A team of researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology are harnessing the tongue’s “amazing” dexterity, using tongue piercings to control wheelchairs and computers, in a move to change the way people affected by paralysis interact with the world around them.
A tiny magnet installed in a tongue piercing approximately the size of a lentil, is detected by sensors located on the patient’s cheek and then converted into commands, which are able to control different types of devices.
In the journal Science Translational Medicine, the team explain how the brain has a large section dedicated to controlling the tongue due to its vital role in speech. It’s thanks to this unique connection to the brain, that the tongue is unaffected by spinal cord injuries, that often leave the rest of the body paralysed.
The researchers carries out a trial in which 23 able-bodied people and 11 with tetraplegia took part. They programmed six positions in the mouth to control a wheelchair or computer, with commands such as turning the chair to the left or touching the left cheek.
The results showed that those with tetraplegia were able to carry out the tasks three times as fast and with the same level of accuracy compared to other technologies available.
In everyday practice the researchers think they will be able to create a command for every tooth in the mouth and through various tongue positions they will be able to have “unlimited” instructions.
Dr Maysam Ghovanloo said: “People will be able to do more and do more things more effectively.”
He also said that the patients who took part in the trial were “all very cool with it” but there were some older people who declined to take part due to the use of tongue piercing.
The team is now looking at ways of making the device more mainstream by fitting the sensors into a dental brace, before getting approval from US regulators and not to mention finding a cost effective way of producing the expensive kit.
[Image via fayerwayer]