Tongue Piercings Can Steer Wheelchairs

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Researchers have tested a tongue piercing that'll allow paralyzed people to steer their wheelchairs in any direction. All they have to do is move their tongue a specific direction and the wheelchair will follow.

The tongue piercing initiative is being run by the Northwestern University School of Medicine and they pierced the tongue of Martin Mireles, a former church youth leader who got shot in the neck. He was able to navigate his wheelchair through an obstacle course with his mouth closed (and his tongue waggling around, of course). How does it work?


Basically Mireles was pierced with a magnetic stud through his tongue. In order to make the wheelchair move, he had to wear a headset with sensors that could pick up the magnetic waves from the tongue ring. To go forward, he would move his tongue to the upper left corner of his mouth. Easy enough.

Why a tongue ring? Because researcher says the tongue doesn't tire easily and is usually not affected by a spinal cord injury because its connected to the brain through the cranial nerve. And the tongue ring is more effective than when they glued a magnet to a test subject's tongue (which would eventually fall off). In the future, they imagine this technology could be implemented to differentiate each task by touch of a tooth. One tooth could mean opening a door, other could mean flipping on the TV. [NY Times, Photo Credit: Steven Kagan/NY Times]