Rebuilding smiles

We take for granted the ability to smile, kiss, or close our eyes at night, all of which can be affected by facial paralysis. This condition may strike anyone at any time, regardless of age or gender. The project aims to develop a pair of glasses that discreetly provides real-time feedback to the wearer about their facial muscle function, helping them practice their rehabilitative exercises regularly and correctly, thereby speeding recovery of normal, symmetric facial expressions.

Facial paralysis results in weakness of the facial muscles, typically on one side of the face, affecting the facial function, appearance and communication of emotions. Patients experience issues with speech, swallowing and blinking, plus significant psychological difficulties (anxiety, depression and significantly impaired social interactions).

Biofeedback is a long-established medical technique whereby control of bodily processes are improved by providing the user with real-time feedback (auditory, visual or tactile) on their performance. Until recently the technology was bulky and limited to hospital usage.  Discreet, wearable technology that provides real-time facial muscle information to patients and therapists promises a significant improvement in the rehabilitation of facial paralysis, allowing wearers to practice their exercises discreetly and correctly whilst completing other daily activities.

Emteq is developing a working prototype for an inconspicuous, non-invasive wearable device that provides discreet feedback on facial muscle movement and helps patients to continuously practise facial muscle exercises. This development is part of an  £800,000 initiative funded by the National Institute for Health Research Invention for Innovation Programme (NIHR i4i), currently being delivered by a consortium led by Nottingham Trent University in collaboration with Queen Victoria Hospital in West Sussex,  emteq, Coventry University, and the Facial Palsy UK charity.

A component of emteq's technology was featured in a BBC special report, highlighting the application of our virtual reality facial sensing system for enabling a patient with Bell's palsy practice expressions with an avatar mirroring her expressions.