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August 28, 2008

Georgia Tech Scientists Develop Use of Tongue as Joystick for the Disabled

Even Gene Simmons, the Israeli-born Kiss bassist with a famously long tongue (in 2002, the rock star launched “Gene Simmons’ Tongue” magazine; it lasted five issues) couldn’t have thought of this use for his zungloschn.

According to The Associated Press, Georgia Tech researchers have found a new use for the appendage that once inspired William Shakespeare to write:
“That man that hath a tongue, I say is no man,
If with his tongue he cannot win a woman.”
Maysam Ghovanloo, an assistant professor at the university, reportedly is leading a team who believes that a magnetic, tongue-powered system could transform a disabled person’s mouth into a virtual computer, teeth into a keyboard – “and tongue into the key that manipulates it all.”
“You could have full control over your environment by just being able to move your tongue,” Ghovanloo reportedly told AP writer Greg Bluestein.
The Yellow Jacket researchers say their so-called “Tongue Drive System” transforms a tongue into a kind of joystick, Bluestein writes – and could revolutionize the way disabled people use their mouths to mobilize and communicate.
The notion has gained traction in some healthcare circles.
According to Mike Jones, a vice president of research and technology at the Shepherd Center, an Atlanta rehabilitation hospital, the Georgia Tech solution could provide “an almost infinite number of switches and options for communication.”
“It’s easy, and somebody could learn an entirely different language,” Jones told Bluestein.
This isn’t the first time that scientists have turned to facial movements as a way to control electronics. One system, called the “sip and puff” technique, lets people issue commands by inhaling and exhaling into a tube.
“But it offers users only four different commands, limiting their options,” Bluestein notes.
Such systems – and those that use head or neck movements, in the case of quadropolegics – can be tiring, Bluestein says, and are less flexible than the sensitive tongue.
Scientists at other institutions have used robotics as a way to assist people who are disabled.
Experts said recently that sufferers of degenerative diseases such as those classified under muscular dystrophy may get help from robotics in completing tasks and maintaining their muscle mass, experts are saying.
According to the Rochester Institute of Technology, which is part of a research team that’s studying physiological data to improve assistive devices, more sophisticated robotics are being developed all the time.
According to Edward Brown, an assistant professor of electrical engineering at RIT and director of its Biomechatronics Learning Laboratory, robotics take advantage of a muscular dystrophy sufferer’s residual strength and brain signals to help him regain use of muscles and limbs.
“Better orthotic technologies could ultimately help people suffering from this disease greatly enhance the quality of their life,” Brown said.
Ghovanloo’s work uses an innovative method that’s designed to create a “virtual keyboard,” not a physical one, the AP writer says.
“He does that through a magnet about 3 millimeters wide that’s placed under the tip of the tongue,” Bluestein says. “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.”
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Michael Dinan is a contributing editor for RobotXworld, covering news in the IP communications, call center and customer relationship management industries. To read more of Michael’s articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Michael Dinan

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