I can see this being a big benefit to those with minimal mobility. Not
just those limited to voice command, but also to those with limited
muscle control. I know a gentleman who had a stroke, and can't talk.
His hand movements are also pretty limited, and a bit shaky. Such a
robot can interpret his hand controls on a joystick, and interpret them
while filtering out his unintended movements.
Some years ago spoke briefly with one lady who was researching ways for
severely handicapped children to be able to play. She was saying that
even a tiny bit of ability to control the world around them could be
very valuable. For your project, even if the wheelchair is of limited
use (such as inside the house), I imagine that having just a little
more control over their lives will be greatly appreciated.
Of course the biggest issue with making a device to assist a
handicapped person is that you are taking some responsibility for that
person's safety. Of course, your efforts are an academic exercise, so
you won't truly have that burden. But you should be working as though
that responsibility were there.
I think your biggest challenge is not getting the chair to move to a
command. Rather, it is being absolutely sure the chair cannot go down a
step or flight of stairs. Bumping into things is less of a safety
issue, but you certainly don't want the person to feel like a bull in a
If the chair is restricted to being inside a controlled environment
(such as an individual's house or a nursing home) then you can take
advantage of that situation. The person will probably have only a few
standard places where they go, and common paths they will take between
those places. E.g. the Living Room, The TV, By the Window, At the
Then, the user only has to indicate their intended destination, and the
chair's task it to follow a pre-programmed route. If the person wants
to go somewhere off those routes, then the interface needs to be more
complicated to allow the person time to make sure they are not knocking
On the pre-programmed routes the user can verbally stop the chair
themselves, though it should be kept clear most of the time. But I
think the chair should still monitor that the path is clear, especially
if it needs to back up at any time.
Knowing the difficulty robots have with obstacle avoidance, I would
work to put as much responsibility for avoiding obstacles on the user
as you can. Perhaps a video camera to view what is behind them so they
can back up with confidence. When moving forward, a laser might be
able to scan out the planned path, so the user can see if the path is
what they really want to do, and that the path is clear.