GLASSCHAIR - Get Mobile. Independently.

Mobility constitutes an indispensable aspect of everyday life that is usually taken for granted. Nevertheless, there are many people indeed, whose mobility options are so heavily constrained that their movement is only possible through external help. GLASSCHAIR eliminates this dependence: As a Google Glass application for driving a wheelchair in a hands-free fashion, it offers these people independent mobility via head movements.

Started as a project at the Department of Informatics at TUM, GLASSCHAIR will now be continued as a start-up by its founders Dominik Schniertshauer, Shady Yacoub and Claudiu Leverenz.

Research focused on mobility problems

GLASSCHAIR was initially conceived as a student project during the “Mobility Services” advanced practical course, which was offered by the Chair for Information Systems (Prof. Krcmar) at TUM during the winter semester of 2014/2015. The course was supervised by Dr. Michael Schermann, Thomas Köhn und Christopher Kohl and had the objective of creating a Google Glass application, which has a positive impact on mobility.

Many people worldwide, who are relying on wheelchairs, are not able to move their hands. Possible causes are spinal-cord injury, loss of limbs, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease, to name a few. These people are therefore not able to drive a wheelchair on their own and must completely depend on other people, or expensive and uncomfortable solutions, to move around.

Hands-free wheelchair driving with Smart Glasses

The GLASSCHAIR team solves this problem with a Google Glass application and an accompanying hardware adapter, which together make it possible to drive an electric wheelchair solely via head movements.

GLASSCHAIR is also compatible with many common wheelchair models that are developed by well-known wheelchair manufacturers. The adapter is connected to an interface for external control modules and can then receive the head-movement data, which is captured and sent to it over Bluetooth by the Google Glass application. The data is then converted to the appropriate control signal on the wheelchair side.

The driving experience is intuitive and designed to be adaptable to different driving styles, which makes the application easy to use. Also, since the application uses Bluetooth, it is possible to make a training- or test-drive without sitting in the wheelchair being driven. This reduces the risk for first-timers who want to try GLASSCHAIR out.

Another feature, which supports safety throughout the driving experience, is the Emergency Message. It is available through a voice command and would be used if the user had an emergency and needed to communicate his location immediately to a family member. This emergency contact person receives a link which allows them to navigate to the user right away.

With the assumption that Smart Glasses will be as widespread in the future as smart phones are nowadays, one could easily see that GLASSCHAIR can be offered as an affordable and conventional method for head-movement-based wheelchair driving.

Another advantage of using Google Glass is that one could also use it to add various features, ranging from wheelchair-friendly navigation to home automation.

Together with a comfortable and modern driving concept, GLASSCHAIR’s expandable feature set gives it an advantage over other products on the market, which solve the same problem through expensive, uncomfortable devices.

Development under real conditions

The biggest challenge faced while developing GLASSCHAIR was combining the completely-different research-and-development fields of Smart Glasses and electric wheelchairs. The compatibility of both areas was established during the exciting development phase and was crucial for the final prototype.

Another difficulty was to find a wheelchair to borrow in order to develop and run tests under real conditions. This problem was eventually solved thanks to the wheelchair manufacturer Permobil.

Positive feedback as a motivation for the future

The positive reactions of potential customers, entrepreneurs and people interested in technology convinced the TUM Master-students Dominik Schniertshauer, Shady Yacoub and Claudiu Leverenz to continue working on GLASSCHAIR and to start promoting it at as well as on social media websites.

GLASSCHAIR will also be featured at the Mobility Services Lab stand at the “Lange Nacht der Wissenschaften”, a science fair which takes place in Garching on the 27th of June, 2015.