Smart Wheelchair

Goal: Implement an Unscented Kalman Filter (UKF) algorithm for accurate estimation of Caster Wheel Orientations (CWOs) and pose of a robotic wheelchair

Project advisors – Prof. Brenna Argall, Dr. Jarvis Schultz

Project is based in the assistive & rehabilitation robotics laboratory (argallab) located within the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC)

Project Objectives:

  1. To study existing code structure and implement a wall-following behavior
  2. To design & simulate a 3D model of new wheelchair in ROS Gazebo and Rviz
  3. To research and implement a model in order to estimate wheelchair’s CWOs
  4. To implement an UKF algorithm for accurate estimation of CWOs and the pose of the wheelchair

Project Website:

Documentation and code is available on my GitHub repository –

1. Wall-following behavior

First task included understanding the existing code structure, which was evaluated by implementing a simple behavior (a low-level behavior is implemented)

  • My implementation – getting the robotic wheelchair (in simulation) to follow a wall using laser-scan data. A simple algorithm to achieve this is summarized below –
    1. Check if wheelchair is near a “wall” by ensuring the range values from laser-scan data lie below a threshold value (if the values are below 3.0 m over a set of wide-spread distances, a wall is assumed)
    2. Also determine on which side of the wheelchair the wall is present
    3. Given the laser-scan data, the controls are adjusted such that the wheelchair is aligned parallel to the wall and follows the wall, as demonstrated in the video below
  • The code was developed in both C++ and Python languages and can be accessed here

2. 3D model of new wheelchair

Second task consisted designing a 3D model of a new electric wheelchair and integrating the model with existing code structure in ROS Gazebo and Rviz

  • The wheelchair used in this project is an electric wheelchair from Permobil and consists of following main parts:
    1. Two front wheels (motorized/driven wheels – a differential drive system)
    2. Two rear caster wheels that rotate passively due to wheelchair’s dynamics
    3. The seat and base of the wheelchair
    4. A Kinect / depth camera mounted just above the seat
    5. A laser-scanner mounted in the front-bottom of the wheelchair
  • The development of a simulated model was essential for evaluating the next two tasks relating CWOs
  • SimLab Composer software is used to export the SolidWorks .SLDPRT and .SLDASM files into .dae (collada) format, that is supported by ROS URDF parser
  • MeshLab software is used to determine the moments of inertia and center of gravity parameters of the wheelchair

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3. Kinematic model for CWOs estimation

Third task involved estimating CWOs of the wheelchair

  • The two rear caster wheels rotate passively as the wheelchair is driven by the two front motorized wheels
  • A kinematic model is implemented to estimate CWOs given the input commands, such as linear velocity,  \dot{Y}   and angular velocity,  \dot{\phi}


Fig. 1: (left) Top view of the wheelchair; (right)  Kinematic model (ODEs) to determine CWOs

  • The model is tested in simulation and the estimated CWOs are compared with the actual CWOs (extracted from joint_states topic)
  • Following video demonstrates the simulation results –

4. UKF algorithm & dynamic model of wheelchair

  • Final task involved implementing an UKF filter to better estimate CWOs with unknown initial state
  • A dynamic motion model is chosen to represent the relation between CWOs and pose of the wheelchair robot. This model is shown below –


Fig. 2: Dynamic model of wheelchair; ‘F’ represents the friction forces (with forces in ‘w’ direction assumed to be zero); ‘N’ refers to the total normal force acting on the wheelchair

  • The UKF algorithm implementation consists of 4 steps, as outlined below –
  1. Initialize:
    • Initialize state and controls for the wheelchair (mean and covariance)
  2. Predict:
    • Generate sigma points using Julier’s Scaled Sigma Point algorithm
    • Pass each sigma points through the dynamic motion model to from a new prior
    • Determine mean and covariance of new prior through unscented transform
  3. Update:
    • Get odometry data (measurement of pose of wheelchair)
    • Convert the sigma points of prior into expected measurements (points corresponding to pose of wheelchair – x, y and \theta are chosen)
    • Compute mean and covariance of converted sigma points through unscented transform
    • Compute residual and Kalman gain
    • Determine new estimate for the state with new covariance
  4. Loop:
    • Continue steps 2 & 3, until the wheelchair moves around and gathers new measurement data
  • The algorithm is tested in simulation and following plots are produced (demonstrated in following video) –
    1. CWOs – actual, estimated & UKF-estimated;
    2. Pose (x, y and \theta ) – actual, estimated & UKF-estimated;
    3. Error between actual & UKF-estimated data


Future work:

  • Integrate the UKF model with the overall code, test with actual wheelchair and analyze results
  • Integrate measurement data from Kinect/depth camera and LiDAR in the ‘update‘ step of the UKF algorithm


  1. Kalman and Bayesian Filters in Python

  2. Analysis of Driving Backward in an Electric-Powered Wheelchair, Dan Ding, Rory A. Cooper, Songfeng Guo and Thomas A. Corfman (2004)

  3. A New Dynamic Model of the Wheelchair Propulsion on Straight and Curvilinear Level-ground Paths, Felix Chenier, Pascal Bigras, Rachid Aissaoui (2014)

  4. A Caster Wheel Controller For Differential Drive Wheelchairs, Bernd Gersdorf, Shi Hui

  5. Kinematic Modeling of Mobile Robots by Transfer Method of Augmented Generalized Coordinates, Wheekuk Kim, Byung-Ju Yi, Dong Jin Lim (2004)

  6. Mobile Robot Kinematics

  7. Dynamics equations of a mobile robot provided with caster wheel, Stefan Staicu (2009)

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