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Intelligent Machines

Balancing Act

Thousands of Americans with untreatable inner-ear problems suffer from a severe lack of balance that can make something as simple as getting out of bed a nightmare. Now it seems the technology used to orient air-planes and satellites could help these people regain stability.

Scientists at MIT and Draper Laboratory are developing a tiny gyroscope and accelerometer that patients with balance disorders could wear as a headset. The instruments send a signal to vibrational devices the size of M&Ms sewn into the patient’s clothes. When the person leans more than 10 degrees from the vertical, the devices on that side vibrate, producing a sensation that prompts the wearer to straighten up. Tests on patients with balance disorders are beginning at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary and Massachusetts General Hospital.

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