Severely disabled people may soon be able to use their noses to write, drive a wheelchair or surf the Internet, thanks to a device developed and tested by doctors in Israel.
The device harnesses sniffing — or breathing in and out through the nose — which involves the soft palate on the roof of the mouth, according to a study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States.
Noam Sobel, a professor of neurobiology at the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot, Israel, and the Sackler faculty of medicine at Tel Aviv University worked together to develop a mechanical way to convert sniffs into electrical signals. The device they developed registers the nasal pressure of the sniff and then converts the pressure into electrical signals.
The device was tested on able-bodied individuals. As seen the the image the sniffer consists of a small cannula, like the tubes used in hospitals to deliver oxygen to patients, that sits at the opening of the nostrils and is connected to a small pressure sensor. People quickly learned to play computer games and write sentences by sniffing.
Encouraged by the success of first trials, researchers then began testing quadriplegics and “locked-in” individuals people who are paralyzed but whose mental faculties remain intact..
A man who had been locked-in for 18 years and was only able to communicate by blinking one eye was able to write his name by sniffing within 20 minutes of being fitted with the device.
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