It used to be people who pierced their tongues were young kids into the rave dance scene and punks. However, with new technology being developed by researchers in Atlanta and Chicago, paralyzed people in wheelchairs are now able to control the mobility device through the use of a specially designed tongue piercing.
This wireless system includes a tongue piercing with a magnetic stud that resembles jewelry and acts like a joystick, allowing paralyzed people in wheelchairs to simply flick their tongues in the direction they want to go in. So far eleven people have been tested with the piercing device and the results have been positive.
“It’s really powerful because it’s so intuitive,” Jason DiSanto told the Associated Press. DiSanto, from Atlanta, was among the first spinal cord-injured patients to get his tongue pierced for this scientific study. “The first time I did it, people thought I was driving for years”.
Georgia Tech and the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago at Northwestern University have been spearheading this new technology and are calling it Tongue Drive Systems. The research, reported in the journal Science Translation Medicine, is an early step that allows use of the device only inside laboratories. Larger studies in real-world environments will be required before the device can be manufactured and sold.
While the idea of a tongue piercing may be a turn off for some candidates, the technology is gaining attention for it inventiveness and success.
“For people who have very limited ability to control a power wheelchair, there aren’t that many options,” Dr. Brad Dicianno, a rehabilitation specialist at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center told the AP. “There is some interesting promise for this tongue control”.
The reason for choosing the tongue is that most people who have spinal cord injuries and neurological disorders still have use of their tongue and with a headset that can detect the tongue’s position the headset can wirelessly beam information to a smart phone the user carries to control the direction of the wheelchair. The tongue also offers multiple complex movements due to the space it occupies in the brain’s motor cortex, significantly more than fingers or even hands.
While the tests are still in the early stages the results have been very positive and participants and researchers are both excited about the future of this technology.