Experimental Tongue Piercing Serves as Mobility Aid for the Paralyzed

March 14, 2014 2 min read

wheelchairResearchers recently began testing the most high tech tongue piercing ever invented-- a mobility aid that allows paralyzed people to drive their wheelchairs easily and accurately just by moving their tongues.

The process is simple. The user gets a piercing, then puts in a retainer which detects the position of the piercing within the user’s mouth. So if the user wants to go right, he or she moves his tongue right. If left, he moves his tongue left. The retainer then wirelessly sends this info to the user’s smartphone, and an app tells his wheelchair which way to go.

When tested against the sip-and-puff, currently the device most paralyzed people use to control their wheelchairs, the tongue piercing allowed faster navigation while remaining just as accurate. And when used to control a computer, the tongue piercing worked three times better. According to the device’s creator Maysam Ghovanloo, the device works so well because most paralyzed people still have complete control of their tongues, and tongues are “unobtrusive, easy to use and flexible.”

The tongue piercing needs to go through more tests before it’s commercially available, but the initial results have been positive. Jason DiSanto, a paralyzed electrical engineer and one of the first people to try the device, said, “It’s really powerful because it’s so intuitive… The first time I did it, people thought I was driving for, like, years.” He also said that the piercing took some getting used to, and that initially eating and speaking felt fun. But overall, the piercing gave him more control and was less intrusive than his sip-and-puff.

Ghovanloo hopes to get the device on the market soon. Meanwhile, he’s working on additional features such as the ability to turn on TVs or lights using the tongue piercing.