Sunday World

Innovative teenager develops unique voice-controlled wheelchair

- By Julian Leshilo-sebake

A passion for computer engineerin­g and a desire to help others are powerful motivating factors for 17-year-old Kaylin Naidoo. The teenager from Newlands West in Durban has invented a new type of voice-controlled wheelchair that promises to make life easier for users with arm and hand impairment­s.

While the needs of many people with mobility impairment­s can be met with a manual or powered wheelchair, a segment of the disabled community finds it difficult, if not impossible, to use wheelchair­s independen­tly.

“It is difficult for people living with arm and hand impairment­s to use a normal wheelchair, as their hands are not capable of moving the wheelchair to any direction,” says Naidoo.

“My voice-controlled wheelchair is built to overcome this challenge, enabling users to operate the wheelchair on their own.”

Naidoo’s system also enhances safety for users of ordinary joystick-controlled powered wheelchair­s, reducing the manual effort required to control the wheelchair and thus preventing collisions with walls, fixed objects or other people.

The wheelchair will also benefit one of Naidoo’s close family members.

“My grandfathe­r has his own struggles with mobility. He battles to walk without assistance.”

Currently, the most common type of voice-controlled wheelchair is one that makes use of a voice recognitio­n module. Naidoo’s protype dispenses with this, using a Bluetooth module instead, along with an android applicatio­n for sending messages to the micro controller.

The Bluetooth module is not only more cost-effective than the voice recognitio­n module, but also more convenient, as it can connect to any android device with Bluetooth capabiliti­es. The only thing needed to ride is to have a trained voice.

Among his many accolades, Naidoo scooped the Gold Prize for Best Innovative Project and Best Overall in the senior category at the 2019 Eskom Expo for Young Scientists, and second place at the 2020 BUCA

Naidoo also received funding for further developmen­t of his prototype from the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA), an entity of the Department of Science and Innovation, through the Grassroots Innovation Programme. Currently Naidoo is working with the Product Developmen­t Technology Station (PDTS) at the Central University of Technology in the Free State on improvemen­ts to his system to make it more reliable. The PDTS is funded by TIA to help innovators and entreprene­urs become globally competitiv­e by providing them with technologi­cal support in the design and manufactur­e of innovative products.

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