Category Archives: Medical Technology

This should get tongue’s wagging

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.

Report Finds RFID Chips Causes Medical Equipment to Fail

A report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, suggests RFID chips could cause some medical devices to fail when in close contact. Radio frequency identification chips are used for corporate inventory tracking, library management and even passport data control. The chips are also used to power transit payment systems, animal identification and theft control. More recently, some hospitals have begun using the technology to monitor medical products and other hospital resources.

In the US health providers are reportedly spending $90m a year on RFID systems – an amount expected to more than double in the coming decade, according to the study’s authors.

“It’s become more popular in the last 12 to 18 months,” Dan Mullen, president of the Association for Automatic Identification and Mobility, said. Mullen’s organisation acts as the international trade association for manufacturers of RFID technology. “They’re starting to crop up in terms of asset tracking – primarily applications where they’re trying to know where equipment is. It can be utilising a WiFi network to locate equipment in most cases,” he said.

The study has focused around radio frequencies sent out by the chips. Past research found such waves in electronic anti-theft systems can interfere with certain pacemakers and defibrillators, so the authors wanted to see if hospital-based medical devices would be affected in a similar way.

Scientists set up two different kinds of RFID devices inside an empty intensive care unit room. They measured whether electromagnetic interference from the chips was reaching 41 nearby medical devices, ranging from pacemakers to dialysis systems. The researchers found 22 “hazardous” incidences of interference. These included, they say, ventilators switching off or changing rates, syringe pumps stopping, external pacemakers malfunctioning, and kidney replacement devices shutting down.

Fear not though: Most equipment affected was all within a foot of the RFID chips – much of it less than 10 inches away. The likelihood of RFID chips being placed within such a short range of hospital equipment, Mullen said is probably not high.

“It’s important to understand the interaction and the distance,” Mullen noted. “I don’t think there’s any need to panic. RFID is starting to hit more mainstream applications, and as it does so, it might interact in the hospital environment in different ways. It’s a good thing to study that,” he said.

The study’s authors did not recommend removing or banning the RFID technology from hospitals, noting that it does have a strong potential to help healthcare providers. They did, however, suggest moving forward with additional testing and efforts to create standards for how these devices should be used.

“The intensity of electronic life-supporting medical devices in this area requires careful management of the introduction of new wireless communications such as RFID,” the researchers concluded. “Implementation of RFID in the ICU and other similar healthcare environments should require on-site EMI tests in addition to updated international standards.”

Such standards may be an asset to both hospitals and the companies creating the technology – and may become a more common consideration as different kinds of electronics enter all facets of our lives.

“These sort of studies are important to understand the potential impact of any electronics in the hospital environment,” Mullen said. “Right now, I don’t see any kind of major concern. Best practices, standards, guidelines — as technology is matured and the use of it is moving forward, I think you’ll see more of those sorts of things.”

If You Can?t Beat Them, Join Them!

Wii FitOver the last 20 years we have heard government after government complain that the young of today were spending too much time on their computers. Research showed that people were becoming fatter and fatter and family time around the table has all but disappeared. It seems that everything from the desktop to the internet to the games consoles was to blame. Each and every attempt to get kids off their games consoles failed, so now it looks like the ?If You Can?t Beat Them, Join Them? theory is back in town!

Recently we have seen the introduction of a number of brain games to consoles such as the Wii, but it is the Wii Fit package which is catching the eye of the consumer. The package comes with a vast number of exercises and a Wii Balance Board on which to carry out your tasks. The ?game? is fun yet it has also been shown to have a very beneficial affect on the overall health and fitness of players. The Fit package has not just been thrown together, it is a carefully crafted plan of different exercises which can be ?played? by all of the family.

Are Games Consoles The Future?

It seems sensible that with so many homes in possession of games consoles, that some kind of exercise package would catch on. The news that the Wii Fit package has sold out in many places before pre-orders have even been despatched will not go unnoticed by competitors of the Wii.

The Games Console market tends to work in fashion trends and the latest fashion seems to be fitness programs, allowing you to have fun and exercise at the same time. It will be interesting to see the direction of future fitness programs, as the Wii Fit is only the first of many we can expect to hit the market over the coming months and years.

A Virtual Trip On The Underground

Virtual TravelResearchers at King?s College London have created a very unique experience for those who suffer from paranoia and dislike confined spaces, with the London underground one of the more common areas of society which people seem to have real fear about. King?s College has used the latest virtual reality technology to create a virtual trip on the underground where users can interact with virtual ?passengers? mimicking real life situations and allowing them to see that perhaps their paranoia and fears are unfounded.

Wearing one of the latest virtual reality headsets, researchers at the college allowed a number of people to create the look and feel of a 4 minute journey on the tube, where virtual passengers breathed, laughed, spoke and acted as if they were really on the London underground. Using the latest sound and visual aids they found they were able to recreate the exact situation which many passengers have become fearful of over the years, and advise them how best to cope, relaxation techniques but perhaps more importantly allow them to see from a distance that there really is nothing to be concerned about.

Historically research into paranoia and other such fears has relied upon an array of questionnaires, and while they do offer some kind of insight into the thoughts and fears of someone in that situation, they did not allow researchers to monitor physical reactions. The interaction of virtual technology together with professional counseling should ensure that more and more people are able to face their fears head on and turn around their lives. Conditions such as paranoia can debilitate a person and for many they are life changing ? often getting worse and worse as the person gets older and becomes more and more reserved.

Virtual conditions curing real life conditions, now that is progress!