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BrailleTouch and Tongue Drive usher in new ways to communicate via iOS

It seems voice-activated applications are becoming the hot new items of 2012, influencing everything from Apple iPhone’s Siri to Google’s new voice activated search.

Just recently, Engadget reported that your mouth might soon get equipped with new Tongue Drives that allow you to communicate with machinery — and not just your iPhone or Android device!

Georgia Tech have developed a special mouth retainer with magnetic sensors that transmits data to an iOS app and translates it an on-screen or joystick movement.

Trials are being conducted on 11 people with high-level spinal injuries.

“The sensors track the location of a tiny magnet attached to the tongues of users. In earlier versions of the Tongue Drive System, the sensors that track the movement of the magnet on the tongue were mounted on a headset worn by the user,” said Georgia Tech.

“When in use, the output signals from the sensors are wirelessly transmitted to an iPod or iPhone. Software installed on the iPod interprets the user’s tongue commands by determining the relative position of the magnet with respect to the array of sensors in real-time. This information is used to control the movements of a cursor on the computer screen or to substitute for the joystick function in a powered wheelchair.”

Georgia Tech displays a keen appetite for innovation, having also built a Smartphone prototype that allows users to text without the need to look at a mobile screen.

They call this gesture-based texting and its loaded a inside free open-source app called BrailleTouch, which slipstreams the Braille writing systems,  and is initially targeted to the visually impaired.

“Users can input at least six times the number of words per minute when compared to other research prototypes for eyes-free texting on a touch screen. Users reach up to 32 words per minute with 92 percent accuracy with the prototype app for the iPhone.

However, you don’t need to be far-sighted or blind to use this app. GT is exploring options for sighted users that allow eyes-free mobile texting that replaces the QWERTY keyboards that typically cost thousands of dollars.

“BrailleTouch is the only iPhone app in existence that uses a six-finger chording process that replicates the traditional Braille keyboard. “

“This design allows users to hold their device with the screen facing away from them – cradling the device with their palms or pinkies and thumbs – and to type with a majority of their fingers, identical to typing Braille on a standard keyboard.”

This also dovetails with a little known fact that QWERTY keyboards may not be the most ergonomically designed keyboard around.  In fact, in 1936 a new keyboard developed by a Polish inventor August Dvorak offered an enhanced keyboard experience and today is even believed to help limit Internet-related health risks such as Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Some of the fastest typing speeds have been logged using a Dvorak keyboard.

A small, growing legion of users are adopting the Dvorak keyboard as an alternative to QWERTY but it remains to be seen how the new  voice-activated apps will impact this side-show.

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