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University of Portsmouth AI powered wheelchair research wins national awards

Pioneering research from the University of Portsmouth that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to open up a new world of possibilities for children with disabilities has won two E&T Innovation Awards 2020.

The Awards celebrate people, projects and organisations revolutionising the world through excellence in engineering and technology. The University won the Outstanding Innovation in Digital Health and Social Care and the Excellence in Creating a Smarter World categories.

The University of Portsmouth collaborated with the Chailey Heritage Foundation to develop intelligent real-time digital systems to enhance the use of powered wheelchairs. These will enable children with high levels of disability to drive their own wheelchairs. Some for the very first time. 

The system, developed by Professor David Sanders and his team, helps the user take their wheelchairs where they want to, without colliding. Sensors placed on the wheelchair recognise an object in its way and can then avoid it, move the wheelchair around the obstacle or bring it to a halt. Most importantly, it can also react to the wheelchair user’s wants and needs.

Professor Sanders said: “I am absolutely delighted that our work has won the two awards and recognises how the systems are having such a significant positive impact on the lives of disabled young people.

“If you build a system for a wheelchair that avoids collisions, it succeeds in not crashing, but can prevent the user from switching the light on, or putting something in the bin. Because the powered wheelchair won’t let them go to the wall or bin - to avoid a collision.

“This is an example of where the combination of AI and decision-making makes a difference. Our research looks at how the AI can interpret what the person wants to do, or is trying to do, and then it helps them to do it.” 

The winners were announced at the virtual ceremony held online last week.

IET President, Professor Danielle George said: “There has never been a more important time to recognise and celebrate the innovations that are bringing about real change and are helping to solve the global challenges we face today. In these uncertain times, we need innovators and creative minds from across all sectors to work together to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic.

“These annual awards celebrate the achievements of the most outstanding innovations across engineering and technology. The finalists this year all demonstrate the imagination of engineers worldwide and we are so proud to show our support for these exceptional minds. A huge congratulations to all our winners.”

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