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Thursday, December 9, 2021

New research to help disabled children operate more easily

Researchers at UC Davis are developing new ways to aid those that are disabled. New studies are bringing forth revelations that could potentially make transportation and social independence much easier for both disabled children and adults.

These studies could prove vital in convenience, reliability and affordability for the disabled. If successfully implemented, researchers Sanjay Joshi and Anthony Wexler feel that it could drastically help the severely disabled – generally quadriplegics – operate wheelchairs, be more independent and allow for them to be more comfortable with their required machinery.

All this is being made possible through the development of an interface that utilizes electronic impulses to perform a desired action.

Joshi, associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, started his research on this interface in 2005. Joshi set out with the goal of helping the disabled, especially children, better interact with society.

“Children and disabled people need to be able to interact,” Joshi said.

His research aimed at facilitating things for the disabled is new, but has not failed in garnering attention. Joshi is the latest recipient of The Hartwell Foundation’s grant for biomedical research – a grant which will allocate him $300,000 over the next three years. He said that though the research is just beginning to transform into literature, it has drawn much interest in conference presentations.

Joshi’s research aims to use an interface that targets the electronic impulses of facial muscles to help the disabled.

“Our approach is a new approach,” he said.

It is an approach that may eliminate some of the current limitations the disabled have by giving them further use of their head, tongue and chin.

Joshi points out that though current technologies are wonderful in helping the disabled, some can be limiting and uncomfortable. His interface is aiming to provide something that is as convenient and helpful as possible.

“Our interface can control things as unobtrusively as possible,” he said.

Joshi said how they are “hoping to add one more option” to the current technologies. He believes that this interface could potentially eliminate the current need for constant expensive upgrades to mechanical hardware.

The interface would rather be more reliant upon software upgrades, allowing the cost of the interface to be much lower, and thus more readily available to all disabled people in need of a machine.

“We’ll hopefully make it less expensive,” Joshi said.

The interface he is currently attempting to develop can be beneficial to many, but its impact will be mostly for children.

One of Joshi’s goals is to develop an interface that can adapt to children’s growth. This goal, while not yet achieved, is of great importance to Joshi; it is something that he admits the grant will greatly help with.

Anthony Wexler, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, has been helping Joshi with his research for five years, and believes their research to be something “very exciting.”

Wexler said the relatively simple motion of wiggling one’s ears could be enough for a disabled person to be able to control a wheelchair, or operate a computer.

Wexler said this uncommonly utilized muscle – that is not enervated to the spinal cord – can be ideal for the operating of something like a wheelchair. This muscle is ideal since it is not located at the front of the face, thus making the positioning of any robotics more comfortable and less obtrusive.

He said that children are more adept to learning how to control these electronic impulses as a result of it being easier for them to learn motor skills, than for adults. Wexler suggests that children are the main target due to their higher potential for benefit.

“It can help and benefit children longer,” he said.

Joshi and Wexler both regarded the potential impact as inspiration, believing that making the lives of disabled people better a motivation.

ERIC C. LIPSKY can be reached at features@theaggie.org 

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