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The 5 Things You Need to Know About Smart Wheelchairs! (Part 1)

The Smart Wheelchairs in Assessment and Training (SWAT) State of the Field workshop was an initiative to gather various stakeholders in power wheelchair training and assessment and create a comprehensive review of the current state of the discipline. The participants involved a balance of both clinical and technical experts on wheelchair training and assessment and the outcomes of the workshop are published in an AGEWELL report. The next 3 blogs will discuss some key outcomes of this workshop.

The top 5 things you should know about smart wheelchair technology!

1. What is a “Smart Wheelchair”?

A smart wheelchair is a power wheelchair (PWC) that collects information on driver behavior and interaction with their environment. This is done through the use of sensors and/or cameras positioned to provide feedback on a driver’s ability to control the device and navigate their environment safely. The information can be relayed directly to the user to modify behavior, such as through an auditory, sensory or visual feedback system. The data can also be tracked and used to provide therapists with valuable insight on the user’s driving habits. This can be used to assess the safety of the user and those around them, as well as areas to focus on during future training sessions and ways to modify the environment.

2. Why is This Important?

Access to PWC technology can increase a clients independence, improve their ability to navigate their environment and is considered to be a human right by advocacy groups such as UsersFirst. Access to mobility devices is closely tied to an increase in confidence level, self-efficacy and self-reported desire to use technology. Mobility devices can also reduce the social stigma related to disability, by increasing independence of a person with mobility impairment. Through the use of information collected by smart wheelchairs, therapists are able to more thoroughly assess a client’s ability to safely operate a PWC, and could increase access for users who might otherwise be denied access due to safety concerns.

3. What Can Smart Wheelchairs Do for Therapists?

A smart wheelchair can supplement a clinician’s decision making. Although there is no substitute for clinician experience and judgment, smart wheelchair feedback can provide valuable insights into how a client interacts with their PWC on a daily basis. They can provide insight into a client’s potential to learn, and whether training sessions will increase their ability to operate a PWC independently. They also provide insight into specific areas to focus on during future training sessions. They can create objective measures of performance (such as number of collisions experienced) and provide ongoing monitoring of clients, even when training sessions end.

4. What are the Main Barriers Preventing Client Access to PWC Technology?

The primary concern of most therapists in prescribing a PWC is the safety of both the client, and the people the client interacts with. Exclusion from PWC use is more likely to occur in users who show symptoms of inattention, delayed reaction time, poor judgment and decreased visuospatial awareness. For clients who require extensive training to safely use PWC technology, a limitation in the amount of training available due to therapist time constraints acts as a barrier to access. In addition, the high cost of PWC equipment, along with funding constraints can limit client access. There is additionally a limitation in commercially available technology to accommodate client needs for smart wheelchair technology.

5. What Smart Wheelchair Technology is Commercially Available?

Braze Mobility develops devices that can turn any wheelchair into a smart wheelchair. The Braze Sentina and Hydra are blind spot sensors that can be easily installed on any wheelchair, and provide auditory, visual and/or vibration feedback increasing the user’s spatial awareness and ability to maneuver tight spaces.  Braze CEO and co-organizer of the SWAT initiative Dr. Pooja Viswanathan developed these devices using the outcomes of the SWAT report to guide user-focused design. To learn more, click here!

Learn More About Smart Wheelchair Technology!


Viswanathan, P., Wang, R., Sutcliffe, A., Kenyon, L., Foley, G., Miller, W., Bell, J., Kirby, L., Simpson, R., Mihailidis, A., Adams, M., Archambault, P., Black, R., Blain, J., Bresler, M., Cotarla, S., Demiris, Y., Giesbrecht, E., Gardner, P., Gryfe, P., Hall, K., Mandel, C., McGilton, K., Michaud, F., Mitchell, I., Mortenson, B., Nilsson, L., Pineau, J., Smith, E., Zambalde, E., Zondervan, D., Routhier, F. & Carlson, T. (2018). “Smart Wheelchair in Assessment and Training (SWAT): State of the Field” AGEWELL.