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Assistive devices for patients with late-stage ALS unveiled by MOST

MOST Minister Chen Liang-gee (fifth left) is joined by experts, officials and ALS patients at a ceremony unveiling two new assistive devices Aug. 16 in Taipei City. (Courtesy of MOST)
MOST Minister Chen Liang-gee (fifth left) is joined by experts, officials and ALS patients at a ceremony unveiling two new assistive devices Aug. 16 in Taipei City. (Courtesy of MOST)
 
Two locally developed systems for helping patients with late-stage amyotrophic lateral sclerosis communicate were unveiled by the Ministry of Science and Technology Aug. 16 in Taipei City.
 
The eye-controlled device and a brain-computer interface were created under the auspices of the MOST’s Breakout program in conjunction with a team led by National Taipei University of Technology professor Liu Yi-hung.
 
According to Liu, most current assistive technologies are designed for ALS patients in the early or middle stages of the disease. In contrast, the new devices can be used even when most voluntary muscles have become paralyzed, he said, adding that the systems will significantly improve the lives of those living with the rare neurological disease.
 
The optical device is designed for patients capable of blinking or performing small eye movements. It works by using the latest eye-tracking technology to navigate a menu and select from options.
 
Intended for patients who are almost completely incapable of movement, the brain-computer interface monitors users’ brainwaves through an electrode cap, with signals interpreted as answers to “yes” or “no” questions. In the future, the team hopes to further develop the system to allow users to select their responses.
 
Launched last year, the Breakout program involves three R&D projects proposed by experts and selected by public polling. Future initiatives will focus on aiding visually impaired passengers on buses and implementing early interventions for developmentally delayed children in rural areas, according to the MOST. 
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