Dec. 18 - Quadriplegics may soon gain more independence with a device that allows them to steer a wheelchair and operate wireless technology with their tongue. Its developers at Georgia Institute of Technology, say the device is easy to use and could transform the lives of people paralysed from the neck down. Ben Gruber reports.
Georgia Tech researcher Jonghee Kim does not normally use a wheelchair, but today, she's testing a device, that could open up a world of possibilities for quadriplegics. The device allows Kim to manoeuvre the chair using her tongue as a joystick. Attached to her tongue is a tiny magnet. As she moves it in different directions, the magnetic field inside her mouth changes. These changes are detected by sensors in a headset that transmit them to a smartphone app where they are translated into commands and sent to the wheelchair's control system. As Kim moves her tongue, the wheelchair responds accordingly. The system, called a tongue drive, is the brain child of Engineer Maysam Ghovanloo. (SOUNDBITE) (English) MAYSAM GHOVANLOO, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR, SCHOOL OF ELECTRICAL ENGINEERING, GEORGIA INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY, SAYING: "The tongue not only has sensory inputs to the brain but it also has a very good motor capability, so why not use the tongue as an output of the brain." And that is exactly what Ghovanloo and his team have developed. He says the system will offer quadriplegics a new way to interact with and control the world around them. He says in trials, patients were able to master the system within hours, although he's keen to point out that its application is not limited to wheelchair control. His team are developing smartphone apps which will allow users to control almost anything with a wireless connection. (SOUNDBITE) (English) MAYSAM GHOVANLOO, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR, SCHOOL OF ELECTRICAL ENGINEERING, GEORGIA INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY, SAYING: "And the target device could be your wheelchair, could be your computer, could your flat screen TV, your air conditioning system, you name it because the rest of the technology is already in place. Once you have your smartphone with the right App on it, thanks to WiFi thanks to Blutooth, every connected device is at your tongue tip." And soon, the headset will be replaced by a dental retainer aimed at keeping the entire device inside a user's mouth. Ghovanloo says he hopes the device will be commercially available within a few years, offering millions of people new found freedom...right from the tip of their tongue.