Moved by his octogenarian grandfather’s insistence on wanting to maintain his independence in the twilight years of his life, a young man from Bihar has created a voice-controlled, battery-operated wheelchair.
“My grandfather hates it when somebody tries to help him with his daily chores or holds his hand to help him walk. I am sure there are many more like him. I wanted to do something for them,” said Ashutosh Prakash, a final semester student at the Birla Institute of Technology, Patna, about the source of his inspiration.
Prakash came up with the idea during his internship at the Indian Institute of Technology, Patna, three years ago. “My internship guide, Dr Atul Thakur, helped me realise the idea,” he said.
The wheelchair, which is being compared with the one used by acclaimed physicist Stephen Hawking, is a traditional wheelchair that responds to voice command for four basic movements — left, right, forward and reverse; it even stops when it encounters an obstacle or approaches a staircase. “It senses unevenness on the floor, near a staircase and stops, ensuring the safety of the person using it,” he said.
The wheelchair has been fitted with a voice-processor, microcontrollers to amplify control signals, motor and battery, besides microchips. The existing wheelchair is fit for a person weighing up to 80 kgs and costs just `20,000. “Depending on the weight of the person using it, the wheelchair may need stronger battery and motor, adding to its cost,” Prakash said.
Born to teacher Pramod Kumar Mishra and homemaker Renu Mishra, the Darbhanga boy has kept the design open-ended and wants other people to improve on it. He explained his objective is to not make profit, but to help people like his grandfather.
This is not the first time Prakash has used technology to improve lives of those in need. Earlier, he had designed an inexpensive prosthetic limb that would respond to brain signals.