Loughborough student unveils invention to help improve the lives of people living with paralysis

Robert Green demonstrates his invention - the m(eye)DAQ.

A mechanical engineering student from Loughborough University has designed a digital letter board that allows victims of paralysis to communicate – without the need for an interpreter.

Robert Green, 20, came up with the idea of the blink-to-speech system for sufferers of severe paralysis and loss of speech, while on an industrial placement at National Instruments  – a producer of automated test equipment and virtual instrumentation software.

The m(eye)DAQ detects eye blinks or finger movements which are fed into a LabVIEW application –  a graphical programming environment available to all students in the engineering schools at Loughborough for use in their projects. This then converts the movement into sentences before reading them aloud.

The low cost system uses an optical reflectance sensor, a pair of 3D cinema glasses and two resistors. The finger movement detection circuit comprises of a simple switch, which in the case of the prototype is an upcycled doorbell to provide a large, sturdy surface to press on. The sensor is mounted onto the frame of the glasses close to the user’s eyes and emits an infra-red signal at the white of the user’s eye.

The software then analyses the signal to detect whether or not a change has taken place. It is at this point that the user is able to scroll and select letters from a digital letter board to form sentences which are then read aloud by the computer, aided by a predictive text function.

Robert, who is currently an Applications Engineer intern at National Instruments as part of a Diploma of Industrial Studies (DIS) placement, said: “I have a passion for developing projects that can positively influence and change the way people interact with the world.

“Through the use of National Instruments tools, I have been able to create a prototype at a total cost of £164. I hope to significantly improve the lives of people suffering from degenerative conditions such as locked-in syndrome (LIS) by giving a voice to those who are unable to speak and who have very limited body movement. I also plan to incorporate digital communications such as text messages, email or social media.

“My studies in Mechanical Engineering at Loughborough provided me with an extensive knowledge of engineering principles, combined with time and project management skills, which allowed me to develop this project from initial concept into a functional prototype in just one week.”

Richard Roberts, Staff Academic Technical Marketing Engineer at National Instruments, said: “Transforming a conceptual idea into a functioning, real-world device is a defining moment for any budding engineer.

“The fact that Robert built a working prototype of m(eye)DAQ within a single week is testament to both the power of the National Instruments platform and the solid engineering skills he developed at Loughborough University. I would like to congratulate Robert on this inspirational success.”

David Kerr, Senior Lecturer in the School of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering, added: “As an academic currently working in this area, I was very impressed with Robert’s device. He has succeeded in producing an effective and convenient input system for Augmentative Alternative Communication (AAC) purposes. Most importantly, Robert’s device is low cost, making it potentially more affordable than many more sophisticated systems currently on the market.”

To find out more about m(eye)DAQ, click here.

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