New Hands-Free Wheelchair Development Uses Tongue Drive System

The modern wheelchair was designed to be operated by the user’s hands and arms.  Even power chairs rely on hand controls for movement.  But for those who are quadriplegics or deal with a degenerative condition, hand controls might not be an option.

That’s why the sip-and-puff system was developed.

Sip and puff (or SNP) technology operates by having the user either inhale (sip) or exhale (puff) on a straw or tube to move their chair.  A hard puff might move the chair forward while a hard sip will stop.  Turning is done through a continued sip or puff.

While this system has been around since the 60’s, scientists have recently found that there might be a better way to control movement.

The tongue.

A More Precise Technology

Some say the tongue is the most powerful muscle in the body.

While that’s not necessarily true, it is a very capable part of the human anatomy.  Maybe more so than we ever thought.  Researchers at Georgia Tech have just published a new study demonstrating the superiority of what they call the “Tongue Drive System” over the traditional Sip-and-Puff.

Using this tongue powered technology; users were able to maneuver their chairs three times faster than they could with the SNP method.  Not only that, but they could access technology and use computers considerably faster as well.

Even those who had years of experience with the SNP system preferred the Tongue Drive System after just one use.  How does it work?

Well, you might have to get comfortable with needles.

A Trip Do the Piercing Shop

The system relies on tracking the movement of a magnet.  This magnet is attached to the tongue via a tongue piercing.  The stud allows a sensor to detect its location, allowing the wearer to issue one of six movement commands.

The sensor is worn around the head, stopping at each side of the mouth.

This study not only brings forth a possibility of better mobility, but actually carries proof of it being better.  The results were overwhelmingly successful, paving a bright future for this system.

Who knows? Maybe one day a person will be able to drive a wheelchair van with their tongue.

« Back to Blog