‘Exciting’ head tongue controller lets paralyzed patients operate smartphones and wheelchairs

Georgia Tech

The new head-and-tongue controller is one of the only options for paralyzed patients to not only control their own electric wheelchairs but to use smartphones and computers.

Georgia Tech revealed the results of a study that showed how its engineers were able to turn research prototypes into a ready-to-use version tested by 17 electric wheelchair users living with quadriplegia — a spinal cord injury that affects the arms, hands, trunk, legs and pelvic organs.

They described it as the first innovative app of its kind for individuals with disabilities.

Working with physicians and clinical therapists at Brooks Rehabilitation Center, the team was able to demonstrate the usefulness and ease of use of MagTrack technology to patients.

“Knowing about the progress the MagTrack project has made even since the early stages of this study is incredible,” said Geneva Tonozzi, medical director of the Spinal Cord Injury Program at Brooks Rehabilitation Institute.

MagTrack allows users of electric wheelchairs to control their connected devices (such as a smartphone and computer) and drive their own electric wheelchairs using an alternative multimedia console. In addition, the assistive device is designed to be wearable, wireless, and adaptable to the user’s specific situation.

Unlike other devices, you don’t have to sit in a chair or at a desk to use it. The console travels with you.

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Performance testing of the Head Tongue Controller (HTC), an earlier version of MagTrack technology, has demonstrated its ability to perform complex human-machine interactions that improve users’ quality of life, through the use of tongue and head movements, which are detected by eyeglasses and a small scanner that is Temporarily stick it to the tongue with a biocompatible adhesive.

Commands are generated from these movements using advanced data processing and machine learning models. This combination of head and tongue movements allows the user to perform a variety of everyday functions with customizable control, from mouse navigation, scrolling or drag-and-drop to advanced driving maneuvers when connected to an electric wheelchair.

MagTrack trackers can stick to the face for many hours thanks to a clear, biocompatible adhesive.

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Test results, published in IEEE Transactions on Biomedical Engineering, show that new users of MagTrack can complete these tasks quickly, and sometimes even faster, using HTC’s MagTrack instead of a replacement personal controller. Because the study session lasted less than 3 hours and used an electric wheelchair that was not theirs – participants are expected to become more efficient over time.

“It was amazing to see how their faces lit up when they saw that they could control their wheelchair with such ease and comfort,” said Jesse Milliken, a speech-language pathologist in the Spinal Cord Injury Program at Brooks Rehabilitation Hospital. “They all said they would see this improving their daily lives if it was available to them.”

At its core, MagTrack is a new type of body motion tracking – and these new alternative controllers will enable them to be active members of an interconnected digital world.

“The MagTrack study track shows unprecedented potential to advance independent function as well as mobility for users of electric wheelchairs,” said Omar T. Inan, a Georgia Tech researcher and professor in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

“Our team and partners are energized and motivated by recent patient trials to continue pushing this technology and its capabilities to the maximum (where) this technology can dramatically improve people’s lives.”

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“The development of our alternative wearable controller eliminates the need to have multiple assistive technologies, replacing it with a single, integrated multimedia system,” said Nordin Sebhi, a postdoctoral researcher and co-creator of the MagTrack assistive technology.

As a result of these studies, MagTrack has been optimized to offer an integrated and holistic experience so that the user can easily switch between driving his wheelchair and controlling connected devices in his surroundings (eg, smartphone, computer, automated door opener, smart TV). The system can be used anywhere because it is wearable, and its built-in wireless connectivity makes portability easy.

The team at Georgia Tech is already working on a new version of MagTrack that is not only sharper, but also includes facial gesture detection that can significantly increase its control capabilities.

Next year, the team plans to make MagTrack available to early adopters of in-house verification testing, to further improve the technology.

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The team is also working on various designs of MagTrack for use as a wearable articulator for motor speech disorders, as a hand and joint tracking system for physical rehabilitation, and even as finger tracking for VR/AR applications. The MagTrack team will collaborate with the Global Center for Medical Innovation to assist with organizational strategy and project planning for the transfer of technology from the laboratory to the market.

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