Georgia Tech researchers have developed a tongue-powered system that could transform a disabled person’s mouth in to a virtual computer that uses teeth as a keyboard.
“You could have full control over your environment by just being able to move your tongue,” said Maysam Ghovanloo, a Georgia Tech assistant professor who leads the team’s research.
The aptly named, Tongue Drive System, turns the users tongue in to a joystick, allowing the disabled to manipulate wheelchairs, manage daily house work tasks and to control computers. It’s still in the early stages of development, but things are moving forward.
It’s not the first ever system that uses facial movements to control electronics, but testers of the system believe it could be a break through.
“This could give you an almost infinite number of switches and options for communication,” said Mike Jones, a vice president of research and technology at the Shepherd Centre, an Atlanta rehabilitation hospital. “It’s easy, and somebody could learn an entirely different language.”
This is a significant step up from the handful of systems available to disabled people. The “sip and puff” technique, which lets people issue commands by inhaling and exhaling into a tube, is among the most popular. However, this is limited to just four commands.
Rather than putting a physical keyboard in someone’s mouth, the researchers have developed a virtual keyboard instead. A magnet about 3 millimetres wide is placed under the tip of the tongue, and then the magnet’s movement is tracked by sensors on the side of each cheek, which sends data to a receiver atop a rather bulky set of headgear. It is then processed by software that converts the movement into commands for a wheelchair or other electronics.
When the system is booted up, users are required to establish six commands: Left, right, forward, back, click, and double click.
Ghovanloo he hopes he could one day add dozens more commands that turn teeth into keyboards and cheeks into computer consoles. For example, “Left-up could be turning lights on, right-down could be turning off the TV,” Ghovanloo said.
So far the research has landed the team over $200,000 in funding from the National Science Foundation and the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation. The next step is to make the system more user friendly. This will involve re-sizing the headset – it currently looks like something from Frankenstein – and to improve battery life, and the size of the individual components.