How Tongue Piercing May Help People with High-level Spinal Cord Injuries

Circuitry for a new intraoral Tongue Drive System developed at Georgia Tech interprets commands from seven different tongue movements to operate a computer or maneuver an electrically powered wheelchair.

On February 20, 2012, the newest prototype of the intraoral Tongue Drive System was demoed in San Francisco at the IEEE International Solid-State Circuits Conference. A wireless device, Tongue Drive allows those with high-level spinal cord injuries to use computers and electric wheelchairs by moving their tongues.

The prototype enables people to control software via an unobtrusive retainer-like device. The device sensors then track a minuscule magnet attached to users’ tongues. In previous iterations, the sensors were mounted on a headset.

“During the trials, users have been able to learn to use the system, move the computer cursor quicker and with more accuracy, and maneuver through the obstacle course faster and with fewer collisions. We expect even better results in the future when trial participants begin to use the intraoral Tongue Drive System on a daily basis.”

—Maysam Ghovanloo, associate professor, School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology

While the current Tongue Drive System is able to interpret seven different commands, improved sensitivity exhibited by the prototype during preliminary tests indicates that programming additional commands may be possible using the new system.

Development of the system is supported by the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, and the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation. Initial usability testing will begin soon with able-bodied individuals and will be followed by clinical trials to test the system’s usability by those with  high-level spinal cord injuries.

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© Tony Leininger and IT for Good 2012. See sidebar for full copyright notice.


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