The folks over at MIT have put together a robotic wheelchair that can pull off a neat trick: Just tell it where you want to go, and it'll take you there.
The wheelchair will map out whatever building it's in and can associate certain locations with verbal commands. Telling the chair "this is my bedroom," for instance, or that it's in the kitchen, will mean you can return to those places just by asking it to take you there.
The biggest hurdle facing the team was enabling the wheelchair to learn a building's floor plan and be able to navigate it. Right now, that technology is a bit clunky — it requires an array of Wi-Fi nodes to be set up ahead of time that give the chairs situational analysis. This will help patients who have a hard time controlling mechanical chairs, or in situations where someone may find a place disorienting. For instance, a patient in a hospital could just ask to be taken to the cafeteria.
As the technology improves, however, the minds at MIT can see a wide number of other applications, such as automated forklifts that can learn where to take a crate and repeat that process.