Researchers have developed a tongue-drive system that allows paralyzed patients with severe disabilities to experience mobility once again. The tongue-drive system consists of a tiny magnet – the size of a lentil – and a headset that contains wireless sensors. By positioning the tongue in different areas of the mouth, the sensors will pick up the signal and convert it into different movement and operational commands. Impossible tasks like playing video games and dialing phone numbers have found their way back into the lives of those dealing with paralysis.
Prior to the tongue-drive technology, patient mobility was more commonly dependent on the sip-and-puff system, which uses a straw to drive a wheelchair. While the sip-and-puff system has proven to be effective, this new advancement is far more convenient and more efficient – it is almost three times faster at issuing commands.
Researchers made sure the tongue piercing does not interfere with day-to-day speech or eating. Users can easily switch the device to standby mode by holding their tongues against their cheeks for three seconds. Sideway tongue flicks are programmed as control signals because they drastically differ from involuntary tongue movements when chewing and talking.
Ghovanloo and his team are currently working on a new model. Promising improvements for the tongue-system could include a headset-free model. Without a doubt, the tongue-system is an assistive technology that will make the lives of patients and their families that much easier.