Sussex engineer devoted to helping young people with disabilities is up for national award

A Sussex engineer who has devoted a 40-year career to improving the lives of young people with complex physical and learning disabilities has been shortlisted for an international innovation award.
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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.

Chailey Heritage Foundation is a Sussex based charity providing education and care services to children and young adults with complex physical disabilities and health needs.

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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 Langner 1 SUS-200211-132213001Martin Langner 1 SUS-200211-132213001
Martin Langner 1 SUS-200211-132213001

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.

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“Our latest work with new intelligent digital systems gives young people a real sense of ownership.

Martin Langner 2 SUS-200211-132133001Martin Langner 2 SUS-200211-132133001
Martin Langner 2 SUS-200211-132133001

“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

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Innovation in Digital Health and Social Care are entries featuring robotic hands and non- invasive skin cancer detection.

Martin 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.

“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 winners of the 2020 E&T Innovation Awards will be announced on November 19 in a virtual ceremony.