An engineer determined to make a difference, Safwan Choudhury wanted to do what was widely held to be impossible: build a fully-functional wheelchair that could be controlled by a person’s thoughts – all within 8-month time period, with a team of five full-time undergraduate engineering students and only $1500 in funding.
Against all odds, his team pulled it off.
They developed a fully-functional prototype of their thought-controlled wheelchair, presenting it at the 2011 University of Waterloo Design Project Symposium. Driven by a vision of enabling the paralyzed and the paraplegic to enjoy the gift of movement once again, their invention drew massive crowds and tons of praise, ultimately winning them first place at the 2011 Infusion Design Cup Challenge and beating more than 50 other teams along the way. Using an electroencephalographic (EEG) headset to read brain activity, interpret it as a desired action and then execute the command via microcontrollers embedded into the wheelchair frame itself, users can simply ‘think’ about moving in a particular direction and the wheelchair follows through.
In line with this success, Safwan is now pursuing an MASc in the field of humanoid robotics at the University of Waterloo. His next challenge? To design the lower body of a humanoid and develop energetically-efficient walking algorithms so that bipedal robots can walk more like humans.