A smart wheelchair is any powerchair using a control system to augment or replace user control. Its purpose is to reduce or eliminate the user's task of driving a powerchair. Usually, a smart wheelchair is controlled via a computer, has a suite of sensors and applies techniques in mobile robotics, but this is not necessary. The interface may consist of a conventional wheelchair joystick, a "sip-and-puff" device or a touch-sensitive display. This differs from a conventional powerchair, in which the user exerts manual control over speed and direction without intervention by the wheelchair's control system.
Smart wheelchairs are designed for a variety of user types. Some are designed for users with cognitive impairments, such as dementia, these typically apply collision-avoidance techniques to ensure that users do not accidentally select a drive command that results in a collision. Othersfocus on users living with severe motor disabilities, such as cerebral palsy, or with quadriplegia, and the role of the smart wheelchair is to interpret small muscular activations as high-level commands and execute them. Such wheelchairs typically employ techniques from artificial intelligence, such as path-planning.