‘Earswitch’ device offers fresh hope
Our colleagues in the Department for Health including former CAMERA Co-Investigator Dario Cazzola are working on a revolutionary assistive technology being developed by GP Dr Nick Gompertz with a team of researchers at the University of Bath. He hopes to offer people with conditions such as Motor Neurone Disease (MND) new ways of communicating via a computer.
Earswitch Ltd. has developed a prototype that allows people to communicate by tensing a tiny muscle to operate an assistive keyboard, like the one used by the late Professor Stephen Hawking. But whereas for Stephen Hawking communication relied on him tensing a muscle in his cheek, this new device uses a tiny, hidden muscle in the ear.
It is believed that control of this muscle might be preserved in people ‘locked-in’ due to stroke, and in late-stage MND. This is important because current existing assistive devices can become unusable as neurological conditions such as MND worsen over time. As such, Earswitch might offer a breakthrough for individuals with the most severe communications restrictions.
National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) have funded work with University of Bath to help validate this approach.
One of the lead researchers, Dr Dario Cazzola from the University’s Department for Health adds: “We are delighted to help Nick understand more about how many people can use this tiny hidden muscle in the ear and to learn more about the different ways to train people. With our electronic and electrical engineering experts, we’re also helping Nick further develop how the Earswitch can be attached and, in the future, miniaturised.
“This is a great example of how we can help translate Nick’s blue-sky thinking into a truly innovative project with real-world application. We hope this work can make a significant difference to the lives of many people with neurological conditions in the UK and around the world.”