TORONTO—An Ontario teen is earning high praise for designing a device to help people with severe physical disabilities navigate computers easily and affordably…with their tongue.
Emma Mogus’s invention, the Tongue-Interface-Communication project (TiC), consists of a sports mouthguard equipped with five buttons that can be pressed with the tongue.
The mouthguard is connected by ethernet cable to a circuit board which, in turn, plugs into a computer with a USB cord.
With some computer programming, the TiC can be used like a regular mouse, directing the cursor up, down, left or right and click on icons.
Using her fingers to activate the switches, Mogus typed search terms into Google by using TiC to select letters from an on-screen keyboard at a demonstration on Wednesday.
Mogus, 17, says it’s a simple and cheap product that will help people with ALS, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injuries and other disabilities use computers and access the Internet.
The recent graduate of White Oaks Secondary School in Oakville, Ont., said TiC was inspired by a friend who has ALS.
“I was just looking at the sort of assistive technology that’s already on the market to help people like my friend Tim, and what I was noticing is that the majority of these devices are highly expensive and quite invasive,” Mogus said.
She also found that the existing technologies, which rely on eye motion or changes in breathing frequency, can be susceptible to incidental movements.
“It’s easy to breathe too hard or look the wrong way, whereas my device uses deliberate tongue pressure,” Mogus said.
Her research also led her to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which calls for the development of affordable assistive technology.
“I really want to get (TiC) into the hands of those who need it, in less fortunate areas,” she said.
With that in mind, said Mogus, TiCs could be mass-produced for $10 apiece.
The device uses regular ethernet and USB cables, and Mogus said its circuit board cost $3.
“I got the mouthguard out of my brother’s hockey bag,” she said, laughing. “It’s new though. It’s clean, don’t worry.”
As winner of the 2016 Weston Youth Innovation Award for her invention, Mogus gets a $2,000 prize, and will work with the Ontario Science Centre to create an animated showcase of TiC.
The teen also landed a job thanks to TiC. Last summer, Mogus applied for an internship at McMaster University’s engineering physics department with a video of herself talking about TiC. The Hamilton school hired her for an internship usually reserved for university students.
Over the course of the school year she wrote a manual for the department and was leading tutorials for fourth-year and graduate students.
In September she will begin an undergraduate degree in chemical and physical sciences at McMaster.
But Mogus said she will continue to work on TiC, getting it patented, and trying to improve the look and comfort in a new prototype.
The Ontario Science Centre has been handing out the annual Weston Youth Innovation Award since 2008.
Winners are chosen by a panel of judges made up of Science Centre staff and researchers, lecturers and deans from science programs at universities and colleges across Ontario.
Mogus won over four other young scientists, whose projects included a solar powered-water pasteurization system and advances in robotic prosthetics.
“The jury was inspired by Emma’s ingenuity, skill and dedication to developing an original solution, for an issue that, in spite of many scientific advances, continues to affect many people,” Maurice Bitran, Ontario Science Centre CEO and member of the award panel, said in a statement.
“We look forward to seeing what this young innovator will develop next to continue improving the world around her.”