The smart wheelchair

A wheelchair controller that automatically avoids obstacles and knows when the user is tired or stressed is being developed by researchers in India. Details are described in the International Journal of Human Factors Modelling and Simulation.

Naveen Kumar Malik of the Department of Electronics and Communication at Maharishi Dayanand University, in Haryana and V.R. Singh of the National Physical Laboratory in New Delhi, India, explain how they are developing a wheelchair navigation system that incorporates enhanced safety features and warning systems to assist users more effectively than any conventional powered wheelchair. The microcontroller is programmed with an algorithm that has six levels of testing surroundings and the user’s voice to make the wheelchair “smart”, creating what the team describes as a cognitive wheelchair navigation system.

The system circumvents several of the problems facing users and carers where conventional unpowered or powered wheelchairs are being used, especially by weaker users or users with cognitive impairment. The new microcontroller system endows the smart wheelchair with a collision avoidance and warning system, a system to discern emotional distress or drowsiness in the user and provide a warning of possible problems that might arise in such situations to the user or carer. The smart wheelchair could also monitor user’s heart rate, temperature or other vital signs for diagnostic purposes.

The team has now built and demonstrated a prototype of their smart wheelchair controller and hopes to commercialise the system. “The commercial version of the prototyped autonomous wheelchair would reduce the burden on care-giving staff in healthcare industry and improve the quality of life for disabled persons,” they conclude.

Malik, N.K. and Singh, V.R. (2016) ‘A human inspired cognitive wheelchair navigation system’, Int. J. Human Factors Modelling and Simulation, Vol. 5, No. 3, pp.263–284

Social media is all about the user

It is important for organisations to be recognisable on social media, creative with content and loyal to active fans, so says new research published in the International Journal of the Business Environment.

Christine Moser of the Department of Organisation Sciences at VU University and Anouk van Eijkeren of Social Inc, both in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, suggest that user-generated content influences the interactions between customers and organisations on social media, specifically the enormously popular and well-known social networking site Facebook. They have examined seven independent determinants of online interaction, standard metrics in existing perspectives on this kind of research. These are: content type, information richness, message direction, content valence, type of message, message length, and the use of punctuation marks. Fundamentally, there is interplay between all factors, however, the team has teased out a solid conclusion from their analysis.

“The user-generated posts that triggered the most interactions typically included content that is visual, personal, and attractive,” they found. “The findings furthermore indicate that it is important for organisations to be recognisable on social media, creative with content and loyal to active fans. Moreover, this paper shows that organisations should not use Facebook as a marketing tool, but as an engagement-building communication tool.”

Simplistically, the only interaction between organization and customer on the original commercial side of the web was the sale. With the advent of Web 2.0 more than a decade ago there was a transition from this essentially static commercial web that simply presented goods and services to the fully engaged world of commenting, microblogs, review sites and ubiquitous social media tools. Customers the world over now expect the organization they buy from or otherwise use to have an active presence on these systems. Moreover, they expect them to respond almost instantaneously to interactions both positive and negative whether a customer posts a five-star review or makes a serious complaint.

It has taken a long time for this to become the norm and yet many organizations have not adopted the social stance quite as fully as others. The team suggests that their work indicates that providing information and just being present on social media is not enough to stimulate customer interactions in modern commerce. “Organisations should transfer their focus from being informative and marketing-oriented, to being communicative and relation-oriented,” they conclude.

Moser, C. and van Eijkeren, A. (2016) ‘User-generated content? Get serious! Understanding the interactions between organisations and customers on social media’, Int. J. Business Environment, Vol. 8, No. 3, pp.284–306.

Research Picks Extra – October 2016

Quality food

A clearer understanding of the relationship between food quality and food safety is important to consumers the world over. But, of course, the details of this relationship are particularly poignant for urban consumers with almost unlimited choice of range of food and sources in the shops and markets. Researchers in Slovenia have laid the foundations, through a statistical study of local urbanites to find the right questions to ask in future research in value chain management and related areas of business research. Such work would ultimately have the goal of motivating consumers and nudging the industry towards better nutritional quality

Vukasovic, T. (2015) ‘Food quality and safety: added value in a customer-oriented concept‘, Int. J. Value Chain Management, Vol. 7, No. 3, pp.241-254.

African automobiles

Since the end of the twentieth century, the sub-Saharan African automobile industry has expanded rapidly, as have other areas of industry and commerce. Researchers at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, explain how the expansion of the middle class has led to a massive uplift in demand for vehicles, albeit from a very pedestrian base. Nevertheless, manufacturing is still rather limited and supply does not keep pace with demand. They suggest that the political stance across SSA and not just in the larger countries such as Kenya and Nigeria needs to embed investment and policy strategies to encourage growth and development.

Black, A. and McLennan, T. (2016) ‘The last frontier: prospects and policies for the automotive industry in Africa‘, Int. J. Automotive Technology and Management, Vol. 16, No. 2, pp.193-220.

Mind control for robot hands

An interface that takes brain activity signals recorded using an electroencephalogram (EEG) and converts them into control commands for a robotic hand has been developed by researchers in India. The technology can control all five digits of the hand and could have applications in the design and development of prosthetic hands and for new ways to circumvent paralysis. It could also find application human-controlled robotics where health and safety precludes direct human touch but where a subtle grip is needed. The next step will be to optimise the hand’s response and to give the user control of each digit of the hand independently of the others.

Sandesh, R.S. and Venkatesan, N. (2016) ‘LabVIEW-based design and control of five-digit anthropomorphic robotic hand using EEG signals‘, Int. J. Biomedical Engineering and Technology, Vol. 22, No. 3, pp.258-271.

Going batty in the clouds

A fuzzy logic algorithm based on the hunting flight path of a virtual bat could help improve cloud computing services, according to researchers in China. As the complexity of user demands increase, the pressure is own cloud service providers to maintain and even improve quality of service under increasing pressure without accruing additional computational costs. Cloud Service Composition is one way to address the issue of resources. Complexity and scale make the problem CSC a so-called “NP hard” problem, which can be addressed by using fuzzy logic and a naturalistic algorithm in this way.

Xu, B. and Sun, Z. (2016) ‘A fuzzy operator based bat algorithm for cloud service composition‘, Int. J. Wireless and Mobile Computing, Vol. 11, No. 1, pp.42-46.