Now disabled could operate wheelchairs, computers with tongue

June 30th, 2008 - 2:57 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, June 30 (IANS) People with severe disabilities will soon be able to operate a computer or control a powered wheelchair simply by moving their tongues, thanks to a new magnetic device. This device could help individuals “with high-level spinal cord injuries, return to rich, active, independent and productive lives”, said Maysam Ghovanloo of Georgia Tech School who developed the new system with graduate student Xueliang Huo.

A small magnet as small as a grain of rice is implanted in an individual’s tongue and allows it to direct the movement of a cursor across a computer screen or a powered wheelchair around a room.

“We chose the tongue to operate the system because unlike hands and feet, which are controlled by the brain through the spinal cord, the tongue is directly connected to the brain by a cranial nerve that generally escapes damage in severe spinal cord injuries or neuromuscular diseases,” said Ghovanloo.

He started working on this project about three years ago at North Carolina State University. “Tongue movements are also fast, accurate and do not require much thinking, concentration or effort,” he added.

Movement of the magnetic tracer attached to the tongue is detected by an array of magnetic field sensors mounted on a headset outside the mouth or on an orthodontic brace inside the mouth. The sensor output signals are wirelessly transmitted to a portable computer, which can be carried on the user’s clothing or wheelchair.

The system can potentially capture a large number of tongue movements, each of which can represent a different user command. A unique set of specific tongue movements can be tailored for each individual based on the user’s abilities, oral anatomy, personal preferences and lifestyle.

“An individual could potentially train our system to recognise touching each tooth as a different command,” explained Ghovanloo.

Ghovanloo’s group recently completed trials in which six able-bodied individuals tested the system. Each participant defined six tongue commands that would substitute for computer mouse tasks - left, right, up and down pointer movements and single- and double-click.

Results of the computer access test by novice users showed a response time of less than one second with almost 100 percent accuracy for the six individual commands.

The technique was presented Sunday at the annual conference of Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America (RESNA).

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