So many sci-fi technology fantasies from the last century have already come true, trying to keep up with them can easily make a humanoid’s head explode. Everything from a highly complex tongue-controlled computer system and smart house to tongue-controlled wheelchairs, prosthetics, and even tooth-based keyboards might soon appear on global markets. Various tongue-based interfaces and devices are being developed to assist paralyzed survivors of stroke, ALS, and severe spinal cord injury.
A cnet news piece reported on progress being made by Georgia Institute of Technology (GIT) engineers to allow wheelchair-bound injury survivors to drive their wheelchair with nothing but their tongues. The group’s Tongue Drive System promises to deliver an immediate increase in mobility and quality of life to the world’s millions of spinal cord injury survivors and others.
Without a doubt, the research will not stop with tongue-controlled devices. Recent articleson this blog have described advances in brain-controlled interfaces (BCIs). However, the high cost and invasive procedures required for some BCIs make them undesirable for many patients. Tongue-controlled devices will open immediate doors without the need for a craniotomy or other risky brain surgeries.
A techradar article reported in 2008 that a Palo Alto company had designed a nine-button keypad for the roof of the mouth controlled by pressing its keys with the tongue. The GIT system makes use of a tiny magnet, sensors in the cheeks, and a helmet that interprets the tongue motions. Maysam Ghovanloo, the lead researcher on the GIT team said, ‘You could have full control over your environment by just being able to move your tongue,’ in thetechradar article.
The GIT research attracted national attention in the form of monetary appreciation of $270,000 in combined donations from the National Science Foundation and the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, the article noted. A recent CNN article reported on the progress of the GIT researchers who are currently conducting clinical trials of their technology at Shepherd Center in Atlanta, Georgia.
According to the researchers, the tongue provides many improvements over past attempts at increased mobility. Ghovanloo told CNN, ‘One of the major advantages of the tongue is that it’s directly connected to the brain,’’¦ ‘The tongue is unlike the rest of the body, which is connected to the brain through the spinal cord. A patient who has even the highest level of spinal cord injury can still move his or her tongue like me or you.’ Although the tongue does appear to have some advantages over similar technologies, the future of BCIs remains to be seen.
Brain-computer interfaces could one day offer spinal cord injury survivors to recover full mobility, sensory experience of prosthetic limbs on a neurological level, and control electronic devices around the home. MarketWatch reported this month that Hitachi Ltd. ‘has developed a prototype remote control that allows users to operate electronic devices telepathically – simply willing the television channel to change or the air-conditioning to turn on.’
Hitachi’s device consists of a headset that measures the brain’s blood flow changes and a remote control capable of sending signals to electronic devices in the home, the article reported. Don’t go out looking for the device just yet. Hitachi doesn’t plan to release it on the market until 2013 or later. MarketWatch also reported that Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Corp. both have plans to develop BCI technology.
BCIs are certainly gaining a lot of steam in the world of science and academia. Rod Furlan from the Singularity Hub Web site reported on an X PRIZE Foundation BCI workshop at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. According to Furlan’s post, ‘The workshop brought together over 50 leading experts, students and enthusiasts with the objective of brainstorming ideas for an X PRIZE competition to accelerate the development of BCI solutions,’ ‘¦ ‘we had the opportunity to explore the many possibilities and difficulties of designing and implementing devices capable of communicating directly with the human brain.’
Spinal cord injury survivors have a fascinating and hopeful future to look forward to in the realm of BCIs and tongue-based mobility expansion options. One might even imagine a future where paralysis is curable in a multitude of creative and exciting ways, and sufferers of disease and brain injury can achieve full recoveries with the aid of a blend of technology, science, and ingenuity.
Furlan, Rod. (January 21, 2010) ‘Igniting a Brain-Computer Interface Revolution-BCI X PRIZE.’ Retrieved on January 26, 2010 from the Singularity Hub Web site:http://singularityhub.com/2010/01/21/igniting-a-brain-computer-interface…
Gothard, Peter. (August 27, 2008) ‘Human tongue turned into computer.’ Retrieved on January 26, 2010 from the techradar Web site: http://www.techradar.com/news/world-of-tech/human-tongue-turned-into-com…
Hartley, Adam. (January 26, 2010) ‘Scientists develop tongue-controlled wheelchair.’ Retrieved on January 26, 2010 from the techradar Web site:http://www.techradar.com/news/world-of-tech/scientists-develop-tongue-co…
MarketWatch. (January 4, 2010) ‘Hitachi reportedly develops brain-powered remote control.’ Retrieved on January 26, 2010 from the MarketWatch Web site:http://www.marketwatch.com/story/hitachi-develops-brain-powered-remote-c…
Olsen, Stephanie. (August 25, 2008) ‘Tech lets tongue drive the PC, wheelchair.’ Retrieved on January 26, 2010 from the cnet news Web site: http://news.cnet.com/8301-11386_3-10024983-76.html
Willingham, Val. (January 25, 2010) ‘Wheelchair mobility at the tip of the tongue.’ Retrieved on January 26, 2010 from the CNN Web site:http://www.cnn.com/2010/HEALTH/01/25/hm.wheelchair.tongue/?hpt=Sbin