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Towards Mobility Equality for Wheelchair Users Through Robotics

John Spletzer
Lehigh University

Thursday, April 24th, 2008
Location: Troy 2018 - 4:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Refreshments at 3:30 p.m.


There are currently 2.2 million wheelchair users in the U.S., 83% of which use personal motor vehicles. With the number of people over the age of 65 expected to increase from 36 million in 2004 to over 70 million by 2030, wheelchair usage is also expected to rise dramatically. Increasingly, these persons live in suburban and rural areas where public transportation services are limited, and they rely heavily on private automobiles. For such an individual, losing the ability to drive can translate to losing their personal freedom. In this talk, we present our research in developing of the Automated Transport and Retrieval System (ATRS), a technology-based solution for drivers in wheelchairs. ATRS integrates robotics and automation technologies into a traditional automobile without making permanent changes to the vehicle. This eliminates the need for an attendant or costly van conversion. The heart of ATRS is a smart wheelchair system which navigates autonomously from the driver's position to a lift platform at the rear of the vehicle. We will discuss both the technical and commercialization challenges faced in bringing such a robotic system to market that operates in the presence of and service to people. ATRS is currently pending FDA approval, and is expected to enter the commercial market in Spring 2008.


John Spletzer is an assistant Professor of Computer Science and Engineering at Lehigh University. Professor Spletzer received his PhD in Computer and Information Science from the University of Pennsylvania (CIS) in 2003. He also holds Master degrees in CIS (Penn, `99) and Mechanical Engineering (Johns Hopkins, `93). Prior to returning to full-time studies for his PhD, Professor Spletzer served as a test engineer for the U. S. Army, where he helped develop NBC defense equipment and related sensor systems to include long-range infrared (IR) LIDAR systems, as well as passive IR viewers for driving in degraded visibility conditions. His research focus is mobile robotics, with emphasis on assistive technologies for driving and multi-agent systems. Most recently, he served as co-Team Leader on the Ben Franklin Racing Team, which reached the finals of the DARPA Urban Challenge in Nov 2007. His work is funded by the National Science Foundation, the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, and private corporations to include Freedom Sciences and Thales Communications, Inc.

Hosted by: Volkan Isler (x-3275)

Administrative support: Shannon Carrothers (x6354)

For more information:

Dr. John Spletzer's Homepage

Last updated: January 7, 2008