MouthPad turns your tongue into a mouse for your phone

You can one day use your tongue as a mouse for your laptop, tablet or phone, thanks to a new product that made its first public appearance at CES 2024 in Las Vegas. The MouthPad (an obvious spin on the word “mousepad”) is what its makers call a tongue-operated touchpad that “sits at the roof of your mouth” and can be connected to your devices just like a standard Bluetooth mouse. I got to see the MouthPad here in Las Vegas, where it’s making its first public appearance since its announcement last year, though, to be clear, I did not put it in my mouth to try out for myself. Instead, I watched as the company’s co-founder Tomás Vega used the device to navigate an iPhone and open the camera as we took a selfie together.

The MouthPad is basically like a retainer with a touchpad, battery and Bluetooth radio built in. It’s made of a resin that the company says is the same “dental-grade material that is commonly used in dental aligners, bite guards and other oral appliances.” The device’s battery was made by a company called Varta, which MouthPad’s makers also said has “a long track record of producing safe, medical implant-grade batteries.” All this is to say that while it can feel strange to put a battery-powered electrical device in your mouth, at least it might be reassuring to know that this uses technology that has existed in the oral health industry for a long time.

I watched Vega place the 7.5-gram mouthpiece right on his palette, where it sat surrounded by his upper teeth. He closed his mouth and the iPhone he held up showed a cursor moving around as he opened apps and menus. I asked him to open up the camera and he obliged, and we took a selfie. This was evidently not a pre-recorded demo paired with good acting.

Photo by Cherlynn Low / Engadget

Now, because I didn’t try it myself, I can’t tell you if it’s comfortable or easy to use. But the specs sheet states that the MouthPad is about 0.7mm (0.027 inches) thick, apart from where there are capsules, while the touchpad itself on the roof of the mouth is 5mm (0.19 inches) thick. From what I saw, it didn’t look much bulkier than my own retainers, and when Vegas smiled after putting the MouthPad on, I could only really see one small black piece on top of one of his teeth.

You’ll have to take out the MouthPad when you’re eating, but you can speak while it’s in your mouth. You might have a slight lisp the way you would with regular retainers, but I could understand Vega perfectly. The company said that the device currently lasts about five hours on a charge, though the team is working on improving that to eight hours by March. Recharging the device takes about an hour and a half, though Vega and his team said that, of the 30ish people that currently have a MouthPad, most users tend to charge theirs when they’re eating and rarely seem to run out of juice.

The company explained that the MouthPad uses Apple’s Assistive Touch feature to navigate iOS, but it can be recognized by other devices as a Bluetooth mouse. It’s already on sale for those who sign up for early access, but general availability is coming later this year. Each MouthPad is individually 3D-printed, based on dental impressions sent in by customers as part of the ordering process. Early access users will also receive assistance from the company during setup and calibration, as well as throughout their use of the device.

Close up on the smile of a person wearing the MouthPad 2024. Some lines indicate the person has a clear tray over their teeth, while a small piece of equipment is on top of a tooth on the right side of their mouth.

Photo by Cherlynn Low / Engadget

Tongue-operated controllers are not new, but MouthPad is one of the more elegant and sophisticated options to date. It also works with a wide variety of devices and seems far enough along in the production process to be ready for sale. Whether the human tongue is a suitable organ for computer interactions, however, is something we can only determine after longterm use in the real world.

We’re reporting live from CES 2024 in Las Vegas from January 6-12. Keep up with all the latest news from the show here.

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