OGDEN, Utah – Three Weber State University students majoring in computer electronics engineering technology (CEET) have designed and built a wheelchair that is guided by the Global Positioning System.
Senior Scott Cornford began working on the project last fall because of his interest in robotics and GPS. He was joined spring semester by Patricia Gay and Joe Patterson, both WSU students.
The wheelchair has two 1.6 horsepower motors, two laptops and a 24-volt DC battery. After the laptops acquire the wheelchair's position from GPS, they send the information to the motor controller which relays needed adjustments to the motors. The GPS receiver is aided by the Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS) making the system accurate to three meters or less. WAAS is the technology the Federal Aviation Administration is developing for planes to use when making runway approaches.
"This is really cool stuff," Cornford remarked.
The project involves technology that Cornford says will eventually lead to military rescues that avoid putting soldiers in harms way by having GPS-guided vehicles carry out the mission instead. Drowsy drivers could also benefit by having cruise control as well as vehicle guidance on their vehicle when driving home late at night.
Cornford focused on computer programming for the project, while Gay specialized in hardware and Patterson concentrated on diagnostics. All of the materials used for the project were off-the-shelf products that the group modified to meet its needs.
The project's development has not been entirely smooth. A week before the end of the semester, the wheelchair was still tipping over. The group had to remove the brakes to keep them from sticking.
"This is why our program is so strong," said Bill Clapp, the CEET department chair. "Students have to prove their capabilities before they graduate."
Each student majoring in CEET must complete a 300-hour engineering project over the course of two semesters. Cornford graduates this semester, but Gay and Patterson plan on further developing the project. One feature they would like to add is a sensor that helps the wheelchair avoid obstacles in its path.