Georgia Tech developed the Tongue Drive System, a new prototype of their wireless device which allows users to wear a less conspicuous dental retainer embedded with sensors, thus enabling people with high-level spinal cord injuries to operate a computer and maneuver an electrically powered wheelchair on their own. How it works: a magnetic stud in the tongue acts like a mouse against a pad attached to the roof of the mouth. The sensors then track the location of the tiny stud. Outgoing signals are wirelessly transmitted via the sensors to an iPod or iPhone, and special software allows the device to control the movements of a cursor on a computer screen or to work as a substitute for a joystick in a powered wheelchair.
In previous iterations of the Tongue Drive System, sensors that tracked the movement of the magnetic stud embedded in the tongue were mounted on a headset. According to Maysam Ghovanloo, an associate professor in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering:
By moving the sensors inside the mouth, we have created a Tongue Drive System with increased mechanical stability and comfort that is nearly unnoticeable. One of the problems we encountered with the earlier headset was that it could shift on a user’s head and the system would need to be recalibrated. Because the dental appliance is worn inside the mouth and molded from dental impressions to fit tightly around an individual’s teeth with clasps, it is protected from these types of disturbances.
The team will test the usability of the system using able-bodied individuals before moving onto clinical trials with people with spinal cord injuries.