A UK consortium is working on a pair of “smart specs” that are currently intended to help improve treatment for facial palsy but may also help monitor mood for signs of depression and help pilot devices such as wheelchairs.
In Brief: Facial Palsy
A palsy is a type of partial facial paralysis. Some types of palsy (like Bell’s), are due to temporary nerve damage and will recover on their own. Other types are due to more serious conditions like a stroke and can become a permanent disability without treatment and rehabilitation. The problem is that rehabilitation usually means performing regular facial exercises in front of a mirror. Most do not like doing this because it reminds them of their condition and appearance, which can lead to discouragement or abandoning the treatment entirely.
The Smart Specs
The glasses are known as Facial Remote Activity Monitoring Eyewear, or Frame. They look like regular glasses that have a thicker upper frame and bridge, which contain sensors. These sensors are able to monitor the activity of the facial muscles that control a person’s smile, nostrils, upper nose and eyebrows, and movement of the ear.
Currently, the idea is to combine Frame with a smartphone app. The app provides a schedule of exercise routines, and the glasses will send the app feedback about a person’s progress. In this manner, the facial exercises can be performed without the need for a mirror, and people can get more feedback on their ongoing process.
The Other Stuff
The intended use of the Frame smart specs is to help treat facial palsy. However, the same technology could, in theory, be used for alternative purposes. Since the muscles that Frame monitors are involved in mood (smiling, frowning, etc.), it may be possible to use them to help monitor the moods of people at risk for depression. The ability to transmit the muscle data also means that it may be possible to, for instance, create a situation where a paraplegic could use facial motions to steer a wheelchair or other device. These uses are further away from realization, but they have a sound plausibility; and it’s interesting to see the makers thinking ahead.
“Smart specs to treat facial palsy, monitor mood and steer wheelchairs,” Nottingham Trent University web site, October 14, 2016; https://www4.ntu.ac.uk/apps/news/189631-22/Smart_specs_to_treat_facial_palsy_monitor_mood_and_steer_wheelchairs.aspx, last accessed October 17, 2016.