This Joystick For Your Tongue Could Be a More Inclusive Controller For Future Devices

As the world inevitably moves towards devices like smart glasses and screens that follow us everywhere, we’re going to need hands free ways to interact with our apps. Dorothee Clasen wonders if our tongues could potentially replace our fingers using a joystick worn inside the mouth.

The [In]Brace is part of Clasen’s master thesis in Human-Computer Interaction design and research and is made from a plastic retainer, customised for each user’s mouth, that’s wired to a wifi module worn behind the ear. On the retainer itself is a simple set of electronics including a smooth spherical element embedded with a magnet allowing sensors to detect its simple back and forth movements.

The wire running from the retainer to the wireless earpiece doesn’t exactly make the prototype look comfortable to wear, but it minimizes the number of components that have to be placed inside the mouth, including the battery. If the idea ever goes beyond the research stage, the design of the [In]Brace could definitely be streamlined and improved, with the ideal solution seeing it being entirely sealed and self-contained for safety as saliva and batteries probably don’t mix well.

The multiple sensors in the retainer are able to detect the position of the magnetic sphere as it moves back and forth along a wire track, it’s not limited to just being detected in one position or another like an on/off switch. This not only makes interacting with the [In]Brace more nuanced, but it allows for a greater range of control and customizability, including gestures (like quickly flicking the sphere forwards and back with the tongue) which expands the usefulness of the unique controller.

As part of the research and testing of the prototype, Clasen also created a clone of the simple Pong game called Tong where players could adjust the position of their paddle using the tongue controller. It required the sensors on the [In]Brace to be specifically calibrated to whoever was trying the prototype, but with a little practice, it appears to be an effective way to play the game.

While this could be a tool for an able-bodied person who wants a new way to control an operating system like iOS or Android a more likely application would be as an alternate interface method for those dealing with physical disabilities, or as an additional way to control a device or a piece of software for those times when you’re hands aren’t available, and a voice assistant refuses to understand what you’re asking for.

Editor’s Note 7/30/20 8:35 am — A previous version of this story had an inappropriate headline and the story contained some ableist sensibilities. We apologise for the poor choice and will work to do better in the future.