Russian engineer Valery Spiridonov, who has volunteered to become the first patient to undergo a head transplant, is developing an inexpensive kit that adds autopilot functionality to wheelchairs. Ben Gruber reports.
STORY: This isn't the first time Valery Spiridonov is in the news… The terminally ill computer scientist has volunteered to become the first person to undergo a head transplant, a first of its kind surgery scheduled for next year. But before the controversial procedure, Spiridonov wants to give wheelchair bound disabled people like himself an easier way to maneuver indoors. (SOUNDBITE) (Russian) FIRST HEAD TRANSPLANT VOLUNTEER, VALERY SPIRIDONOV, SAYING: "There are many people in the world who have wasted muscles like me, for example, various types of atrophy, cerebral palsy or back injuries who are extremely weak in movements. Anyway, their wheelchairs are uncomfortable for them even taking into account all the existing modern navigation systems. Because wheelchairs controllers for many are difficult to use, their hands don't have enough plasticity." Spiridonov's answer is to harness the latest in sensor and camera technologies to make an autopilot system. The device will be able to map its surroundings and can be attached to any electric wheelchair, giving a user the ability to simply tell the chair where to go. (SOUNDBITE) (Russian) FIRST HEAD TRANSPLANT VOLUNTEER, VALERY SPIRIDONOV, SAYING: "We combine this with a Smartphone app which gives an opportunity to control a wheelchair by a voice command. We work on its interface which will be suitable for people who have a speech abnormality or cannot speak at all. So, a person who can hardly move will be able to use our very visible, bright, colorful and clear interface to transfer from one place to another." While autonomous wheelchairs aren't new, a system to enable any wheelchair with an autopilot system is. To commercialize the device, Spiridonov and his team have started a crowdfunding effort. He projects the kit will cost about $200 (USD) when it hits the market.