Alternative user interfaces are becoming very popular as time goes by, but the majority of device control still relies, unfortunately, on hands and eyes. While this approach is suitable for most people and situations, it can be challenging for some individuals, for example, people with disabilities or in situations where hands and eyes are occupied. It’s true that voice recognition technology has been a great solution, but it has its drawbacks and limits, such as inaccuracies and privacy concerns so, to address this, researchers at the University of Chicago have developed an open-source lip-based user interface called LipIO that allows for both input and output.

LipIO is constructed using off-the-shelf components, including a flexible plastic sheet with conductive traces and five electrodes on both the top and bottom of the sheet. The sheet is attached to the skin above the lip, and electrodes on the bottom provide outputs via electrostimulation, while those on the top receive inputs from the tongue or lower lip through capacitive touch sensing. For those who like more technical details, a Seeeduino XIAO development board with a Microchip SAM D21 microcontroller handles inputs, outputs, and external device interactions, while an MPR121 capacitive touch sensor and RehaStim electrical stimulator provide user feedback but it’s important to say that the researchers note that these specific components are not essential and can be substituted as needed.

We can clearly see that the prototype is currently obtrusive, with wires running from the lip and behind the ears to the control unit, but still, the potential use cases are compelling. LipIO could integrate, for example, with navigation apps to provide directions to a bicyclist or tune a guitar while a musician is performing, and it could also be used in virtual reality and gaming or allow people with medical conditions to interact with electronic devices in ways previously impossible. The researchers are working on making LipIO more compact and socially acceptable (yes, because repeated lip-licking in public is not really socially acceptable).

Overall, LipIO represents an interesting and promising alternative user interface that could benefit either individuals with disabilities or those in situations where hands and eyes are occupied. What do you think of this project? Make sure to tell us your opinion in the comment section!

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