Remesys - Reanimated Emotional System
Emotional is primarily conveyed through body language, especially with facial expression. For people who are impaired by a lack of facial control in some manner (situational, temporary, or permanent), expressing emotion can be a difficult task and can hinder someone from creating and maintaining social connections.
For this project, we looked specifically at the case of people affected by Bell's Palsy, a temporary unilateral facial paralysis disease that has a high recovery rate within 6-9 months. Our goal was to create a subdermal + wearable hybrid device that could reanimate the paralyzed side of the face based on muscle data from the nominal side. This conceptual device could be used to enable better emotional communication, as well as a physical therapy tool to prevent muscle degradation.
We started the design process by researching and categorizing situational, temporary, and permanent disabilities that effect emotional communication. These disabilities were then graphed based on how many hours a day the lack of emotional communication might impact them, and the lfietime of their disability. From this, we were able to narrow in on a specific subset of people, those effected by Bells Palsy, a form of unilateral facial paralysis. We chose this group because their disability is temporary but it does not have the same level of outside support and society integration as other groups effected by facial paralysis. Thus, our challenge became designing a robust product that was low profile and disposable after 9 months to a year.
RESEARCH & IDEATE
To understand what we were going to prototype, we first had to understand the musculature and nervous system of the face, especially when actuated for different emotions. From this research, we were able to identify the main muscles effecting emotional communication, and where we would have to read signals and apply stimulus to create symmetry in facial paralysis. Additionally, we were able to optimize a wearable device for the paralyzed side of the face so that it didn't obscure the face and expressiveness.
The technology behind our concept is not far-reaching. Much of it is available for commercial use or used with human patients in lab settings.
Our product has to reanimate a face that is half paralyzed and half nominal. With that in mind, we developed a three part system.
Implantable micro-receivers read the EMG signals from the muscles. The receivers create a mesh network on the face in order to effectively and expeditiously send packets of information to a transceiver.
The transceiver transitions these signals to a computer (arduino or raspberry pi based) housed in a small shrug or backpack worn by the user. The signals are interpreted and converted into a electric stimulation pattern.
The electric stimulation pattern is sent along a low profile PDMS wearable on the paralyzed side of the face. The PDMS has wiring suspended in it that hooks up to implantable Utah Electrode Arrays. The arrays are placed at the median line of the muscle, near wear the facial nerve intersects it. The stimulation pattern reanimates the paralyzed muscles with minimal delay (2ms, less that human perception) to match what is happening on the nominal side of the face.
Since our concept would not be feasible to prototype within the time frame and without significant IRB approval, we opted to create something that conveyed the concepts of EMG signals and stimulation. We were able to build out a concept shrug to house the electronics, and a low profile PDMS wearable. To illustrate the concept of EMG signals, we used a Myoware muscle sensor + arduino to read the signals coming from one of our faces and light up LED's suspended in the PDMS device. Lastly, we overlaid this wearable on a layered face. The face consisted of an epidermis layer (with representaive recievers implanted) and muscle layer in order to illustrate how the implatable components would exist in the system.