"Sniff-Detector" Helps the Severely Paralyzed Communicate
Maria Popova is a reader and a writer, and writes about what she reads on Brain Pickings (brainpickings.org), which is included in the Library of Congress archive of culturally valuable materials. She has also written for The New York Times, Wired UK, and The Atlantic, among others, and is an MIT Fellow. She is on Twitter @brainpicker.
Some time ago, we looked at EyeWriter – an innovative eyetracking device that allows paralyzed patients to write with their gaze. Today, we're turning to another form of sensory input – sniffing.
A new "sniff-detector" technology developed by Anton Plotkin and Lee Sela of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel enables a patient to move the cursor on a screen simply by breathing in and out. The software measures the pressure inside the nasal cavity and converts the data into electrical signals that are passed to a computer via a simple USB connection.
The technology was developed almost accidentally as researchers were studying the way our brains process the sense of smell. Using a smell-measuring device called an olfactometer, which emits waves of smell to see how sensitive a person's senses are, the team rigged the olfactometer so that subjects triggered the odor pulse themselves by sniffing, revealing the sniff as a fast and reliable trigger.
The software appears to offer a lifechanging mode of self-expression for a sample of severely paralyzed patients, particularly those with "locked-in syndrome", who are completely unable to move or speak but remain fully lucid and aware.
It would be interesting to see an intersection of various sensory inputs that empower the mobility-impaired to bridge the gap between their brains and their bodies – if EyeWriter works, and the sniff-detector works, wouldn't a combination of the two work even better, offer even richer benefits? It is questions like this that emphasize the ever-increasing importance of cross-disciplinary collaboration between designers, engineers and scientists.
Maria Popova is the editor of Brain Pickings, a curated inventory of miscellaneous interestingness. She writes for Wired UK, GOOD Magazine and Huffington Post, and spends a shameful amount of time on Twitter.
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