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A team of researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, USA have developed a new device that will allow people with severe disabilities to become more independent, by merely moving their tongue.
The 'Tongue Drive System', entails installing a magnet, the size of a grain of rice, on the individual's tongue. When the patient moves his or her tongue, the movement is picked up by magnetic field sensors that are mounted on a headset outside the mouth or on an orthodontic brace placed on the teeth.
The signals are then transferred to a portable computer for processing. The signals can be programmed to move a computer cursor or simply help navigate a wheelchair. Each individual can customize his or her tongue movement and determine what command each movement constitutes. For example, touching each tooth with the tongue could represent a different command.
Assistant Professor, Maysam Ghovanloo, who spearheaded this project said that he picked the tongue, because unlike the hands and feet, which are controlled by the brain through the spinal cord, the tongue is attached to a cranial nerve and is almost always okay even when people are severely disabled.
The device worked really well in tests with able-bodied people, i.e. people who have no disabilities. The professor is now teaming up with organizations affiliated with people with disabilities to test the system with them. If successful, the team expects to add many more features including connecting the signals to speech synthesizers - all in an attempt to make the lives of people with severe disabilities much more enriching and fulfilling and also easier for their caregivers. What a great idea!