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Air Force cadets finalizing five-year project on eye-assisted wheelchair

Posted at 8:50 AM, Feb 14, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-14 10:50:50-05

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — A U.S. Air Force Academy colonel and cadets are nearing completion of a “gaze assisted” wheelchair after nearly five years of working on the project.

They began their work in 2018 as part of a capstone project created by a group of seniors.

View assisted wheelchair

While the seniors working on the project have come and gone, Col. Brian Neff, a professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, has remained the head for the project's entirety.

“I wanted cadets to see themselves contributing to the project when they walked by the lab,” Neff said


The wheelchair uses an advanced eye-motion-assisted controller, which tracks the direction your eyes are looking to assist and direct the chair in that direction.

Reverse engineering of the chair began in 2019, but following the COVID-19 pandemic, had to be shut down during some of the senior's final years.

The first seniors able to work on the project came from the 2021 class. Every following year, the seniors would inherit the project and work on it before passing it on to the upcoming seniors.

Nearing completion of the project and upon graduating, the seniors who worked on the project will have their names attached to the patent.

“The primary contribution this group of cadets made is two-fold,” Neff said. “First, they refined the previous prototypes. They took the things that worked and refined them so that they are repeatable and usable even in an uncontrolled environment. Second, they redesigned the control interfaces, based on their experiences with video games. They have used some of that methodology to design a completely new control interface that is much more usable.”

The technology developed with the chair will function both in the military and civilian world.

Neff believes it can be used to help aid pilots, vehicle controllers and operators of any complex military system. However, following the completion of the chair, they are hoping to present the chair to somebody who may need it.

After years of work on the wheelchair, the cadets wanted to see it used in a humanitarian effort.

All those who worked on the project put a bit of themselves into it with responsibilities and aspects varying in a wide range.

“The one thing about this project that was very unique is that we can give something to somebody at the end of our time working with it,” Khan said. “That was very appealing to me.” Each cadet brought his discipline and expertise to the assistive technology capstone team. Ringe excels at 3D design and electronics integration. As such, he troubleshoots and reverse-engineers the chair’s interface. Jones and Khan, Electrical and Computer Engineering majors like Ringe, are coding experts and built the tools necessary to create the project’s software. Systems Engineering majors Isley and Smith worked on human factors and project management.

The cadets and their professors are really excited to see their finalized product in action and are ready to implement its technology into a real functioning setting.

Denver 7+ Colorado News Latest Headlines | February 14, 8am