Enabling communication for people living with paralysis or loss of speech is our mission here at Control Bionics. While we have developed a truly innovative way to do this, our greatest reward is returning the joy of communication to patients who have lost their ability to communicate.
Anything that returns dignity and some feeling of normalcy to people who suffer from an inability to communicate is amazing. For years, eye gaze (also known as “eye tracking”) has been the prevailing technology used to enable this type of communication.
In its simplest form, eye gaze determines where someone is looking by using cameras to take pictures of one or both eyes. Those images are then processed and analyzed to determine the gaze location. There are applications of this type of technology beyond helping people communicate, and eye gaze is used extensively in research and user-feedback testing.
Eye gaze is a passive input mechanism – meaning eyes are better at reading and scanning then they are at clicking a button or initiating a keystroke on a keyboard. Due to its reliance on cameras, extensive calibration of the system per patient is needed both for set up and on an ongoing basis, as even small changes in the person’s position or room lighting can affect system performance. It also relies on the eyes as the primary input mechanism. If the eyes are not functioning properly or just become fatigued or dry, as happens in many ALS patients, system performance suffers disrupting communication.
We’ve been hard at work over the past 10+ years perfecting an approach that doesn’t rely on eye gaze technology and instead uses the body’s brain-to-muscle communication to give patients the ability to communicate again. This can be as simple as raising your eyebrows because we are measuring and recording the electric voltage sent by the brain to a muscle.
We do this via electromyography (or “EMG”). EMG can detect the faintest signals the brain sends the muscle and adapts as the body changes, removing the need for constant recalibration. Communication is active and EMG taps into the actions the body is taking and channels that to let a patient type words to share in an email or text message or to play out loud to give them back a voice to communicate with family and loved ones. Our users tell us that communication with the NeuroSwitch becomes second-nature, rather than a tiring chore.
And, unlike eye gaze technology, the NeuroNode works if you are on a ventilator. People who would benefit from a ventilator often delay or decline the procedure because they are afraid of losing the ability to communicate. With NeuroNode, you don’t have to choose between breathing well and communicating. You can do both.