Wearable Sensor to Help ALS Patients Communicate, Measuring Face Movements

It can even be easily covered by make-up.
Deniz Yildiran

A team from MIT has come up with a transparent design that ables ALS patients to communicate a variety of sentiments, such as “I love you” or “I’m hungry.” The device, attached to the patient's face measures small face movements; twitching, smiling, and opening the mouth.

ALS patients have this hinder going on about their lives. They gradually lose their ability to control their muscles over time. And in the worst-case scenarios, they end up losing their ability to speak. 

The device has been tested on two ALS patients; one female and one male. So it's not one of those researches to conclude their results based on a male candidate and proves to be obsolete, as the device itself is. 

 The research team's leader, Canan Dagdeviren, has had her inspiration after meeting Stephen Hawking, who had also been suffering from ALS for a long time, in 2016. When he visited Harvard University at that time, Dagdeviren was a junior at Harvard’s Society of Fellows. 

What's useful about this new practical device is that is quite simple. It doesn't require bulky equipment such as the ones functioning through the measurement of nerves' electrical activity. 

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“These devices are very hard, planar, and boxy, and reliability is a big issue. You may not get consistent results, even from the same patients within the same day,” Dagdeviren explains.

A thin silicone film works as the base for the device. Four piezoelectric sensors made of aluminum nitride are embedded in the film. This way, the device detects the mechanical deformation of the skin and turns it into an electric voltage to be measured. It distinguishes smile, open mouth, and pursed lips.  

The components are easy to produce, so each would cost approximately $10 and could easily reach out to more people. 

The research has been published in the journal Nature Biomedical Engineering.

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