Tongue Driving

Reprinted from PN February 2014

New technology allows quadriplegics to control their wheelchair with a tongue stud.

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After a diving accident left Jason DiSanto paralyzed from the neck down in 2009, he had to learn how to navigate life from a powered wheelchair, which he controls with a sip-and-puff system.

Users sip or puff air into a straw mounted on their wheelchair to execute four basic commands that drive the chair.

Shepherd Center clinicians insert a device used to control the Tongue Drive System by piercing Jason DiSanto's tongue with a magnetic stud.

But results from a recent clinical study offer hope that sip-and-puff users like DiSanto could gain a higher level of independence than offered by this common assistive technology.

Better Than Sip-and-Puff

In the study, individuals with paralysis used a tongue-controlled technology to access computers and execute commands for their wheelchairs at speeds that were significantly faster than those recorded in sip-and-puff wheelchairs, but with equal accuracy.

This study is the first to show that the wireless and wearable Tongue Drive System outperforms sip-and-puff in controlling wheelchairs.

The Tongue Drive System is controlled by the position of the user’s tongue. A magnetic tongue stud lets a person use his or her tongue as a joystick to drive the wheelchair. Sensors in the tongue stud relay the tongue’s position to a headset, which then executes up to six commands based on the tongue position.

The Tongue Drive System holds promise for patients who have lost the use of their arms and legs, a condition known as tetraplegia or quadriplegia.

“It’s really easy to understand what the Tongue Drive System can do and what it is good for,” says Maysam Ghovanloo, an associate professor in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology, and a study co-author and principal investigator. “Now, we have solid proof that people with disabilities can potentially benefit from it.”

Article and photos courtesy of the Shepherd Center and the Georgia Institute of Technology.  


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