Tuesday, 22 Jul, 2008 Science
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Tongue Drive System to Operate Computers

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Scientists developed a new revolutionary system to help individuals with disabilities to control wheelchairs, computers and other devices simply by using their tongue.

Engineers at the Georgia Institute of Technology say that a new technology called Tongue Drive system will be helpful to individuals with serious disabilities, such as those with severe spinal cord injuries and will allow them to lead more active and independent lives.

Individuals using a tongue-based system should only be able to move their tongue, which is especially important if a person has paralyzed limbs. A tiny magnet, only a size of a grain of rice, is attached to an individual's tongue using implantation, piercing or adhesive. This technology allows a disabled person to use tongue when moving a computer mouse or a powered wheelchair.

Scientists chose the tongue to control the system because unlike the feet and the hands, which are connected by brain through spinal cord, the tongue and the brain has a direct connection through cranial nerve. In case when a person has a severe spinal cord injure or other damage, the tongue will remain mobile to activate the system. "Tongue movements are also fast, accurate and do not require much thinking, concentration or effort." said Maysam Ghovanloo, an assistant professor in the Georgia Tech School of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

The motions of the magnet attached to the tongue are spotted by a number of magnetic field sensors installed on a headset worn outside or an orthodontic brace inside the mouth. The signals coming from the sensors are wirelessly sent to a portable computer that placed on a wheelchair or attached to an individual's clothing.

The Tongue system is developed to recognize a wide array of tongue movements and to apply specific movements to certain commands, taking into account user's oral anatomy, abilities and lifestyle."The ability to train our system with as many commands as an individual can comfortably remember is a significant advantage over the common sip-n-puff device that acts as a simple switch controlled by sucking or blowing through a straw," said Ghovanloo.

The Tongue Drive system is touch-free, wireless and non-invasive technology that needs no surgery for its operation.

During the trials of the system, six able-bodied participants were trained to use tongue commands to control the computer mouse. The individuals repeated several motions left, right, up and down, single- and double-click to perform computer mouse tasks.

The results of the trials showed 100 percent of commands were accurate with the response time less than one second, which equals to an information transfer rate of approximately 150 bits per minute.

Scientists also plan to test the ability of the system to operate by people with severe disabilities. The next step of the research is to develop software to connect the Tongue Drive system to great number of devices such as text generators, speech synthesizers and readers. Also the researchers plan to upgrade the system by introducing the standby mode to allow the individual to eat, sleep or talk, while prolonging the battery life.

Source: National Science Foundation

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