Issue 55 Uncrewed Systems Technology Apr/May 2024 Sellafield’s UAV equipment l Applied EV Blanc Robot l Battery tech l Robotican’s Goshawk l UGVs l UAVHE RW1 rotary l Roboat UVD l Autopilots l Arkeocean UVD l UMEX 2024 l CycloTech UVD

61 Accessibility During the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare workers struggled to keep patients alive and comfortable, while also suffering the worst and most frequent exposure to the coronavirus and its long-term effects. Maintaining distance between nurses and patients is especially difficult when a patient must be transported by wheelchair, and even wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) may not guarantee full protection. Meanwhile, projections indicate that travellers with reduced mobility will double in number by 2040, and the pandemic has contributed to a shortage of operators willing to assist with wheelchair pushing, exacerbating the strain on many organisations’ resources; airports, in particular. Seeing this problem, Turin-based Alba Robot has developed SEDIA (SEat Designed for Intelligent Autonomy), arguably an autonomous wheelchair for gently and safely transporting patients through complex indoor areas without someone needing to push it. It was first conceived in 2016 by Alba’s CEO, Andrea Bertaia, whose grandmother had just been forced to start using a wheelchair. “I was then in a company making autonomous technology for cars, and although we started r&d into how an autonomous wheelchair could work, we gradually realised that it was too complex an application to carry out in our spare time, so I quit to incorporate Alba Robot in 2019,” Bertaia recounts. “Since then, we’ve been worked to develop everything – software, hardware and the full vehicle – because such a project as this requires we understand every piece of the product; needing people to push reduced-mobility persons is not especially effective or safe in 2024, so we want SEDIA to function well, whether in hospitals or other locations with wheelchairs, like airports or even amusement parks.” Alba refers to its solutions as personal mobility vehicles (PMVs), engineered for secure self-driving micro-mobility from parking facilities and through adjacent facilities, such as airports, hospitals, shopping malls, museums and pedestrian areas. That includes autonomy for dynamic route-planning and obstacle avoidance, powered by sensor fusion, and embedded facility maps for indoor localisation and GNSS for outdoor localisation. Each PMV integrates an array of sensors, including 3D cameras for optical flow measurement, localisation assistance and collision avoidance, as well as ultrasound for detecting glass walls, which cameras can miss. As well as developing its sensor architecture and fusion to ensure maximum safety for patients (being a very different application to autonomous logistics, and much newer and thus harder to find inspiration or guidance for), Bertaia notes: “We must have changed motors and power drives three times. Despite all our motors being very good, there was always something missing, like odometry feedback or other data until we settled on our final models. We also changed battery several times, we changed wheels; there’s not a single component that we didn’t swap out for something over time.” The vehicles are monitored and fleet-managed through an application interface, developed for use by the hospital, airport or other end-user, who can view each SEDIA unit’s status, send remote commands or make adjustments to the embedded maps, such as geofencing areas undergoing cleaning or renovation. “We’re looking into new technologies, like 5G, as well as more reliable GSMs [global systems for mobile communications], like 4G, and more UGVs | Insight Uncrewed Systems Technology | April/May 2024 Despite our motors being very good, there was always something missing, like odometry feedback or other data until we settled on our final models Alba Robot changed motors and power drives numerous times to ensure key data such as odometry feedback for safe and comfortable traction (Image courtesy of Alba Robot)