Tech lets tongue drive the PC, wheelchair

Georgia Tech develops technology that would allow people with severe disabilities to operate a wheelchair or computer by moving their tongue. They only need to get as hip as a tongue-pierced punk.

Theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking blinks an eye to control a computer and voice synthesizer. But with the use of a new technology, he could use his tongue instead.

Engineers at Georgia's Institute of Technology have developed technology that would allow people with severe disabilities, such as Hawking, to operate a wheelchair or computer by moving their tongue. They only need to get as hip as a tongue-pierced punk.

The technology, which was described in this month's issue of the Journal of Rehabilitation Research and Development, involves a small magnet the size of a grain of rice, which gets pierced into the person's tongue. A companion device embedded with magnetic sensors, such as an orthodontic brace or headset, can then trace the movement of the tongue and transmit those signals wirelessly to a nearby portable computer.

People can set six tongue motions, such as a right-click, and use their tongue like a joystick to direct movements of a cursor on a computer screen or power a wheelchair.

The engineers hope to evolve the technology, called the Tongue Drive System, so that people could eventually use their teeth as a keyboard. The technology is still in a trial phase.

Georgia Tech chose to focus on the tongue, instead of the hands and feet, because the tongue's function is controlled by the brain through a cranial nerve that generally escapes damage in severe spinal cord injuries or neuromuscular diseases, according to Maysam Ghovanloo, a lead on the project.

"Tongue movements are also fast, accurate, and do not require much thinking, concentration or effort," Ghovanloo said in a statement.

Hawking, who suffers from Lou Gehrig's Disease, once used a hand switch to control a computer-driven synthesizer. But his muscles have become too weak in recent years, so he now uses an infrared blink switch.

Georgia Tech has received a $120,000 grant from the National Science Foundation and $150,000 from the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation.

Georgia Tech assistant professor Maysam Ghovanloo (left) points to a tiny magnet pierced to a student's tongue that would help him control a computer cursor or power a wheelchair. Georgia Tech/Gary Meek
 

Join the discussion

Conversation powered by Livefyre

Don't Miss
Hot Products
Trending on CNET

HOT ON CNET

Want affordable gadgets for your student?

Everyday finds that will make students' lives easier: chargers, cables, headphones, and even a bona fide gadget or two!