Paralyzed people are being given a new way to move their wheelchairs and it’s all thanks to getting their tongues pierced.
Researchers have reported that 11 people paralyzed from the neck down quickly learned to use the tongue device to pilot their wheelchairs through an obstacle course full of twists and turns, and to operate a computer, too.
Users of the new wireless system get their tongue pierced with a magnetic stud that resembles jewelry and acts like a joystick. People can then move their wheelchairs by simply flicking their tongues in different directions.
The Independent reports that the research was led by Maysam Ghovanloo, director of Georgia Tech’s bionics lab. He said he decided to use the tongue as a controller as it is “unobstrusive, easy to use and flexible.”
“It’s really powerful because it’s so intuitive,” said Jason DiSanto, who was among the first spinal cord-injured patients to get his tongue pierced for science and try out the system. “The first time I did it, people thought I was driving for, like, years.”
AP also reported that the team of researchers in Atlanta and Chicago put the Tongue Drive System to the test against one of the most widely used assistive technologies, called sip-and-puff, that users operate by breathing into a straw. Using the tongue, patients operated their wheelchairs a bit faster but just as accurately — and on average, they performed about three times better on video game-like computer tests, said Ghovanloo.
The study, reported in the journal Science Translational Medicine, found that all the volunteers in the study preferred the piercing to their regular device, but some individuals had dropped out of the tests, worrying that a piercing wasn’t suitable for their profession, according to The Independent.