The development and evolution of technology since the 20th century has paved the way for the creation of new alternatives that continuous to help man in its endeavor towards easing the difficulties of life. It has enabled many to go over hurdles and boundaries. It created better opportunities for man to seek out new ways to innovate and prove the road for betterment.
This technology has also spread in the creation of assistive devices for the disabled. It opened up new ways wherein it can go over man’s limitations and function as a normal human being. Now, these individuals too can dream and achieve goals without thinking their respective restrictions. In the end, these devices have been supplemental in the creation of better ways to appreciate life and seek out numerous possibilities.
One example of this assistive device involves the creation and design of Dr. Maysam Ghovanloo who is an assistant professor at NC State. With his expertise in both engineering and computer science, he looks into creating the ‘Tongue Drive System’ (The All Need, 2006). In this machine, he tries to help the people who had suffered from different severe disabilities. These include spinal cord ailments and degenerative diseases.
Looking at the machine, it is composed of microchip sensors that try to monitor movement within a person’s mouth and the vibrations that it may emit. “The basic device consists of three components: a tiny permanent magnet the size of a rice grain, which is coated with gold or platinum and can be attached to the tongue by means of piercing or implantation” (The All Need, 2006, p.1). After this procedure, it tries to gather responses from the brain and is receptive towards severe damages.
Another component of this apparatus involves a control unit. It is in here that the records of the brain activity of a person is recorded and stored. Looking at its components, it is “comprised of sensor interface circuitry, wireless transmitter, and a pair of watch batteries – is contained in a coin-sized, custom designed sealed package that rests inside the mouth in the area under the tongue” (The All Need, 2006, p.1).
Prior to its creation, there were different models available to determine and understand the intentions and thoughts of an individual with severe disabilities. Most of the time, it looks into the attachment of a device towards a body part then simulated to an equipment to actively calculate a response. Examples of these include the sip-and-puff devices which are considered to be designed under a switch-based approach. However, these have proven to be disadvantageous at the long run because it lacks appeal to the public and the limited capabilities it can offer (The All Need, 2006, p.1).
Another apparatus that is also existent prior to this device is the one that uses webcam that tries to “scan face or eye movements and require user to sit in front of the monitor” (The All Need, 2006, p.1). Again, this device is difficult to achieve because of the degenerative state of an individual and the obstacle of getting the accurate reading out of the process. At the same time, this is unappealing because it is not user-friendly in nature and requires a professional to make the necessary readings and findings. Seeing this, it is more expensive to pursue this process than the switch-based approach.
Dr. Ghovanloo mentions that this gadget is supplemental for these individuals because it can generate reactions without really tapping into the damaged area such as the spinal cord. It is said that this device operates and taps into the hypglossal nerve which is connected to the brain; a part that can be seen in the man’s tongue (The All Need, 2006).
Though there are physical limitations in this equipment such as it does not operate on a switch based or sip-and-puff device, the Tongue Drive System has components that are appealing even to the disabled person. Its strength lies in the way it is designed; simple yet effective in nature. “This gadget “provides maximum capabilities with no invasive procedures and no externally obvious wiring or visually unappealing components” (The All Need, 2006).
Also another important advantage of this device is it is inexpensive and not difficult to operate. Not like the new models wherein they try to put in electrodes in the brain to decipher intentions and thoughts, the Tongue Drive system does not use invasive brain surgery and expensive materials for it to work and monitor an individual’s activities (The All Need, 2006).
One way that this device is innovative compared to its predecessors is the way it communicates with other systems. “The Tongue Drive System uses a wireless transmission to communicate with a basic PDA or nearby technology using Bluetooth or Wi-Fi technology” (The All Need, 2006, p.1). Moreover, software has been written to actively make this device responsive to the apparatus and its receiver. It tries to “decode signals from the mouth sensors, translate them to user commands, and then communicate the commands to a specified device such as a computer, powered wheelchair, telephone or television” (The All Need, 2006, p.1).
Dr. Ghovanloo explains this process between the tongue and his device to be like a peripheral device in a computer wherein the user can point out specific up to complex instructions which would then be interpreted into several actions (The All Need, 2006). The good thing about this device is it also collaborates with previous innovations such as switch based and then enables the person to have control over a connected machine such as a wheelchair. Also, it provides a continuous motion compared to its predecessors as it processes data and information at a faster rate.
In the end, Dr. Ghovanloo and his collaboration with other scientists have paved the way for the creation of better devices that will support the needs of patients with degenerative diseases and ailments. By taking into consideration the needs of patients particularly in WakeMed Rehab, he and his team can find better ways that can increase possibilities for these people to live normal lives (The All Need, 2006).
To conclude, assistive devices are inventions that have been supplemental for people with disabilities in making them cope with the challenges of society and life. It gave them the hope and inspiration that despite their current state, possibilities are still available for them. It gave them the motivation that by making these things work for them, they can interact and live like normal human beings.
At the same time, innovators and researchers also share a unique responsibility in fostering and catering towards improvement. By dwelling into what matters most for these people, they can come up and design new possibilities that will bridge further the gap that exists between normal and disabled people.
The All Need (2006) Tongue Drive System Revolutionizes Assistive Device for the
Disabled. Retrieved January 9, 2009 from, http://www.theallineed.com/engineering/06082931.htm