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The Human Tongue as Computer Control Pad
« on: September 08, 2008, 07:02:17 PM »
Greg Bluestein, Associated Press

The tireless tongue already controls taste and speech, helps kiss and swallow and fights germs. Now scientists hope to add one more ability to the mouthy muscle, and turn it into a computer control pad.

Georgia Tech researchers believe a magnetic, tongue-powered system could transform a disabled person's mouth into a virtual computer, teeth into a keyboard -- and tongue into the key that manipulates it all.

"You could have full control over your environment by just being able to move your tongue," said Maysam Ghovanloo, a Georgia Tech assistant professor who leads the team's research.

The group's Tongue Drive System turns the tongue into a joystick of sorts, allowing the disabled to manipulate wheelchairs, manage home appliances and control computers. The work still has a ways to go -- one potential user called the design "grotesque" -- but early tests are encouraging.

The system is far from the first that seeks a new way to control electronics through facial movements. But disabled advocates have particularly high hopes that the tongue could prove the most effective.

"This could give you an almost infinite number of switches and options for communication," said Mike Jones, a vice president of research and technology at the Shepherd Center, an Atlanta rehabilitation hospital. "It's easy, and somebody could learn an entirely different language."

That's quite a contrast to the handful of methods already available to the hundreds of thousands of Americans who are disabled from the neck down.

The "sip and puff" technique, which lets people issue commands by inhaling and exhaling into a tube, is among the most popular. But it offers users only four different commands, limiting their options.

Control systems that use sophisticated pads to measure neck and head movements are also widespread, but using the hardware can be tiring, and frustrating on smaller electronics like computers.

And while newer innovations that track eye movement are promising, they can be costly, slow and susceptible to mixed signals.

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