Students: Dylan Chow & Naren Yenuganti
Innovation Catalysts Fall 2020 Grant Recipients
People who have limited hand mobility due to disability can not use a conventional hand-held mouse. Omni is a tongue-operated mouse that can be used by those with quadriplegia, TBI, ALS, stroke injuries, amputations, or any other condition that impairs hand movement. Using a computer is essential for school, work, and connecting with others. The COVID-19 pandemic is a good example of why this is true. Unfortunately, more than 20 million people globally cannot use a mouse due to mobility challenges. Technologies such as Eye Gaze and Sip & Puff are currently being used as alternatives to a hand-operated mouse. However, these technologies have their drawbacks and cannot be used comfortably by all. Users expressed the need for more fine-grain control of cursor movement and a less fatiguing user experience. Innovation Catalysts grant recipients, Dylan Chow and Naren Yenuganti sought to design a device that addresses these issues, while still offering hands-free control of a computer.
Using a human-centered design process, Dylan and Naren investigated and prototyped an adaptive computer mouse that works by detecting tongue movements. It addresses two of the biggest pain points with EyeGaze and Sip & Puff, which are a lack of precise cursor control and intuitive click functionality (Eye Gaze) and fatigue caused by sipping and puffing (Sip & Puff). The tongue-operated mouse uses a 2-axis joystick that enables fine-grain control of a cursor. Operation does not require sipping or puffing, and the movement of tongue joystick is completely concealed within the mouth.
Another common difficulty with using existing technologies is the inability to perform advanced functionality a standard keyboard and mouse could provide (i.e., actions that require the user to hold down several buttons). For instance, existing technologies either do not implement or have very tedious methods for functions like drag and drop, selecting text, writing essays, scrolling through an article. The team targeted these difficulties by implementing these functionalities at the hardware level. Since the tongue-operated mouse can have click functionality, a user can push down on the mouse and move the joystick to select a group of text or drag and drop photos. On the software side, users can create their own custom set of shortcuts so they can easily access actions most useful to them.
The team used the semester to make changes to their hardware. Their initial design had the device sit in the mode via a retainer-like system. However, this inhibits the user from speaking, and users the team interviewed stated they often use speech recognition software. One user has an application on his computer that lets him receive calls and texts to his phone. A device sitting in his mouth will make it difficult for him to accept the call and talk. Therefore, they transitioned to having the mouse attached externally to the headrest or the armrest of a wheelchair via a bendable arm so the user can remove the device from their mouth with ease.