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A Wheelchair Navigation System As A Collaborative Senior Project

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2005 Annual Conference


Portland, Oregon

Publication Date

June 12, 2005

Start Date

June 12, 2005

End Date

June 15, 2005



Conference Session

Capstone/Design Projects: Electrical ET

Page Count


Page Numbers

10.110.1 - 10.110.7



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Paper Authors

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Ken Burbank

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 1347

A Wheelchair Navigation System as a Collaborative Senior Project

Kenneth Burbank, John Holcomb, Karena Cooper-Duffy, Ken Prohn Western Carolina University Cullowhee, NC 28723

Abstract Senior projects are common requirements in engineering technology programs. Seniors are challenged to integrate in one project the knowledge, skills and abilities learned over three plus years. Recently, the projects at Western Carolina University have ranged from wireless car alarms to three-phase motor test stations to back up energy sources for aquariums. An integral part of the Department’s mission is external engagement, so the Electrical and Computer Engineering Technology faculty look for projects that can connect the WCU seniors to the community.

Recently, faculty from the College of Education and Allied Professions and the Department of Engineering and Technology identified several special needs cases where a technical innovation could improve a student’s quality of life in the classroom. The initial project was the addition of a navigation system to a wheelchair. In this case, a child who is deaf-blind was given a motorized wheelchair, and a method was needed to prevent the student from running into objects in the classroom. A system was designed using four ultrasonic sensors controlled by a microcontroller board. Depending on the returned signal from the sensors, an alarm was activated to warn the student. In this design, a vibrating motor from a cell phone provided the alarm. The classroom teacher had the responsibility to teach the student to associate the vibration with the closeness to an obstacle. In the future, this classroom teacher hopes to expand the student’s abilities such that the student can sense each of the four directional sensors individually.

As an electrical engineering technology senior project, the wheelchair navigation system required the WCU senior to integrate microcontrollers, sensors, programming, and power supplies and to consider the packaging issues. In addition, the collaboration required the senior to communicate with grade school teachers and the Special Education Program faculty. More importantly, this collaboration helped the senior connect his technical expertise with the needs of others and this sense of purpose energized the senior and his classmates.

Introduction Western Carolina University (WCU) includes a College of Education and Allied Professions. Within this College’s Department of Human Services, there is a Special Education Program whose mission is to prepare educators who understand child development and who use that knowledge to implement educational programs based on individual student needs. This group of educators works with student teachers and also with practicing teachers in the regional schools. Proceedings of the 2005 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2005, American Society for Engineering Education

Burbank, K. (2005, June), A Wheelchair Navigation System As A Collaborative Senior Project Paper presented at 2005 Annual Conference, Portland, Oregon. 10.18260/1-2--14344

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