The Wheelchair Project
Mobile Robot Programming Lab
Robotics Institute
Carnegie Mellon University

Project Summary

The goal of the wheelchair project is to develop a totally reliable wheelchair navigation system for all areas, both indoor and outdoor, that may be traversed by wheelchair. This is a significant departure from traditional wheelchair technology because we aim to incorporate sensing in the wheelchair package. This is also a departure from existing wheelchair-robotics research because we aim to institute vision as our sensor of choice. The wheelchair architecture that results from this work will have sufficient competence to interact with a human across the scale of automation: at one extreme, the wheelchair system will be able to provide low-level motion guidance, with the human concentrating on the general direction of travel. At the other extreme, the user will tell the wheelchair where to go and the wheelchair will take care of all the details thereafter. Our first milestone is autonomous and reliable navigation from my office in Smith Hall to the University Center bookstore. This milestone is ambitious, requiring competence at obstacle avoidance and landmark recognition. Along the way, we insist on fully adaptive code to ensure that the solution to this challenge will be able to adapt to any reasonably similar environment and will thus not be held hostage to the particularities of this campus.

Funding Status

The computer and vision system have been partly funded via my Faculty Development Grant for 1997. The wheelchair chassis has been acquired (see picture below) through the KISS Institute for Practical Robotics using startup funds for my appointment at CMU. Iwan Ulrich is a new first year PhD student who has chosen this project as his full-time research project. He hails from Univesity of Michigan, where he developed a robotic blind aid, Guidecane, that has won him national recognition. My primary funding need is for supporting Iwan Ulrich during his tenure on this project. The cost of a PhD student in the Robotics Institute is roughly 60K per year.


Illah R. Nourbakhsh is Assistant Professor of Robotics at the Robotics Institute. He runs the Mobile Robot Programming Lab and is also a member of the Automated Highway System project.

Iwan Ulrich is a Robotics PhD student at the Robotics Institute and leads the Bookstore Project.

[ The Robotics Institute | Carnegie Mellon University ]

Last modified September 29, 1997
Illah R. Nourbakhsh (