By Work of Mouth

Jonah Hammen –

Barely a month into their first year at University of Wisconsin-Stout, freshmen Michael Laffin, Kyle Cleven and Dexter Rausch had their eyes set on an ambitious project. Their idea would later be known as the “Mouth Mouse,” a computer mouse designed for people with quadriplegia: an inability to use all four human limbs. Using nothing but their tongue and jaw, they can interact fluidly with a computer interface. The Mouth Mouse features a high-tech retainer with a small joystick on its underside and pressure-sensitive detection software, allowing tongue movements and jaw flexes to control cursor direction and clicks.

They began brainstorming in early October, knowing only the group of people they wanted to help. Cleven visualized many of the concepts from these early sessions with both pencil and digital sketches. As the Mouth Mouse concept began to take shape, Rausch and Cleven got to work on modeling the retainer and its stand in Fusion 360, a 3D-modelling tool for product design. Simultaneously, Laffin focused on gathering supplies and coding its functions.

As efficient as they were, many designs of the same one mouse were scrapped along the way. “Sometimes, it was really hard to keep going with it because we’d have been working on one design for weeks only to end up totally scrapping it. But we were stubborn,” said Rausch. Cleven said, “In one of the early prototypes, the mouse tasted like burning plastic. I know firsthand because I wore every one we made. Basically, we had some kinks to work out.”

Come late January, the three had finally settled on the official design for the Mouth Mouse. With the small robotics kit that Laffin had at his disposal, he brought the digital model to life. After running it through a handful of tests, the mouse was complete and ready for presentation at the Rehabilitation Engineering Society of North America (RESNA).

Before they went to present their project in front of the representatives at RESNA, however, they needed more than just their machine itself. They had some digital scans done of the mouse for a fully-interactive 3D model suitable for show, deciding to contact Terry Johnathan (Vice President of IDSA) Erik Evanson (former Head of IDSA), and Prof. Pontillo-Verrasto. The three of them had a hand in recreating the Mouth Mouse in the form they needed. Reflecting on the now-completed project, Laffin said, “Yeah, it was kind of a grueling process, but like…we did it. Now all we have to do is convince RESNA that it’s as helpful as we designed it to be.”