Ars Electronica

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Prix 1987 - 2007

ORF Oberösterreich

Virtual Wheelchair
Jason Ditmars, Brian Duggan , Ronen Mintz

Ronen Mintz (USA) graduated from the University of California San Diego. He is a kinetic sculptor in the tradition of Jean Tinguely and Italo Scanga. Jason Ditmars (USA) is a kinetic sculptor who specializes in computer-controlled, interactive installations. Brian Duggan (USA) was born in Washington, DC, has been developing 2D and 3D graphics software at the San Diego Supercomputer Center.

The "Virtual Wheelchair" is a project that interfaces any wheelchair with a computer-generated virtual space. The user rolls up the ramp until the wheels of the wheelchair are positioned and lowered onto two sets of rollers. Optical encoders and an interface box translate the motion of the wheels to the computer, allowing wheelchair navigation through a computer modelled environment.

The wheelchair alone represents mobility for the physically challenged. As an interface, it becomes a metaphor for a new kind of mobility - one in which the physical world is left behind.

By making an interface specifically for wheelchairs, the experience is accessible to the entire public. People who are bound to wheelchairs are often considered handicapped in our society. With this interface, they become the expert navigators - able to maneuver around the space with ease. People who do not normally use a wheelchair will need to sit in a wheelchair, roll up the ramp, and navigate through the space by rotating the wheels. The next stage of the project will be to incorporate force-feedback motors into the ramp. These motors will be used to reflect real-world gravity and friction. Thus, when you are on a virtual hill, the wheels of your wheelchair begin to coast forwards. To stop yourself, you will have to brake the wheels with your hands, just as you would normally. With this system installed, the wheelchair ramp will be one of the most submersive physical interfaces to date.