A SERIES of sniffs could allow severely disabled people and even those withlocked-in syndrome to communicate, surf the internet and control a wheelchair.
Noam Sobel, a neurobiologist at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, and colleagues attached sensors to a nasal tube to pick up pressure changes when the wearer sniffs. “The control over sniffing appears to be unusually well spared following injury,” Sobel says.The control over sniffing appears to be unusually well spared following injury
The device can be hooked up to software in either a computer or a wheelchair. To type text or search the internet, a series of options scroll across a screen until the sensors pick up the user’s sniffs, which indicate the section or letter they want to select. Controlling a wheelchair requires users to make a series of predetermined sniffs, depending on the direction they wish to move. These “code” sniffs are complex enough to ensure the chair is not moved inadvertently, Sobel says.
In tests on three people with locked-in syndrome, two were able to use the system to write letters. Following a short period of training, all 11 of the people with quadriplegia given the system were able to surf the web and write emails (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1006746107).
This set-up is far cheaper than existing eye-tracking systems, Sobel says.