We’re very excited to announce that Newicon is working on the software side of a new medical technology that’s being developed by GP Dr Nick Gompertz with a team of researchers at the University of Bath.
The technology is called Earswitch, and it hopes to offer people with conditions such as Motor Neurone Disease (MND) new ways of communicating via a computer.
The technology will allow people to communicate by tensing a tiny muscle to operate an assistive keyboard, like the one used by the late Professor Stephen Hawking. But unlike Stephen Hawking’s device, which relied on him tensing a muscle in his cheek, this new device uses a tiny, hidden muscle in the ear — the tensor tympani muscle.
Control of this muscle might potentially be preserved in people ‘locked-in’ due to stroke, and in late-stage MND. Existing assistive devices can become unusable as neurological conditions such as MND worsen over time, so Earswitch might offer a breakthrough for individuals with the most severe communications restrictions.
The technology has recently been given a boost by two successful rounds of funding.
The first funding award is a £1.45 Million NIHR Product Development Award (PDA). This will help the team develop EarSwitch into a product with appropriate regulatory approval as a medical device. Additional partners for this project include a manufacturing consortium and the Portsmouth Technology Trials Unit.
The second award is for £70,000 from NIHR Invention for Innovation (i4i Connect). This project will explore the use of EarSwitch as a means to control an upper-limb exoskeleton or prosthesis. It will involve working with OpenBionics, a local manufacturer of 3D printed prostheses.
As you may know, Newicon has recently become one of four companies that make up The Product Partnership (TPP). And we’re proud to say that we’re all — Realise, Cubik, Amalgam and Newicon — involved in the project.
For our part, we’re designing a web application that will work to configure the device, train users and capture data in clinical trials — enabling further development and improvement for phase two of the project.
We’re very excited about the future of this project, and it’s been fantastic to work with people like Nick, who show that with drive and a good idea, you really can do transformative things! You never know what the future might hold; right back at the start of this project we participated in some design thinking workshops with Nick at UWE about other potential applications for this tech. Ideas from gaming, changing music track on earbuds, even for use by fighter pilots as an additional input were floated. There's no telling where the potential for this tech might take it.
Keep an eye on our blog for more information on this project as it progresses.
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