Researchers at Ithaca College have developed a robotic scooter that gives infants with impaired mobility the ability to direct their movement by shifting their weight. At the heart of this innovative design is a piece of technology you are probably familiar with — the Nintendo Wii balance board — albeit for a completely different purpose. The Wii balance board is expanding its role from video game accessory to mobility aide.

The development of motorized wheelchairs has greatly improved the quality of life of individuals with mobility impairments. Infants and toddlers, however, lack the fine motor skills required to operate such a machine. Ithaca College researchers have developed a robotic scooter for infants consisting of a Wii balance board atop of a Pioneer3 robot (i.e. a motorized, wheeled platform). By simply shifting or leaning — towards a cookie, favourite toy, or big sister — the Wii balance board detects a change in the child’s weight distribution. The Wii balance board then communicates this information to the robot, which will then move, turn, or stop as a result.

Did You Know: The first practical motorized wheelchair was a Canadian development! George Klein at the National Research Council of Canada developed this electric wheelchair in the 1950s.

Conditions that impede or delay the development of mobility, such as Down syndrome and cerebral palsy, leave infants unable to move towards or away from their likes and dislikes. They’re incapable of exploring their surroundings like their peers and therefore have increased dependence on their caregivers.

Did You Know: Infants with mobility impairments experience decreased confidence, motivation and curiosity and are subject to increased frustration.

A device like the Wii balance board robot may be able to restore some freedom to mobility-impaired infants. Researchers still have many questions left to answer: How can the robot respond to the unique motions of every child? How will a mobility aide affect the psychological development of infants?

Researchers have proven the benefit of looking at existing technology with a little creativity. They’ve taken something designed for entertainment and recreation and used it to direct a robotic scooter for infants. Makes you wonder what use the next ingenious inventor will find for other technology laying around your home.

Did You Know: Researchers are also looking at using the Wii balance board as a tool for stroke and brain injury rehabilitation!

Learn More!

Tots on bots at Ithaca College

Infant Control of a Mobile Robot

Canadian development of the first motorized wheelchair

Wii balance board for stroke rehabilitation

Article first published on September 27, 2010.

Photo credit:Nintendo

Dylan Johnson

After graduating with a microbiology degree from the University of Toronto, I joined their department of immunology as a graduate student. I currently study genes that control how white blood cells act both during a healthy state and when burdened with diseases such as cancer or autoimmune disorders. My favourite things outside of the lab include yoga, watching the food network, classical music, and frozen yogurt!


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