Technologies make driving safer for wheelchair users

Armen Hareyan's picture
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Engineers at Lehigh and Carnegie Mellon universities, working with a Philadelphia-based start-up, have integrated robotics, laser and wireless technologies into a new system that promises to make it safer and cheaper for wheelchair users to drive a car.

The Automatic Transport and Retrieval System (ATRS), scheduled to go on sale next spring, allows wheelchair users to get in and out of their vehicles, stow and retrieve their chairs, and drive while sitting in standard automobile seats.

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The new system is the product of a collaboration between the two universities; Freedom Sciences LLC, a robotics company located at the Philadelphia Navy Yard; and Freedom Lift Corp. of Green Lane, Pa. Freedom Sciences has signed a licensing agreement on the ATRS with Lehigh.

John Spletzer, assistant professor of computer science and engineering, says the ATRS has achieved a breakthrough by enabling wheelchair users to drive while sitting in standard automobile seats that meet federal safety regulations.

Current solutions for wheelchair users who desire independent mobility require operators to sit in their chairs while driving. Because they are often poorly secured and not crash-test-approved, wheelchairs provide far less protection than standard seats. According to the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 35 percent of all automobile fatalities related to wheelchairs result from inadequately secured chairs.

The ATRS is also modular, says Spletzer, and can be installed without making permanent

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