ARTY is a smart, robotic wheelchair designed to give the freedom of independent mobility to children with disabilities, particularly those unable to use a regular powered wheelchair safely.
Using a combination of sensors and robotic technology, ARTY perceives its environment and makes control decisions to avoid crashes. Although ARTY can be fully autonomous (it can drive itself), we believe a shared-control approach is more natural for most drivers -- people are more than pieces of “precious cargo”.
For the young driver, ARTY means a safe, fun driving experience where skills can be practiced. For parents, ARTY gives peace of mind. For therapists, ARTY represents a potential accelerated recovery path; it allows children to start moving around on their own before it has been previously possible. Furthermore, ARTY collects data it receives (e.g, joystick movement) and this information can help therapists make better treatment decisions.
I like helping children achieve their potential. The idea that some are unable to have the same opportunities as others strikes me as tremendously unfortunate and unfair.
Research has shown that independent mobility is crucial for a growing child and its loss can severely impact cognitive, emotional and social development. Exploring, learning and playing should be the right of all children.
Unfortunately, powered wheelchair provision in the UK for young children has been difficult due to safety concerns. But I believe wheelchair driving need not be unsafe. Current technologies are mature enough to lower the risks associated with wheelchair driving and discussions with my supervisor, Yiannis Demiris (who is also passionate about these issues) led to ARTY.
We developed ARTY iteratively and are currently at our third prototype. To jumpstart development, we built ARTY on top of a base wheelchair. Our initial goals were to enable: (1) movement control, (2) environment sensing and (3) collision avoidance. A challenge for us was to make the driving experience both safe and fun; this required careful balancing.
User tests are important for us; ARTY has been tested with 15 able-bodied children. Early tests challenged our preconceived notions and gave us ideas for improvements. For example, responsiveness was an issue and at one point, we had to overhaul the system.
Working with therapists has helped us understand the challenges facing front-line caregivers. With their help, ARTY was tested by two children with disabilities (one had never before driven a wheelchair). We continue to work together, improving ARTY’s capability to help children get better.