Tongue in cheek

By | Science & Technology
Maysam Ghovanloo with a tester of the Tongue Drive. Credit@MaysamGhovanloo.

An organ that has been likened to an octopus’ tentacle, the complexity of the human tongue allows it to perform fast, dextrous and precise movements. Engineers have embraced this knowledge with the design of hands free, tongue controlled technology. This novel application of the tongue may greatly improve the lives of many disabled people, or even find its way into mainstream use as a popular hands free alternative.

The tongue, best known as a personal guide to taste and controlling food around the mouth, has also developed in humans to allow them to speak. Its quick, subtle movements produce a spectrum of sounds, giving humanity an extensive vocabulary. Nature’s evolutionary sculpting has sought this secondary use for the organ, furthering the success of the human race. Now, humans are finding new ways to utilise the tongue in conjunction with the everyday gadgets of the modern world. Maysam Ghovanloo is one such engineer, creating a gadget known as the Tongue Drive. This clever device has opened up a plethora of applications, allowing individuals to manipulate gadgets with the simple movement of their tongues.

The Tongue Drive headset and tongue magnet. Credit@MaysamGhovanloo.

The Tongue Drive headset and tongue magnet. Credit@MaysamGhovanloo.

The Tongue Drive may especially improve the lives of disabled individuals, who might rely on their tongue to manoeuvre wheelchairs or control mobile phones. The Tongue Drive achieves this by detecting alterations in the magnetic field around the user’s head, who wears a small magnet on the tip of their tongue. As they move their tongue around their mouth the magnetic field changes and this information is transferred to a headset that ultimately moves the cursor or wheelchair. According to journalist Rachel E. Gross reporting for New Scientist, who tested the Tongue Drive, what starts as a challenging new activity soon seems natural and fluent. Simple tasks such as dialling a number, checking the headlines or scrolling through messages may require only a few easy tongue movements. Maysam Ghovanloo’s research has shown that disabled individuals were, on average, able to perform tasks three times better than when using other hands free techniques such as the sip and puff method, which relies on air pressure. This video highlights the features of the Tongue Drive system:

The treatment of brain conditions may benefit from the Tongue Drive. Speech therapists may better visualise patients’ tongues, pin pointing with greater accuracy how they may improve their speech. Whilst the benefits to disabled individuals are clear, tongue technology may hold a number of other advantages. It may provide a safer hands free method for everyday commuters answering phone calls on the road, or keep skier’s hands warm on the slopes and simultaneously allow them to control their mobile phones. Even Sony has shown an interest in incorporating this technology into video games, giving players that extra dimension of control in challenging gaming sessions.

Maysam Ghovanloo is attempting to make the Tongue Drive more userfriendly. Already the headset has been shrunk from a large helmet to a small brace like structure that fits inside the mouth. The next stage is to run trials outside of the lab, testing the device’s safety in public. This is to ensure that the Tongue Drive is safe around radio waves that a disabled individual may come into contact with in everyday situations. Engineers from Japan and Germany have devised tongue controlled technology that requires only a strip of cloth that rests on the outside of the cheek. This more discreet version may be incorporated into the Tongue Drive, making it even more accessible.

The tongue, most often thought as of as a tool for tasting, food processing and speech, may one day find its place in the world of mainstream hands free technology, providing a safe, convenient way for people to control their everyday gadgets.

What other hands free applications might there be for this tongue technology?

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