May 2018

Our Switched-Capacitor Stimulation (SCS) System has been featured on the IEEE TBME this month! The full text can be accessed here.

April 2018

Dr. Ghovanloo presented tech talks with title "Tongue-Based Assistive and Rehabilitation Technologies" in Rutger Unversity and Kessler Foundation. The audio track can be found here.

Feb 2018

Yaoyao Jia and Gwangrok Jung successfully presented their papers at ISSCC 2018 in San Francisco, CA.

GT-Bionics lab with participate in CICC 2018, San Diego, CA with two papers

November 2017

GT-Bionics Lab won the Most Impactful Rehabilitation Technology Award for the development of "A Multimodal Tongue Drive System" at the Inaugural Rehab Tech Innovation Competition from American Congress of Rehabilitation Medicine (ACRM).The news release can be found here.

August 2017

Our work with Prof. Lohitash at UGA is in the news.

GT-Bionics Lab will participate in the IEEE BioCAS 2017 with 5 papers.

Congratulations to Prof. Byunghun Lee for his new position; Assistant Professor at Incheon University in Korea.

July 2017

GT-Bionics receives funding from the NSF to study the thermal management of wirelessly-powered implantable devices

March 2017

Byunghun successfully defended his thesis and graduated from GT-Bionics as a PhD student. Congratulations, Dr. Byunghun Lee!

Congratulation to Daniel Canales for receiving the ECE Undergraduate Research Award!

Jaemyung successfully defended his thesis and graduated from GT-Bionics as a PhD student. Congratulations, Dr. Jaemyung Lim!

February 2017

Dr. Ghovanloo has been awarded promotion to Full Professor. Congratulations! Please see the story here.

September 2016

GT just released story about our EnerCage project!

Dr. Ghovanloo will give a talk on 8th Seminar on Electronics and Advanced Design with title "Implantable and wearable microelectronic device to improve quality of life for people with disabilities".

August 2016

We have two papers at EMBC'16.

Temi successfully defended her thesis and graduated from GT-Bionics as a PhD student. Congratulations, Dr. Temi Prioleau!

June 2016

Temi received Chi Foundation award. Congratulations Temi!

Tongue Drive: A Brain-Tongue-Computer Interface

Intraoral Tongue Drive System

I. Introduction

Assistive technologies play a critical role in the lives of people with severe disabilities and help them to lead independent self-supportive lives. Persons severely disabled as a result of causes ranging from traumatic brain and spinal cord injuries to stroke and cerebral palsy generally find it extremely difficult to carry out everyday tasks without continuous help. Assistive technologies that help them communicate their intentions and effectively control their environment, especially to operate a computer, can greatly improve the quality of life for this group of people and may even help them to be employed.

II. Alternative Assistive Technologies

A large group of assistive devices are available that are controlled by switches. The switch integrated hand splint, sip and puff device, chin control system, and electromyography (EMG) switch are all switch based systems and provide the user with limited degrees of freedom.

A group of head-mounted assistive devices has been developed that emulate a computer mouse with head movements. Cursor movements in these devices are controlled by tracking an infrared beam emitted or reflected from a transmitter or reflector attached to the user’s glasses, cap, or headband. Tilt sensors and video-based computer interfaces that can track a facial feature have also been implemented. One limitation of these devices is that only those people whose head movement is not inhibited may avail of the technology. Another limitation is that the user’s head should always be in positions within the range of the device sensors. For example the controller may not be accessible when the user is lying in bed or not sitting in front of a computer.

Another category of computer access systems operate by tracking eye movements from corneal reflections and pupil position. Electro-oculographic (EOG) potential measurements have also been used for detecting the eye movements. A major limitation of these devices is that they affect the users’ eyesight by requiring extra eye movements that can interfere with users’ normal visual activities such as reading, writing, and watching.

The needs of persons with severe motor disabilities who cannot benefit from mechanical movements of any body organs are addressed by utilizing electric signals originated from brain waves or muscle twitches. Such brain computer interfaces (BCI), either invasive or noninvasive, have been the subject of major research activities. BCIs that operate based on electroencephalography (EEG) signals are very slow and limited in bandwidth. Implantable BCI technologies, on the other hand, are highly invasive (require a brain surgery) and heavily rely on signal processing and complex computational algorithms, which can results in delays and bulky systems that may also be very costly.

III. Why Tongue?

Tongue and mouth occupy an amount of sensory and motor cortex that rivals that of the fingers and the hand. Hence they are inherently capable of sophisticated motor control and manipulation tasks. This is evident in vocalization and ingestion. The tongue is connected to the brain by the hypoglossal nerve, which generally escapes severe damage even in high level spinal cord injuries. Noninvasive access to the tongue is readily available. It is also the last to be affected in most neuromuscular degenerative disorders. The tongue has many degrees of freedom, and it can move very fast and accurately within the mouth cavity. One can touch every single tooth in his/her mouth with the tip of the tongue. Therefore it is a suitable organ for manipulating assistive devices. The tongue muscle has a very low rate of perceived exertion. Therefore, a tongue operated device can be used continuously over a long period. Also, a tongue-based device is hidden in the mouth and gives its user a certain degree of privacy.

IV. Tongue Drive System

In the Tongue Drive System (TDS), the motion of the tongue is traced by an array of magnetic sensors, which measure the magnetic field generated by a small permanent magnet, the size of a grain of rice, that is embedded in a biocompatible material such as titanium, and attached to the tongue through piercing, implantation, or adhesion. The magnetic sensors can be either mounted on a dental retainer and clipped on the outside of the teeth (internal TDS or iTDS) or on a headset (external TDS or eTDS) positioned near the cheeks. Sensor outputs are amplified, multiplexed, digitized, and transmitted wirelessly to an external controller unit.

Internal Tongue Drive System (iTDS) consists of a permanent magnet attached to the tongue, plus an array of magnetic sensors around the lower teeth on a dental retainer.

Signals received by the external controller, which can be a portable computer or a smartphone are processed to indicate the motion of the permanent magnet and consequently the tongue position within the oral cavity. We can assign a certain control function to each particular tongue movement in software and customize the system for each individual user. These user-defined control functions may then be used to operate a variety of devices and equipments including computers, phones, and powered wheelchairs.

The signals from the magnetic sensors are linear functions of the magnetic field, which is a continuous position-dependent property. Thus a few sensors are able to capture a wide variety of tongue movements. This mechanism provides a tremendous advantage over switch based devices in that the user has the options of proportional, fuzzy, or adaptive control, which can offer smoother, faster, and more natural control over the environment.

V. Prototype Tongue Drive System

We have developed a prototype Tongue Drive System using off-the-shelf commercially available components to evaluate the feasibility and performance of this approach in developing assistive devices. The main purpose of this prototype device was to substitute mouse in computer access by moving the cursor on the computer screen based on the location of the magnetic tracer relative to the four magnetic sensors. Four ratiometric linear sensors are installed in cavities created in a mouthguard. The sensors readily provide temperature compensated linear voltage output proportional to the vertical magnetic field component.

An early prototype of the internal tongue drive system

VI. Substituting Mouse for Computer Access

We have been able to successfully substitute mouse with the Tongue Drive System for computer access. Users can move the cursor on the screen using their tongue motions. Then can also issue a single or double-click for selecting icons or opening folders. Several GUIs have been developed for the prototype Tongue Drive System. One of them is a simple computer game, called Fish Tales. Accessible entertainments are considered even more important in improving the quality of life for individuals with disabilities than their healthy counterparts. This experiment evaluates the usability of the Tongue Drive System in enabling users to play computer games, which are controlled by mouse. In this GUI, payers use their tongues to navigate a red fish to catch the smaller fish, while avoiding being caught by the bigger fish. Moving the mouse cursor on the screen results in the red fish swimming in that direction. The further the cursor is moved from the current location of the fish, the faster the fish swims. The goal is to catch as many smaller fish as possible and obtain a high score. When the subject's fish eats enough smaller fish, it grows and can eat larger ones.

Tongue Drive System Substituting Mouse for Computer Access

VII. Tongue Drive System for Wheelchair Control

We have developed an interface that allows individuals to use the Tongue Drive System for controlling electric-powered wheelchairs by substituting the joystick. Similar to cursor movement on the computer screen, all the users need to do is to touch a predefined set of teeth with the tip of their tongues to drive the wheelchair forward, backward, turn left, or turn right. They can accelerate the wheelchair by holding their tongues in the forward position, and decelerate by returning their tongues back to its resting position. They can even control their powered seating position by switching the wheelchair control mode from driving to seating control.

Using the Tongue Drive System Sto drive an electric wheelchair

First clinical trial at Shepherd Center

VIII. Clinical Testing and Evaluation

After testing the Tongue Drive System by able-bodied subjects in a variety of experiments, we started evaluating it in a clinical settings by individuals with severe disabilities. We successfully completed the first round of clinical trial at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, GA. In this trial, 13 individuals with spinal cord injury at C2-C5 level used the Tongue Drive System for computer access and wheelchair control, while the research team collected data on the usability and efficacy of the system hardware, signal processing algorithms, and GUI software. Participants also provided us with valuable feedback on how to improve the Tongue Drive System further and how they would like to use it.

In our Second Clinical Trial all participants, 23 able-bodied and 11 with tetraplegia in two cities, Atlanta and Chicago, received magnetic tongue piercings and used the system for 5 and 6 weeks, respectively. The results of this study has been published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

Now we have focused on development of the intraoral Tongue Drive System (iTDS) to shrink the size of electronics and battery to the extent that it would comfortably fit inside the mouth without interfering with speech. The next step would be evaluating the iTDS in a clinical trial and comparing it with the eTDS in terms of usability, comfort, and acceptability among potential end users. We also plan to test both systems in the users' home, office, and outdoor environments.

VIII. Contact us

If you have tetraplegia, live in Atlanta, GA or Chicago, IL, and interested in participating in the upcoming clinical trials, please do contact Dr. Ghovanloo.

Team Tongue Drive with one of the participants in the 2nd TDS Clinical trial.

Tongue Drive System V5

Magnetic Tongue Barbell made of Titanium by Anatometal

TDS in the News

Related Publications