A Pierced Tongue Drives a Wheelchair

Jonathan Strickland

Tongue Drive System headset, magnetic tongue stud and smartphone. | Courtesy of Maysam Ghovanloo

Over at Georgia Tech, some engineers have been working on a new type of control system for electric wheelchairs. These chairs are meant for people who have lost the use of their arms and legs. Earlier controls used a small tube through which a person could sip or puff air to give commands to the chair. This new system uses something very different -- a magnetic tongue stud.

The system tracks the tongue stud's position and motion using a special headset. A smartphone provides all the computing power necessary to translate the tongue stud's movements into actual wheelchair commands. According to the researchers working on the project, subjects became familiar with the system quickly and were able to maneuver their wheelchairs more efficiently than if they had been in a sip-and-puff style chair.

The Tongue Drive can be used to do more than control a wheelchair. It can also be paired with computers to allow people who have suffered paralysis to access and control the computers. It's pretty awesome.

Here's some video of the results. I always find work like this to be inspiring -- humans have this great ability to approach a problem repeatedly, improving our ability to deal with challenges with new technologies and ideas. Check it out!