Brazilian scientist creates wheelchair system ‘moved by smiles’

Paulo pinheiro hoobox cadeira de rodas
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Researcher Paulo Pinheiro´s invention was exhibited at the world´s largest technology fair. Pinheiro was part of BRAINN as an associate researcher on Professor Eleri Cardozo‘s team.

January 11th 2019  | originally published at  O ESTADO DE SÃO PAULO

A smile can make the world move – or at least can now make a wheelchair move. This is what Brazilian scientist Paulo Pinheiro, founder of the startup Hoobox Robotics believes: since 2016, the company has been working on the development of Wheelie, a platform that allows wheelers to control their vehicles through facial expressions such as a raise of eyebrows and mouth movements – even sending a kiss can trigger an action. Shown this week at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), a technology fair in Las Vegas, Wheelie is one of the highlights of Intel’s booth, Pinheiro’s partner in the development of the project. The system consists of a camera and an on-board computer. Together, they are able to understand user expressions and turn it into wheelchair-specific commands.

According to Pinheiro, the platform is able to understand at least ten different facial gestures – although the system only needs five (left, right, go forward, go back and stop the chair) to command the vehicle. “The kit can be adapted to any motorized wheelchair in just seven minutes,” he explains.

According to the founder of Hoobox, other functions can be customized by the user, in conjunction with Amazon’s personal assistant Alexa, to perform commands inside a connected home, such as turning on the television, lighting lamps or opening and closing curtains.

The project came as a result of the research of Paulo Pinheiro in his postdoctoral degree at the State University of Campinas (Unicamp), in the field of computer vision. He got the idea for the project when he was at an airport. “I saw a paraplegic girl: she was not able to move the wheelchair, but she had a beautiful smile. That’s where I got the snap I needed”, says the entrepreneur.

STRUCTURE. Today, Hoobox has 11 employees, divided between Brazil and the USA. In Brazil, the company’s staff is allocated within the Albert Einstein Hospital, which held a seed investment round for the startup in 2017. In the US, the company’s Houston-based team works within Johnson & Johnson’s innovation lab, developing areas such as design, usability, and safety. In Las Vegas, Hoobox seeks to generate interest for the capture of a second round of contributions, valued at $ 2.5 million – the resources will be used for the company to develop the final version of its product.

For now, what is available in the market is a prototype version, which the company sends to patients and health centers. Hoobox charges a monthly subscription of $ 300 for the service. “We want to deliver 3,000 consumer kits in the coming months,” says Pinheiro. According to the executive, another potential startup market is healthcare providers – in recent months, Hoobox has reached an agreement with two California caregiver companies that pay for a single subscription plan, one that can be used for several patients.

Read the original report (in Portuguese)


More about Hoobox
HOOBOX Robotics focuses on the study and development of innovative wheelchair control solutions.



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