People with limited hand function will soon have an easy way to control devices such as computers, smartphones and wheelchairs by wearing a smart mouthguard that accurately and quickly translates complex bite patterns into instructions for controlling electronic gadgets. This first-of-its-kind bite-operated optoelectronic system was invented by a research team led by Professor Liu Xiaogang from the Department of Chemistry, Faculty of Science, National University of Singapore (NUS), in collaboration with collaborators from Tsinghua University.
Various assistive technologies such as voice recognition, eye tracking, and brain-computer interfaces have been developed in recent years to help people, especially those with limited dexterity or neurological disabilities, control electronic devices. However, these technologies have limitations related to environmental interference, control accuracy, cost and maintenance.
To offer a promising alternative to existing assistive technologies, Prof. Liu and his team successfully designed and demonstrated a smart mouthguard containing integrated pressure sensors to detect occlusal patterns. These models are translated into data inputs with 98% accuracy and can be used to control computers, smartphones and wheelchairs.
The team’s technological breakthrough was published in the journal Nature Electronics on October 10, 2022.
In addition to supporting human-computer interaction, the interactive mouth guard can also be used for medical assistance, health devices such as smart electronic skin, and dental diagnosis.
Limitations of current assistive technologies
Assistive technologies help promote the independence and autonomy of people with disabilities. Unfortunately, these technologies also have significant drawbacks. For example, voice recognition requires a large operating memory and must operate in a low noise environment, while eye tracking requires a camera to be mounted in front of the user and is prone to fatigue. Although brain-computer interfaces have improved considerably in recent years, this technology is invasive and requires bulky wired instruments.
Bite force, often used as a parameter to assess masticatory (chewing) function, is a promising area that is not well understood or capitalized on. As dental occlusion provides high precision control and requires minimal skill, Professor Liu and his team came up with a new concept of assistive technology using unique patterns of occlusal contacts.