A Sussex engineer who has devoted a 40-year career to improving the lives of young people with complex physical and learning disabilities has won two international engineering and technology innovation awards.
The team from Portsmouth University and Dr Martin Langner from Chailey Heritage Foundation were named winners of the IET Award for Excellence in Creating a Smarter World and the Digital Health and Social Care International Innovation Award during a virtual ceremony held on Thursday 19th November.
Dr Martin Langner, resident engineer at Chailey Heritage Foundation, has been working on new ways to give young people greater autonomy and independence when using powered wheelchairs.
Himself a Research Fellow at the University of Portsmouth, Martin has been collaborating with fellow engineers and scientists, Prof David Sanders and Dr Malik Haddad, to develop digital systems that allow young people with the most complex physical disabilities to navigate their environment as independently as possible.
Martin has been working at Chailey Heritage since the early 1980s and has developed a range of wheelchair guidance methods, including control systems, that rely on head and eye movements to electronic bumpers that steer users away from obstacles.
Martin said: “Working with the young people at Chailey Heritage has taught me so much about human determination to succeed. I have been humbled many times and their courage has encouraged me to come up with more innovative solutions to give them more independence.”
Martin added: “Our latest work with new intelligent digital systems gives young people a real sense of ownership. They choose the direction of travel rather than the technology taking over.”
Martin and the team from the University of Portsmouth have been shortlisted for two prestigious E&T (Engineering and Technology) Innovation Awards. There are almost 70 finalists from across the world. Competing with them in their category of Outstanding Innovation in Digital Health and Social Care are entries featuring robotic hands and non-invasive skin cancer detection. He hopes that the recognition gained from being associated with the awards will encourage more collaboration between teams working on similar technologies.
Martin said: “There are many ways that we could work with young people that will use their own particular strengths to guide their wheelchairs. From gestures and eye movements to a system that detects brain signals and feeds them directly into the machine interface – we are looking to the young people to become our co-pilots – leading us where they want to go.”
He added: “It is certainly a very challenging area but whatever is created needs to be invisible – so you always see the young person and not the machine.”
The video below is provided by University of Portsmouth of the award ceremony.