Introduction: Tongue Typing With a Mouth Mouse

About: A long time Instructables lurker.. now pleased to be an Instructables worker, in; doing instead of doodling. This is easier now that I am 'semi' retired with more time to do stuff. My grandson is becom…

The Makey Makey board has undoubtedly opened up many possibilities for interacting with a PC or Laptop. Whilst piano playing bananas and silver foil triggers are fun and educational I wanted to find an application that was different and hopefully could even form the basis of something useful.

This Instructable aims to show the making of a prototype that is definitely 'something different and useful'.

We will all have seen disabled people who do not have the use of their hands, attempting to communicate using 'unicorn sticks' or even eye-tracking technology. I considered this and wondered if the simple Makey Makey board could be pressed into service to provide a quicker and lower-cost way to replace a mouse and thus facilitate a whole host of ways to communicate.

We all know how sensitive and controllable our tongues are. We can easily send our tongue to any tooth and the tip can easily determine items as small as a piece of trapped food or even a human hair.

Since many disabled people still have the full use of their tongue, it occurred to me that it may be possible to put together a mouth controller using the Makey Makey interface to connect to an onscreen keyboard.

This is how I made the prototype and the resulting effectiveness.


The items needed are listed next...

Step 1: Preparation

The first photo shows the items needed.

A short length of thick copper wire, a long length of ribbon cable, some zip ties and a gum guard are the main components apart from...of course, we will need a Makey Makey and a PC or laptop to connect to.

Then with a soldering iron and simple tools, we will soon have the prototype. (The final key component will be detailed at the end of the construction guide).

I originally experimented with making the mouth mount using thermo-plastic but that was not very successful. Then my wife suggested that an easily available gum guard could be adapted. I bought several types and ruined a few with less than effective ways of mounting the 'keys'.

I even tried making one using gold earrings and gold chain salvaged from my wife Val's broken bits collection. Gold would be a safe and taint free material to use in the mouth but thankfully copper is equally acceptable and is somewhat cheaper.

The second photo shows my 'simple' initial design notes. I considered linking to the joypad, to the WASD keys and also to the mouse.

In the end, I decided that the mouse would offer the most flexibility.

(A fun variation on this design could be to turn it into a mouth game controller).

Step 2: Starting With the Makey Makey Board

I decided to attach the ribbon cable to the Makey Makey board by first slipping it into a sleeve and then zip tying it to the board.

I was pleased to see that the holes normally used for croc-clips work very well as anchor points.

Note that I split the sleeve to allow for the earth lead to escape near to it's home.

Step 3: Making the Board Connections.

I measured and cut the cables to length. I then tinned them fully so that they would be stiff enough to insert into the connector block.

I did consider using the proper connectors for this part but there is no need as the tinned wires are a snug fit. Once all were inserted I tested that all were secure and that the ties ensured that no strain was on them.

I then made a note of the colours associated with each function.

Step 4: The Shield

I bought a low-cost shield from Amazon for less than a dollar. I was not worried about the fit or the quality since I was experimenting. However, I have to share that the first time that I put it into my mouth it made me 'heave!'

It has a strange taste and it poked back into my throat causing gagging.

I cut it back to the size shown and washed it a few times which did help.

I do suggest that if you make this Instructable that you buy a good one and test it for the user's happiness.

The process was simple. I drilled holes at roughly equal spacing then bent to shape some lengths of copper wire.

Step 5: Assembling the Shield.

Once all the pieces of wire were shaped I carefully inserted them into the drilled holes.

Note that the last image shows me adjusting the angle of the wire. I ended up having to do this later in the process when I made this, but this would be the best stage to do the shaping.

Step 6: Preparing the Shield.

I first tinned each of the copper wires in the shield. I had to be quick as there was a strong possibility that the heat would travel back into the plastic of the shield and melt it. I suggest that you use a heat clamp to avoid that if you undertake this project.

Next I inserted the ribbon into some sleeving and cut the individual colours to length.

I mapped the correct colours from the board end and worked out where each needed to go for the next step.

Step 7: Wiring the Shield

Carefully checking the board end, I wrote down which pins on the shield would be used for each event.

Next I cut the leads to length, tinned them and slipped heat shrink sleeving over the ends. Finally I soldered them to the copper pins after constant checking with my plan.

I practised on a 'virtual version' in my mouth to try to decide which would seem most intuitive to a user.

I wondered whether the up/down mouse actions should be together or separated across the shield. I mentally tried several options and finally decided to have left and right click at the outer edges with mouse left on my left and right on my mouth's right. I then placed the mouse up/down pins paired on the left and the right/left control on my right.

If you make this Instructable please take great care over this aspect. It is very easy to confuse the back and front or top and bottom. Check it a few times.

A good improvement would be to have some way to rearrange the inputs easily so that the user could experiment and find the arrangement that they are most comfortable with.

Step 8: Earthing the Shield

After completing the control wiring I realised that the wires were very loose and likely to pull off.

I also realised that I had not prepared a place for the vital earth connection.

Both needs were solved by drilling two holes at the front of the shield and inserting a loop of copper which was then twisted tight at the back. The brown earth wire was then soldered to it.

The protruding wire then formed a good anchor point for the cable harness,

I simply bunched it up and fastened it with a zip tie (As may be seen in later photographs)..

Step 9: Securing the Connections.

Even with the anchored harness there was still some movement of the copper pins.

I therefore decided to mix and apply some epoxy around the assembly.

As anyone who has used epoxy knows, this is far from an easy to manage process.

I carefully dabbed on the mixture at each connection and around the earthing point.

I then left it on a non-stick surface to set.

The results was good and the desired objective was achieved, although the finished article does more resemble an instrument of torture rather than a useful controller.

Step 10: The Vital Keyboard Software.

I tried the mouth mouse with just the screen cursor and it was effective but I was then left wondering if I needed to write a special input routine to emulate a keyboard.

Naturally, I hit the magic Google Box and after a few false leads, I discovered a superb piece of free software.

It is called Click-N-Type.

Click-N-Type has apparently been around for many years.

So long in fact that the website mentions working with; DOS, Windows 95, XP and Windows well as current operating systems.

They originators live at:

and seem to be dedicated lovely people.

This is a little animated demo from their website:

The software downloaded and ran easily on my Windows 10 HP laptop.

I managed to use their USB thumb drive portable version too.

The software has lots of possible modifications and can be adapted to match any users requirements. They even have downloads for word suggestion and speech.

I played around with many of the features but this is not the place to go into them.

If you use their software you will be able to explore all the extras and set things up exactly as you desire/need.

So with the software installed I was ready to road test my mouth mouse...

Step 11: Testing Testing Click Click

All was set for my first attempt with the mouth mouse...

Before placing the device into my mouth I bench tested it by using a croc-clip from earth to each connection.

I was very pleased to see that the cursor moved as expected and that it was indeed possible to use the shield as a controller.

Next I popped it into my mouth and attempted to use it to type.

This was NOT a good experience at first. I confess that it took me quite a while to train my tongue to separately touch the small shaped pins.

However after maybe an hour or so, with practice, and a few funny results, I did finally manage to type what you see in the photograph.

There is no doubt that such a device could be made to work well and would be potentially very useful to some disabled people.

It is also quite a novelty to try to use it to control a game.

I actually tried using it to draw in an art package but the first results were definitely not for viewing.

There are many improvements that I can now see could be made. I would separate the pins more and maybe explore having a plate that covered the roof of the mouth and acted as a touch pad on a laptop. (I did try licking the pad on my laptop as proof of concept).

I hope that you have enjoyed this Instructable which is my first for quite some years. I was prompted to do it because I genuinely feel that it could be developed into a useful way to use the Makey Makey or of course to develop an Arduino to do the job directly.

Pleased do let me have your comments and of course do post any of your own versions if you make it.

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