Tongue Drive Offers Dramatic New Mobility Options for Spinal Cord Injury Sufferers

The latest news out of Georgia Tech’s research lab could mean a new lease on life for people suffering from severe spinal cord injuries. A revolutionary new technology has been shown to allow paralyzed people confined to a wheel chair radically better mobility, and it would all be controlled in an unusual way – with the tongue.


The “Tongue Drive” was developed by Georgia Tech’s School of Electrical and Computer Engineering and would allow people in wheel chairs to interact more fully with the world around them with the help of a magnet the size of a grain of rice attached to their tongues. According to scientists, the magnet would be attached to the tongue by piercing, implantation or tissue adhesive. Once attached, the magnet would allow the user to manipulate a wheelchair or the cursor on a computer screen simply with the power of his or her tongue.

“This device could revolutionize the field of assistive technologies by helping individuals with severe disabilities, such as those with high-level spinal cord injuries, return to rich, active, independent and productive lives,” said Maysam Ghovanloo, an assistant professor in the Georgia Tech School of Electrical and Computer Engineering. Ghovanloo developed the system with graduate student Xueliang Huo.

“We chose the tongue to operate the system because unlike hands and feet, which are controlled by the brain through the spinal cord, the tongue is directly connected to the brain by a cranial nerve that generally escapes damage in severe spinal cord injuries or neuromuscular diseases,” said Ghovanloo, who started working on this project about three years ago at North Carolina State University. “Tongue movements are also fast, accurate and do not require much thinking, concentration or effort.”

A unit mounted on the wheelchair or an orthodontic brace inside the mouth detects the tongue movement and transmits a signal wirelessly to the computer or wheel chair. According to a statement from Georgia Tech, “A unique set of specific tongue movements can be tailored for each individual based on the user’s abilities, oral anatomy, personal preferences and lifestyle.” And unlike some of the brain-computer interface technologies, the Tongue Drive does not require brain surgery.

Georgia Tech’s discovery is promising to be a momentous achievement in mobility for spinal cord injury sufferers. View a short video demonstration of the Tongue Drive here. (Page opens as a Quicktime file).

If you are a loved one has experienced a spinal cord injury, you may have legal recourse. Call MLN Law at (404) 531-9700 for caring, aggressive representation.