Rolling Without Limits

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Japanese Researchers Develop a Tongue-Operated Wheelchair for People With Limited Mobility
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Japanese Researchers Develop a Tongue-Operated Wheelchair for People With Limited Mobility

Good news for people using wheelchairs – a group of Japanese researchers have developed a tongue-operated electronic wheelchair, and much to their delight, operating this newfangled wheelchair is surprisingly easy. A user can maneuver it with his/her tongue with the help of a silicone sheet that is connected to the user's chin.

Notably, this is not the first time such a model has been developed; however, the aforementioned design is far more precise and comfortable than its precursors. Unlike previous models, the recently introduced iteration of the tongue-operated wheelchair does not work with the help of a device which has to be placed inside the mouth of a wheelchair user, project leader Makoto Sasaki explained.

Sasaki, an assistant professor in the department of mechanical engineering at Iwate University noted that there are several people who can still move their tongues even though they have spinal cord damage that restricts the movement of their hands and feet. Sasaki is currently prepping to commercialize the aforesaid wheelchair in the bid to lend the severely disabled people a helping hand with the ability to move.

The tongue operated wheelchair utilizes mild electric signals produced simply by moving suprahyoid muscles, which are triggered when a user opens the mouth and swallows food. A silicone sheet comprising several electrodes is attached to a user's jaw, giving off signals to a computer. When a user moves his/her tongue in a specific direction, for instance, right or front, the computer identifies the signals and guides the wheelchair to head for the direction pointed out. 

Sasaki attributed the failure of earlier attempts to make tongue-operated wheelchairs to hygiene and comfort-related problems. Apparently, for these machines to work, a user had to place parts inside his/her mouth.

The group behind this seemingly advantageous research is now looking to administer road tests with people with disabilities in order to reduce lapse of time between tongue movements and the movableness of the wheelchair.

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