Patent applications for smart wheelchairs using brain-machine interface (BMI) technologies have surged in the past five years between 2012 and 2017, government data showed. BMI and related sensors allow wheelchairs to recognize biometric information such as voice or brain waves.
According to the Korean Intellectual Property Office (KIPO), the number of patent requests for smart wheelchairs spiked from nine in 2012 to 24 in 2016. In 2017, the number even went up higher to 32, up 33 percent from a year earlier.
Between 2015 and 2017, 47 percent (31 cases) of patent applications came from businesses, 39 percent (26) from universities and research institutes, and 14 percent (10) from individuals.
The increase in patent applications by universities and research labs is noteworthy. The number was only 16 between 2012 and 2014. However, it soared to 26 between 2015 and 2017.
The KIPO said the government’s policy support for medical engineering prompted universities and research institutes to engage in research and development actively.
The patent request trends in the recent three years between 2015 and 2017 showed that the ratio of wheelchair technology to overcome inclination decreased from 52 percent to 47 percent, while that of recognition technology using biometric information climbed to 34 percent from 27 percent.
The data shows that wheelchair development is evolving into an active control combining recognition technology from the simple improvement of function, the KIPO said.
The demand for smart wheelchairs will rise going forward, considering the more social emphasis on the quality of life.
“Korean technologies for smart wheelchairs are still at an early stage, compared to Germany and Japan. But, the market will grow with a rise in demand and the nation’s strength in technology convergence,” said Lee Seok-beom, head of the advanced transportation examination division at the KIPO. “It is imperative to secure an intellectual property at an early stage of technology development.”
With smart wheelchair technologies, the severely disabled will be able to participate in social activities, and the nation will have more opportunities to utilize their workforce, Lee added.
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