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Ed Yeates ReportingGlobal Positioning Satellites watch and guide almost everything else these days, so why not a wheelchair? Some Utah engineering students have built such a thing, and it's just a hint of what's to come.
At Weber State University engineering student Scott Cornford walks by the side of a wheelchair he and his colleagues have built that's guided by a Global Positioning Satellite. The team put it together as part of a rigorous class project. But this simplistic device is only an appetizer - a taste of what's coming down the road.
The wheelchair, of course, is just one example of all kinds of applications - an autonomous vehicle that can travel from point A to point B with no human at the controls.
Scott Cornford, Weber State Engineering Student: "Having tractors plow their fields without assistance or human intervention, a vehicle like this can do some of the monotonous tasks that people normally have to be there for."
Autonomous Solutions, a spin-off company from Utah State University research, is already building self-guided systems for the military, including the Israeli government. This ominous looking test vehicle moves around - even in extreme weather conditions - guided not by a driver, but by GPS satellite coordinates.
Future heavily armored, driverless vehicles might move into combat and rescue soldiers. Dr. Bill Clapp from Weber State was activated last year to serve at the Air Force Research Lab. He saw some interesting things there.
Dr. Bill Clapp, Weber State University: "And we were working with a small glider vehicle that would follow special operations forces. It fits in a small tube and you take it out and you throw it, and it hovers above the soldier 200 feet in the air and follows him and has camera and audio, and so wherever this soldier crawls on the ground, this observation post will move with him."
How about a driverless snow cat or snow plow?
Scott Cornford: “There’s a project being developed with a snow cat being able to follow its own path, and plowing the snow when other people don’t have to be around.”
Weber students will play around with a phase two wheelchair this summer, giving it a much more sophisticated guidance system.
A GPS-guided wheelchair could help a disabled person get around by mapping out a path, steering around obstacles, even seeking out a safe haven if the occupant got in trouble.