While the power of computers lies just inches away from paralyzed people, it is frustratingly a world away. By enabling paralyzed people to control their wheelchairs, navigate the Internet and execute computer commands with their tongues, the Tongue Drive System developed at the Georgia Institute of Technology may change that.
The Tongue Drive System involves receiving a tongue piercing to facilitate the placement of a titanium magnetic tongue stud. The user can wear a headset that has four magnetic sensors embedded in a pair of poles that extend down towards the mouth on both sides of the face. These magnetic sensors detect where the tongue stud is moved in the mouth or which teeth are being tapped. These movements and tapping are recognized as user-defined commands such as “move up”, “move down”, “move to the right”, “single click” or “double click”. These commands are transferred to an iPhone which forwards the commands to nearby computers and other electronic devices such as televisions.
An alternative to using the headsets to execute commands is to have an inconspicuous dental retainer placed in the roof of the mouth. This retainer contains similar magnetic sensors that detect the movement of the magnet attached to the tongue. Because the retainer is molded from dental impressions to fit tightly around an individual’s teeth with clasps, there is little risk of dislocation.
The Tongue Drive System is being fitted with a microphone and speech recognition software which will enable users to easily and rapidly type using the same system. While FDA approval is required, the process should be relatively expeditious due to the extent of the invasiveness being limited to the placement of the tongue stud.
A quarter-million Americans have severe spinal cord injuries, and experts estimate that there are about 11,000 new injuries each year. Millions more have some form of paralysis from an array of conditions, including stroke, multiple sclerosis, ALS, and cerebral palsy.
Perhaps Neil Armstrong would have said of the Tongue Drive System, “One small movement for man. One giant movement for mankind.”Tongue Typing,