Thought-controlled wheelchair to help severely disabled

Media releases, Ultimo Science Festival

“Think of a Rubik’s cube to turn right, close your eyes to stop”

A working prototype of a wheelchair steered by thoughts, rather than hands, will be demonstrated live to the public in Sydney next week.

About 700,000 Australians live with severe disability—many entirely dependent on someone else to move.

They may soon be more mobile thanks to the Thought-controlled Intelligent Machine (TIM), developed at the University of Technology Sydney. 

Biomedical engineering PhD student Jordan Nguyen will be demonstrating the chair at a free public lecture as part of the Ultimo Science Festival, showing how the chair can be moved by  thinking about a task such as turning a Rubik’s Cube or composing a letter.

The chair can be navigated without body movement and can also sense its surroundings, says Jordan.

Seven years ago, after a diving accident, Jordan was temporarily paralysed.  Even though he recovered relatively quickly, the experience gave him a keen appreciation of how it feels to have mobility and independence restricted.

“I got to experience paralysis for a day and after doing some research later, I found that there just weren’t enough mobility options for people with severe disability,” he says.

Jordan began his research into TIM as part of his final year undergraduate project and was awarded a scholarship to continue the research.

“We’ve now tested TIM with wheelchair users and in a couple of months, we’ll start testing the chair with the target market—those that cannot use traditional wheelchairs or current control technologies.”

“With TIM, it’s mostly thought-controlled, for example, if you want to go right, think of a Rubik’s cube rotating, and if you want to stop, you close your eyes.”

Jordan is also part of the work to commercialise the chair and make it available to those who need it most.

In addition to his engineering exploits, Jordan also came fourth in the 2010 Cleo Bachelor of the Year.

The demonstration and lecture is on 6pm Tuesday 21 August at the University of Technology Sydney Great Hall. More information at:

Footage of the chair in action is available.

Given the right funding (which we’re currently seeking,) a commercial product will soon start to be developed and extensively tested through clinical trials. If all goes to plan one of our smart wheelchairs on the market is only couple of years away.

Ultimo Science Festival 2012 is 11 days of science on Harris St, Sydney: talks, activities, workshops, comedy, exhibitions and films for all ages.  More information at

For interviews, please contact:

Jordan Nguyen on 0421 748 231 or

AJ Epstein on 0433 339 141,