First Ever Electric Wheelchair Controlled By Facial Expressions

Hoobox, a Brazilian startup has partnered with Intel to create an adapter kit that can be connected to almost any electrical wheelchair.

Powered by AI, The Wheelie 7 is able to detect the user’s facial expressions and process the data in real-time to direct the movement of the chair.

So while facial recognition has a controversial reputation for the threat it poses to privacy, there are undoubtedly some very beneficial applications

The Wheelie 7 being a great example. This technology is the vision of Dr. Paulo Pinheiro, one which first came to him when walking through an airport. A young girl in a wheelchair being pushed by her father, a girl who could not use her arms and legs but had a great smile.

This is what gave him his inspiration to create and launch the first ever wheelchair controlled by facial expressions.

The kit is the first of its kind and is a notable landmark for many people who are living with a severe disability. The Wheelie 7 prototype is currently being tested by users in the US. Among these are people living with quadriplegia and motor neurone disease, as well as seniors.

Improving Mobility With A Smile…

Users can customise which of the 10 expressions they want to employ for each possible direction. This means that they can control their wheelchair by frowning smiling or raising their eyebrows.

“We believe we can take advantage of a person’s best abilities to counteract limitations. Improving mobility and autonomy, but also enhancing self-esteem,” said Hoobox.

For the past two years, Hoobox has been working closely with Intel’s Software Innovators Program who have helped integrate its 3D RealSense camera into the Wheelie 7 kit.

” If people are using a smile to stop their chair, you want to make sure that it works one hundred per cent of the time, right?” Dr. Paulo Pinheiro founder of Hoobx explained.

This is why Hoobox teamed up with Intel. The combination of Intel’s 3D RealSense camera and Hoobox software was vital for Dr. Pinheiro to achieve his vision.

The Wheelie 7 can accurately detect facial expressions in varying light conditions and camera angles. The users face can be offset by up to 60 degrees and the system can still accurately detect even subtle movements.

Everything on the Wheelie 7 runs locally, it doesn’t even need an internet connection. It can be embedded onto a laptop if its running Core i5 or better. There is no need to use any extra processor power thus not eating into the wheelchair battery itself.

Is There Further Potential For The Wheelie 7?

Currently, the Wheelie 7 only requires the use of five out of ten facial expressions, so there are some open slots that can be used for other functions.

This includes that the system is compatible with Amazon’s Alexa, leaving five facial expressions for users to control various aspects of their smart homes. This can simply be turning on the lights and adjusting the thermostat, which allows for more independence.

Working closely with a large medical facility in Brazil, Pinheiro hopes that in the future the Wheelie 7 will be able to understand human behaviour. For example, measuring a patients pain levels through a mounted camera on an ICU bed.

“The precision is so high that we can start to detect human behaviour, such as drowsiness, 10 levels of pain, agitation or sedation levels and spasms. We can even detect when a person will sneeze before sneezing,” said Pinheiro.

It is hoped the Wheelie 7 can revolutionize the ways in which modern medicine grapples with pain management and opioid addiction. The technology is set to go on sale early next year and is compatible with 95% of electric wheelchairs.


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