Home Smart 100 2011 Powering wheelchairs with brain waves earns third spot in Anthill SMART 100

Powering wheelchairs with brain waves earns third spot in Anthill SMART 100


Imagine operating a wheelchair without hands or a joystick or any physical assistance. Imagine making the wheels roll and the chair turn using nothing but brain waves.

At the University of Technology, Sydney, Professor Hung Nguyen and his research team have taken the concept far beyond imagination. Though still in early development, the system, called Aviator, has the promise to revolutionise wheelchair and raise the quality of life of people with severe disabilities. Their efforts are more than good enough for third place in this year’s Anthill SMART 100.

3. Aviator wheelchair system

Company: University of Technology Sydney
Headquarters: Sydney, NSW

Nguyen, the inventor of Aviator, is the dean of the university’s engineering and information technology faculty. His research team, with funding and direction established by the Australian government, working on developing technologies that empower people socially and personally.

Aviator is the team’s flagship. Its purpose is to harness the freedom of the mind to overcome the limitations of the body. Aviator collects brain signals from a discretely placed electrode in the back of the head and converts that energy into commands that control the wheelchair’s movements.

Current systems for people with limited or no use of their hands included joysticks, a “sip and puff” tube or a chin stick (think Christopher Reeve). There also are devices that translate a head’s movement to wheelchair commands. But all of these require external, physical influence. Aviator aims to go around that connection and plug directly into the mind.

The university is currently in discussions with control equipment designers and manufacturers, with the goal of incorporating Aviator into existing products. The ultimate goal is to be product of choice for health equipment providers, occupational therapists and any wheelchair user who could benefit from the technology.