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Smartphone-controlled wheelchair brings independence

Smartphone-controlled wheelchair brings independence

Ke Wang (front) and his team at Eightfold Technologies have created a smartphone application that can control power wheelchairs remotely. The app to control the wheelchair is simple to use.

At The Ottawa Hospital Rehabilitation Centre, Ke Wang touched his fingertip to his smartphone. Across the room, an empty power wheelchair began to roll slowly towards him, coming to a stop next to where he sat.

Ten years ago, Wang was hit by a car while standing at a bus stop. He spent years adjusting to his new reality. He now lives at home, but even there he relies on his wheelchair. If it’s out of reach and his family isn’t nearby, he’s stranded.

“I end up stuck in bed, no way to go. If I have an appointment that day, or have some work that needs to be done, there’s nothing I can do about it, even if I can see my chair a few feet away from me,” he said.

Eventually, his frustration inspired him. “I thought, ‘This is not rocket science. There must be a way’.”

A software and automation engineer by trade, Wang founded Eightfold Technologies, which developed the ‘SmartChair’ app. It sends a signal from the phone to a control box on the wheelchair that is integrated with the chair’s joystick.

“We all know the feeling of being stuck in traffic, unable to move. That’s the everyday reality for people who can’t reach their wheelchair,” said Edward Lemaire, a researcher at The Ottawa Hospital Rehabilitation Centre who has been an advisor on the project. “It comes down to having that independence and control again.”

The app works with any phone or tablet and the controller works with any joystick-controlled power wheelchair. The app can be configured so users with different accessibility challenges, such as upper body injury, can also remotely control their wheelchair.

The remote control product isn’t for sale just yet but will be the first to go to market. Meanwhile, Wang is working on even smarter and more challenging applications.

“For example, you can lay down a line on the floor and the chair will follow the line,” said Wang. “All the person has to do is say, ‘I want to go to the living room,’ or push a button, and the chair will follow the line and take them to the living room.”


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  • Anonymous says:

    So nice to see that an Ottawa – based start-up is focused on improving people’s lives for real life application, for both the patients and their caregivers. Bravo!

  • Anonymous says:

    I started my nursing career 40 years ago at the Winnipeg health sciences spinal cord injury unit .I prayed everyday that someone somewhere sometime would find a way to help the quadriplegics and paraplegics regain a bit of independence and therefore dignity in day to day living for themselves . Prayers answered and more to come I am sure Congratulations!

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