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Magnet and Glue Turn Tongue Into Joystick

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Georgia Tech University professor Maysam Ghovanloo and graduate student Xueliang Huo

Georgia Tech assistant professor Maysam Ghovanloo (left) with graduate student Xueliang Huo, who displays a small magnet attached to his tongue that allows him to operate a powered wheelchair.

Credit: Gary Meek / Georgia Tech

Georgia Tech University professor Maysam Ghovanloo and graduate student Xueliang Huo have developed a headset that enables a person to precisely control a wheelchair or computer using only their tongue. The system uses two sensors, embedded in a wireless headset, to track a small magnet attached to the tip of the user's tongue. The sensors read fluctuations in the strength of the magnetic field as the tongue moves and transmits the signals to a computer. The system is already being used in trials with spinal injury patients, and could eventually be used to give astronauts and others a third hand in difficult situations.

Ghovanloo says there are 250,000 people with spinal cord injuries in the United States, and more than half of them need an alternative way of interacting with the world due to spinal damage that prevents or restricts the use of their arms and hands. Currently available systems often use the "sip and puff" method, which involves blowing or sucking on a straw held in front of the mouth, or extended headrests that have embedded buttons that can be operated using subtle head movements. However, Ghovanloo says the tongue-driven system can accept a wider variety of commands, is less conspicuous and very precise, and is not as tiring to use.

For the trials, the magnet was attached to the user's tongue using a surgical adhesive, but Ghovanloo has had magnetic tongue piercings made that may appeal more to long-term users.

View a video of the tongue drive control system.

From New Scientist
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