Innovation Allows Paraplegics To Drive An Electric Wheelchair

A device that converts nasal pressure into electrical signals offers a way to communicate and move.

A new kind of control device can help the severely handicapped drive wheelchairs simply using nasal pressure. Popular Science reports:

Israeli researchers have sniffed out what could become a way to give paraplegics and those suffering from “locked-in” syndrome a means to communicate with the outside world and even drive a wheelchair using their noses. Using a device that converts nasal pressure into electrical signals, the team has successfully enabled locked-in patients to write messages independent of stimulus and allowed paraplegics to effectively navigate an electric wheelchair.

The “sniff controller,” as it is known, is worn externally via a rubber tube not unlike the ones often used in hospitals for patients who need oxygen. The nasal device is not universal, as about a quarter of all people in a healthy control group were found to have insufficient volitional control over their soft palate, the part of your nasal passageway that lets you regulate the strength of your sniffs. But for those with sufficient soft palate control, the sniff controller gave test subjects a new degree of freedom.

PNAS: “Sniffing enables communication and environmental control for the severely disabled”

POPSCI: “‘Sniff Detector’ Lets Those Lacking Mobility Drive a Wheelchair With Their Noses”