People with quadriplegia can’t move their bodies below the neck, and that puts a lot of limitations on how they interact with technology. Until now, controllers for their wheelchairs have been difficult and tiring to operate, including options like pressure pads behind the head or sip-puff straws in the mouth.
Vancouver-based Naqi Logix has invented a hands-free technology that relies instead on the silent and nearly invisible microgestures of the head and face. Without so much as having to speak to a voice assistant or even look at a screen, users have multi-dimensional control of devices with just a set of earbuds.
The microgestures can be as simple as raising an eyebrow, clenching the jaw, or a slight tilt of the head. Naqi’s earbuds incorporate gyroscopic sensors alongside muscle impulse and brainwave sensors to pick up on these subtle movements.
It can give the finest command over a wheelchair and is so intuitive that users can learn how to navigate the controls within minutes.
The technology was inspired by one of the oldest known written languages: the cuneiform. Pressed into clay or engraved into stone, Ancient Sumerians invented this system of wedges, triangles, and multi-dimensional line patterns to record concepts in fields as complex as law, astronomy, and medicine.
Like cuneiforms with their simple lines and wedge shapes, simple facial movements are the basic building blocks for communicating complex controls. Naqi’s technology is a voice-free, touch-free, and screen-free system that can be used by anyone able to move above the neck. It delivers many of the functions that brain implants have long promised but with a completely non-invasive wearable.
“This technology takes those nearly invisible facial and head movements and converts it into a language that allows all of us to control phones, laptops, computers, machines, robots, the metaverse, basically our entire connected world,” said Naqi’s Chief Innovation Officer Dave Segal in his TEDxStGeorge talk.
Beyond assistive technologies for people with physical limitations, this technology has broad applications anywhere that a hands-free interface would be a benefit. It could help healthcare providers navigate screens during a surgery, or allow security officers to silently communicate with each other, or let drivers switch playlists without having to take their eyes off the road. Nearly anyone could seamlessly operate the devices around them at work or at home.
Starting from a goal of creating a more inclusive and accessible world, Naqi’s technology has opened a wealth of possibilities for how people interact with a growing number of smart devices. Naqi hopes to launch their first product on the market in early 2024.