The New Scientist is running Barry Fox’s “Invention” column, which highlights great patents of our era. First off in this installment is an application for the BION (we’ve covered these before) implantable neurostimulator, developed at USC by Dr. Gerald Loeb. The patent seeks to use the implant to control snoring by stimulating the muscles of the throat:
Snoring is caused when soft tissue in the airways – the palate or uvula – relaxes during sleep and vibrates. Surgically remodelling the tissue can stop the noise but this may be too extreme for many sufferers.
The USC idea is to make the muscles near the tissue contract when snoring starts. This will tighten the tissue and stop the vibration. To do this, small coils of wire must be injected into the muscle and a separate coil placed under the patient’s pillow.
The pillow coil then wirelessly induces pulsed power – a few times per second, with a very low charge – in the muscle coils to make the tissue tighten. The system uses a microphone to listen for the snores to start before switching on the juice. The strength and duration of the pulses needed to silence an individual’s snores, without waking them up, is found by trial and error.
Following the snore-stopping technology is a patent for Hewlett Packard‘s eye scan identification system that relies on the twitch reflex of the (living) eye to imrove its scan:
A conventional iris ID checker takes a fine detail picture of the iris pattern and compares it with a stored image. The new system does not attempt to capture a full picture, but instead looks for prominent lines and edges in the iris pattern. HP says this is as effective as a full map.
In addition, the person being checked looks into a digital camera lens while an LED on the left flashes, and then another LED on the right flashes a millisecond later. By reflex action the eyeball follows the light, but not the eyelids or lashes. So pictures taken just after each flash show the iris in two positions, and the rest of the eye stationary.
Video circuitry discards the stationary content as clutter and highlights any firm edge lines in the iris pattern, which are checked against a stored reference. The system would immediately reject a dead eye because both images would be the same.
Whew! Now we can rest assured that there will be no incentive to steal the eyeballs of us white-coated Medgadgeteers just to break into our secret underground labs.
More from The New Scientist. Be sure to check out some of the previous installments’ patents listed at the bottom of the page.
Links to the patents for the snore-stopper and the iris scan