Disabled could use 'sniffing' for control

July 27, 2010 at 5:59 PM
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REHOVOT, Israel, July 27 (UPI) -- Israeli researchers say they've developed a device to allow severely disabled people to communicate and control a wheelchair -- by simply breathing in and out.

Based on sniffing -- inhaling and exhaling through the nose -- the device will allow paraplegics and other disabled persons suffering extreme paralysis to exert control over wheelchairs, computers and other appliances, a release from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel said Monday.

The new system identifies changes in air pressure inside the nostrils and translates these into electrical signals.

Sniffing is a precise motor skill controlled in part by the soft palate directing air in or out through the mouth or nose.

The soft palate is controlled by nerves connecting to it directly through the brain case, and this close link led Professor Noam Sobel and fellow Weizmann researchers to believe the ability to sniff -- to control soft palate movement -- might still be present even in the most acute cases of paralysis.

Sniffs can be in or out, strong or shallow, long or short, and this gives the device's developers the opportunity to create a complex "language" with multiple signals, the Institute release said.

The system is relatively inexpensive to produce, and simple and quick to learn to operate in comparison with other brain-machine interfaces, its developers said.

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