SCIENTISTS in Colchester have designed a robo-wheelchair which responds to brainwaves.

Disabled people can make it move, just by thinking “go forwards” or “turn right”.

The breakthrough would allow a stroke victim who was completely paralysed and unable to speak to become mobile.

Users put a brain-cap over their heads, which picks up their thoughts.

The device needs rigorous testing, as researchers must be certain the system is infallible before sanctioning its use outside the laboratory.

But Essex University’s Professor David Crawford said in time, the device, developed by Prof Huosheng Hu, could be put on the market.

He said: “We are doing international projects to pool our knowledge with other universities which are trying similar things.

“It is at the experimental stage, but we have proved we can make it work. We know from people who have had severe strokes and recovered, it is often like being trapped in a prison. You can hear and understand, but you can’t move.

“This means it would be possible to teach someone to use the chair, even though they were unable to talk to you.”

The wheelchair only works if its instructions are sent from particular parts of the brain.

Users sometimes need to be trained to think clearly to ensure the messages are coming from the right area.

If people are thinking about too many things at once, there are too many brainwaves for the machine to deal with.

The current prototype can handle four essential commands – forward, back, right and left – plus stop.

When it comes to extras like “faster” or “slower” there can be complications.

Prof Crawford said one key research area involved putting in failsafes, so the chair would stop if users issued a dangerous instruction such as to move quickly towards a road or balcony railing.