Piercing Tongues To Achieve Self Sufficiency

4:22 PM, Aug 27, 2010   |    comments
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ATLANTA -- Every Fourth of July we watch in amazement, as wheelchair athletes negotiate the rugged Peachtree Road Race course.

But many of the disabled have difficulty getting up their front steps -- let alone scaling "Heartbreak Hill."

Georgia Tech is part of research going on now, that promises greater independence for those who are wheelchair-bound.
This breakthrough technology is on the tip of our tongues.

The tongue is an amazing organ.

We use it to eat and to talk and in some cases to decorate.
It gets its instructions, not through the spinal cord, but directly from the brain.

"Even the highest level of spinal cord injury which results in the paralysis of the rest of the body, does not affect the tongue at all," said Georgia Tech's Doctor Maysam Ghovanloo of the electrical and computer engineering school.

Ghovanloo and his research team are harnessing the special properties of the tongue to help the severely handicapped.

"We want to enable them to become more independent," Ghovanloo said, "more self sufficient, and be able to control their environment."

It's called tongue drive technology. The tongue is pierced with a magnet the size of a lentil. The movements of the tongue send signals to sensors in a headset. The sensors send those instructions to a computer -- or an iPhone -- and that device executes the command.

The numbers of commands are limited only by the number of tongue movements the user wants to make.

"You can touch every single tooth in your mouth with the tip of your tongue without even thinking about it," Ghovanloo said. "It's movement is also very fast and very accurate."

Georgia Tech is looking for volunteers -- with pierced tongues and without -- to test drive this technology. The tongue piercing is done under a doctor's supervision and is heals quickly.

Ultimately, tongue drive technology can be used for almost any function you can think of. And it looks cool in Little Five Points.

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