Soon, wheelchairs controlled by tongues

Published: July 1, 2009  |  Source: blog.taragana.com
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WASHINGTON – Scientists have developed a novel headset that makes it possible for a person suffering from spinal cord injury to precisely control a wheelchair or computer using the tongue.

The “tongue drive”, being trialled at Georgia Tech University, Atlanta, could also give astronauts a third hand in difficult situations like spacewalks.

Invented by electrical engineer Maysam Ghovanloo and Xueliang Huo, the device works by using two sensors to track a 5-millimetre-wide magnet attached to the tip of the user’s tongue.

The magnet is attached to a person’s tongue using surgical adhesive.

The sensors – implanted in a wireless headset – accept fluctuations in the strength of the magnetic field as the tongue moves, and transmit the signals on to a computer, where they are interpreted and acted upon.

By moving the tongue in predefined patterns, the user can steer a cursor on a screen, direct a wheelchair, and can even on switch on a TV.

Conventional methods include “sip and puff” devices, which are operated by blowing or sucking on a straw held in front of the mouth.

However, according to the Ghovanloo, tongue-drive system can accept a wider variety of commands.

“Some don’t like their sip and puff because it sits right in front of their face, and is like a signal of their disability,” New Scientist magazine quoted Ghovanloo as saying.

“Our design can be made less conspicuous,” Ghovanloo added.

The researchers say that they are in talks with a dental expert about installing them into a plastic retainer that fits inside the user’s teeth. (ANI)