February 1, 2008
Ground-breaking wheelchair will move at the flick of a tongue
Severely physically handicapped people may get a breather, and may be able to become mobile, thanks to the efforts of some scientists. They are working on the concept of building a wheelchair that can be controlled by the tongue of the person using it. The system will allow one to operate all the functions of an electric wheelchair with eight different flicks of the tongue. A tiny microphone placed in the ear detects each tongue movement and a computer converts them into commands to start, stop or turn a wheelchair. This technology will benefit victims of spinal injuries and strokes, whose movement is often limited only to tongue motion. A project of the University of Bristol with Dr Ravi Vaidyanathan at the helm, users will be able to customize the commands for the chair.
The researchers found the most effective four tongue movements were touching the lower left, centre or right of the mouth – followed by a flick upwards, and licking the top palate.
Keeping the operations simple and easy, each motion can be made twice in quick succession to create an extra four commands. The earpiece senses each different command by picking up vibrations caused by air pressure changes created as the tongue moves.