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Electric Wheelchairs and the Tongue

Aug 6, 2008
An electric power wheelchair is the primary means of day to day transportation for many people all over the world. They are battery powered and some can travel distances of over 20 miles on a single charge. Traditionally a joystick has been used to control the wheelchair, but a new type of control is currently being tested that allows the wheelchair to be controlled by moving the tongue.

The remote control that is usually used to control an electric wheelchair can be attached to either side of the chair. While this works for many people, there are some that can not easily use their hands. There are several alternatives to a hand controlled wheelchair already available, but they tend to not be very precise. One of the more common types of alternate controls uses the breath of the rider to control the chair.

Recently developers at Georgia Tech announced the development of a tongue controlled electric wheelchair. The user will wear a headset with two 3D magnetic sensors mounted on it. A small magnet is attached to the tip of the tongue with a little bit of adhesive, through surgical implant, or as a piercing.

The 3D sensors pick up the movement of the tongue and transmit the information wirelessly to a portable computer. Unlike some other brain controlled systems, this one does not require any brain surgery.

The beauty of this system is that it can be used for many different applications. The signals can be used to control the cursor on a computer screen just as easily as it controls a wheelchair. Each movement of the tongue can be configured as a specific type of command as well, which makes it very powerful. This also makes it much more flexible than the breath controlled systems.

The reason the tongue was focused on to control the chair is because the tongue has an almost direct connection with the brain that is very likely to remain intact despite severe spinal trauma. The spinal cord acts as an intermediary between the hands and foot, but the tongue is connected directly to the brain by a cranial nerve. Usually the nerve that connects the tongue to the brain is not affected by spinal cord injures or even neuromuscular diseases.

Since there is a good likelihood that the movement of the tongue will be preserved, even in the case of severe trauma, there is a good chance that this type of control system will work for many severely disabled people The movement of the tongue is also generally very fast and accurate, and can be moved without requiring too much concentration.

Maysam Ghovanloo, the lead researcher, began working on this project at North Carolina State University about three years ago. This new technology was described at the Annual Rehabilitation and Assistive Technology Society of North America (RESNA) conference, which was held in Washington, DC on the 29th of June, 2008.

This system has been tested with several able bodied users, but has not used by people with severe disabilities yet. Ghovanloo is teaming up with an Atlanta based hospital that provides catastrophic care for his next set of testing. He hopes that this system will help to improve the independence of those with severe disabilities, which will also help to reduce the costs of health care and assistance related costs.
About the Author
Steve Wynler has experience with many types of home medical equipment. If you are in need of a power chair , or would like to learn about other mobility products like mobility scooters , visit US Medical Supplies.
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