheelchair travels at a normal walking speed, and adjusts its speed dynamically in response to the conditions and obstacles around it. It has been tested inside buildings at Changi General Hospital.

This approach lets people with limited mobility select a destination and the wheelchair will take them there without the need for any additional input. This could greatly increase the independence and quality of life for millions of people worldwide.