REINVENTING THE WHEELCHAIR
Two years after competing in an MIT International Hackathon and coming in the top 10 out of 250 teams, Stephen Mylabathula, returned to campus at the University Minnesota where he was a computer engineering student, with an idea to make it easier for people in wheelchairs to direct their movements with a gesture instead of a joystick.
The inspiration to develop the technology came to him after he came into contact with a wheelchair using friend who had heard of the technology and was very excited about it. Mylabathula realised that it could have a massive impact on wheelchair users.
So, Galilea, co-founded by Mylabathula and three other University of Minnesota students was born. Their idea was to take his concept from the Hackathon, develop the technology that was so exciting them, and make a safe and useable product for people who have varying mobility.
“This is cutting edge stuff,” said Mylabathula. “We really thrive in that sort of environment. It’s something that really satisfies us.”
The design behind the Galilea headband is that two sensors that detect head movement and brain signals direct a wheelchair’s joystick via a part called a joystick actuator. The first sensor – similar to the one in a smartphone that facilitates its switch from landscape to portrait mode when you turn it on its side – likewise reads a person’s head motion and makes the chair’s joystick to move based on the direction they gesture. Because users will have a specific and individual range of neck mobility, they calibrate the headband so that it responds specifically to them.
The wearer’s brain activity is recorded by the second sensor and the idea is that artificial intelligence predicts the intended movement of the person in the wheelchair user based on the activity that the sensor reads. This means that Galilea users could move their wheelchair without even gesturing with their heads, and steer it with simple head movements
The team’s first prototype was finished this summer and they began testing with the help of several wheelchair users on campus. The next step is setting out their business plan.
Mylabathula and his co-founders – Furqan Syed, who studies computer science, and Adi Pidaparti, who studies computer science and physics – referred to one wheelchair user who tested Galilea. He suffers from a disease called Friedreich ataxia, that will eventually mean he won’t be able to control the muscles in his legs or hands.
“In five to seven years, he won’t be able to direct hand movement to control his joystick on his wheelchair, but the Galilea chair gives him hope that in the future for the rest of his life, he’s going to be able to move around, and move around naturally,” Mylabathula said.
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