New device allows users to scroll with their tongues

Touchscreens are going hands-free with a new device that allows users to scroll through smartphones using only their tongues.

MouthPad^, a retainer-like trackpad chip that sits on the roof of the mouth, made its debut at the Consumer Electronics Show this week. It can sense tongue movements, allowing users to scroll, type, make calls and even play chess with a swipe or a click of their tongue.

“It is a mouse for your mouth,” Corbin Halliwill, a software engineer at Augmental, the company that created the device, said.

Augmental created MouthPad^ to be a helpful tool to those living with disabilities, especially those with a hand impairment or paralysis. It connects to any tablet, phone or computer through Bluetooth.

Halliwill, along with the company’s co-founders, Corten Singer and Tomás Vega, developed the device after friends and family who were paralyzed struggled to find the right technology that suited their needs.

“A lot of things come close, but they always fall short,” he said. Halliwill noted that many times the products that existed were too bulky or not portable.

Some competitors already on the market include Tecla, a company that offers different switch types depending on the user’s range of motion. There are also free apps, like Open Sesame, available on smartphones that can track a user’s head motions instead of the typical touchscreen.

Halliwill said MouthPad^ also appeals to more than the intended market now. Professionals who use their hands a lot, like mechanics or surgeons, have shown interest in the device. The company has also talked with astronauts who would like to try it out at the International Space Station.

The Augmental team has been developing its working prototype for about two years, mostly fine-tuning controls and applying filters so the device can work even if it picks up saliva or water. The product is expected to hit the market later this year, and early access is available on their website now.

Over the past six months, users have been testing out the product, including a current college freshman and mechanical engineering major who has been using MouthPad^ as her primary input device for her computer and phone.

“She’s like typing up problem sets for math using the MouthPad,” Halliwill said. “It’s amazing to be able to talk to her, to talk to her family … and see how much it moves them.”

The MouthPad^ is clear around the teeth, and the center is a golden touchpad that is the contact point for the tongue. Inside there is also a force sensor that picks up left and right clicks or could be mapped to other hotkey options. On the side, a small bump that holds the Bluetooth antenna and wireless charging battery sticks out and lays against the cheek.

Augmental doesn’t recommend leaving it in for meals, but it is safe to drink with it in — Halliwill said he wears it in the office while drinking water and his morning coffee. 

The company hopes to build the technology out in the near future, bringing new possibilities for users in the coming months. Some additions may include voice and wheelchair control. The battery now lasts about five hours, but Augmental hopes to extend it to eight in their next version.