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Can we use autonomous wheelchairs for elderly persons with deteriorated physical and cognitive functions so that they can enjoy walking?
Walking is recommended for elderly persons in order to maintain good health. However, it is true that walking accidents involving elderly persons frequently. Family and the caregiver may go with them to secure their safety, but the elderly regret having to ask someone to help them take a little walk or run an errand.
How can the elderly enjoy walking alone as much as they like without causing a burden on the family and caregiver?
How about a wheelchair driven by automated driving technology that goes with elderly persons when they walk?
The wheelchair is not intended to take elderly persons to a desired destination, but to accompany them when they take a walk, and can take them to the destination if they become tired. The wheelchair recognizes and averts danger during the walk, and thus protects the elderly user. At the same time, it fulfills the desire of the elderly “to walk as much as they want,” and gives the family and caregiver a sense of security in that “it is OK for them to go out.”
If a wheelchair accompanies elderly persons on a walk and gives them a ride when they return home, it may expand the range of walking activity to a great extent. The wheelchair giving them a ride mitigates physical and cognitive concerns, and may encourage to walk further. The expanded range of activity also expands the range of socialization. It may make it easier to see old friends.
When the family and caregiver share information about the location and status of the wheelchair, and confirm the safety of an elderly person from a distance, they can send the elderly person out reassuringly. Once the elderly no longer impose any burden on the people around them when they go out, they become confident in doing so and may go out more frequently.
This is a result of a research for Japan METI’s R&D and PoC of smart mobility system: a study of autonomous driving and its social values and use scenarios. (2016)