Quadriplegics may gain a new degree of freedom via their tongues, if a new control system becomes widely available.
The new system uses that famously strong, agile and sensitive muscle, the tongue, to provide computer accessibility and wheelchair control to severely disabled people.
Designed by researchers for people with debilitating spinal cord injuries and diseases, the tongue-drive tech takes advantage of the nearly direct connection between the tongue and the brain via cranial nerves, which makes it particularly likely to remain functional, even after severe accidents.
The system has two parts: a small magnet, attached to the tip of the tongue via adhesive, piercing or implantation, and a headset with two three-dimensional magnetic sensors mounted on it. The headset picks up the location of the tongue via the magnet and transmits that information to a smartphone.
Maysam Ghovanloo, the lead Georgia Tech researcher, designed software that converts the position of the tongue into joystick or mouse movements, allowing the severely disabled to control a wheelchair or computer. The setup could provide an unprecedentedly simple and powerful means of locomotion for the disabled.
"This device could revolutionize the field of assistive technologies," Ghovanloo said in a release.
- Wired 15.04: Mixed Feelings (using the tongue to "see")
- A Sixth Sense for a Wired World (sensing electric fields with a fingertip-embedded magnet)
Image and Video: Courtesy of Georgia Tech. Credit: Gary Meek.