A thought-controlled wheelchair system from the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS), has been awarded third place in the Anthills SMART 100 Index.

The Aviator technology, marketed by UTS research commercialisation partner, UniQuest Pty Limited, uses thought patterns to control devices, such as wheelchairs.

Online business channel and leading Australian website Anthill has recognised the potential of the Aviator technology, determined by a panel of 100 expert judges looking for novel, innovative ideas that could be commercially successful by meeting the needs of a specific target market.

Professor Hung Nguyen, Dean of the UTS Faculty of Engineering and Information Technology, and his team are developing a system that directs and controls wheelchair navigation by reading the users’ head movements and brainwaves.

Aviator has been developed in the form of two wheelchairs, TIM (Thought-controlled Intelligent Machine) and SAM (Semi Autonomous Machine).

Professor Nguyen said he was interested in research outcomes that can assist people with illnesses and disabilities to achieve greater independence.

“This research is significant because we now have the opportunity to apply the same technological approach to other disability aids. In future, we may be able to use it help people with a range of tasks in their everyday lives, and adapt it so that it can be applied to different types of disabilities,” said Professor Nguyen.

The project’s initial focus has been on developing hands-free control systems for assistive technologies, such as powered wheelchairs and communication tools for people with disabilities.  Last year, Aviator secured a $50,000 Commercialisation Australia ‘Skills and Knowledge’ grant and $12,000 from the UTS Invention Commercialisation Seed Fund, to develop the technology further and explore new markets. Aviator also received two awards in last year’s Tech23 Pitching Competition and made Guidewire Group’s 2010 Innovate!100 list.

UTS-based UniQuest Manager of Innovation and Commercial Development, Leigh Angus, said the project is currently seeking further investment for research and development.

“Aviator presents an excellent opportunity for investors who are both financially and socially motivated. We’re seeking a special investor who really wants to see a venture that makes sound business decisions but also wishes to give back to society in significant ways,” Ms Angus said.

“Aviator’s speed, small size and discreet placement set it apart from similar technologies. Thought patterns can be processed without extended delays between the generation of the user’s thought and the instruction being implemented by the device that is being controlled. And, the thought pattern can be processed by just one EEG channel concealed at the back of the person’s head.

“It’s about improving the quality of life for individuals living with severe disabilities by putting these people back into the pilot seat.”

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