GradImpact: Improving Mobility for Wheelchair Users through SMART Technology

    As a pediatric cancer survivor, Kelilah Wolkowicz knew she wanted to spend her life helping people. A recent PhD recipient in mechanical engineering from The Pennsylvania State University, Wolkowicz’s research focused on the co-creation of a robotic wheelchair as part of the Vehicles and Systems Group in Penn State’s College of Engineering.


    The U.S. has approximately three million people who need wheelchairs to get around. Wolkowicz and other researchers were concerned with designing a robotic wheelchair that would meet the needs of those with a variety of mobility issues. “I’m hoping to improve the quality of life for them,” said Wolkowicz. “We don’t want a person to adapt to a wheelchair that exists; we want to create a wheelchair that adapts to the person.” The design includes sensors that utilize ultrasonic technology and can detect and avoid obstacles. In addition, the wheelchairs are outfitted with lasers that can map the surroundings and act as a GPS system, which could be especially helpful for patients with memory loss.


    The robotic wheelchair prototype still needs work to minimize the requirements on the user, but Wolkowicz is confident the next team will make significant advances. Meanwhile she will be continuing her own work as a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University. “This is what I went to graduate school for,” Wolkowicz said. “I just really want to help people, especially in the medical field.” To learn more about Kelilah’s work visit the Penn State University website.


    Visit the GradImpact Feature Gallery to learn more about the amazing, innovative research being done by graduate students and alumni across the world.



    Photo Credit: Erin Cassidy Hendrick/Penn State


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