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Communication Device For "Locked-In" Patients Just Got Cooler

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(from left) Inventor James Schorey and CEO Rob Wong of Control Bionics show off the new wearable device.

A Milford company is back with an updated communication tool for ALS and other "locked-in" patients.

Known for the NeuroSwitch, Control Bionics has shrunk the technology and made it wearable. The new product is NeuroNode.

How does the patient, who can’t move, signal the NeuroNode? It uses EMG, or electrical activity produced by skeletal muscles. James Schorey invented it.

“When I think and start the barest movement of my finger it picks up that electrical activity that’s in the millionths of a volt, amplifies it, conditions it and then it Bluetooths it over to whatever device we’re controlling and then the assistive technology controls the equipment," Schorey says.

That would be an iPad, a Macbook or other similar device. The program scans line by line until the patient sees what word or phrase she want to say and signals, through her muscles, when the software should stop."

The customizable words and phrases run the gamut. Everything from "Go Redlegs," to "Please scratch my nose."

Control Bionics CEO Rob Wong says the devices are starting to become closer to enabling a conversation for patients.“So, it becomes very real for people saying-I’m back and I’m starting to engage with my family and friends.”

The next challenge for Control Bionics is serving the needs of very specific patients, such as those with Cerebral Palsy. Schorey is trying to map their involuntary movements and tell the NeuroNode to ignore them, but pay attention to other communication.

With more than 30 years of journalism experience in the Greater Cincinnati market, Ann Thompson brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to her reporting. She has reported for WKRC, WCKY, WHIO-TV, Metro Networks and CBS/ABC Radio. Her work has been recognized by the Associated Press and the Society of Professional Journalists. In 2019 and 2011 A-P named her “Best Reporter” for large market radio in Ohio. She has won awards from the Association of Women in Communications and the Alliance for Women in Media. Ann reports regularly on science and technology in Focus on Technology.