Every year, Hackaday runs a challenge to find the most interesting and innovative maker projects. Anyone can enter a project into the Hackaday Prize, and the best projects can win a substantial amount of cash to help further development. Themes vary from year to year, and this year’s contest was focused on sustainability, disaster relief, and assistive devices that help people with disabilities interact more easily with technology. Hackaday has just announced the winners of this year’s Hackaday Prize, and the prand prize winner is BYTE, an assistive device that gives a user the ability to control their computer using their mouth.
BYTE is useful for people suffering from a wide range of conditions, ranging from quadriplegia to neurological diseases that affect muscle control. Even people who have little to no control over their limbs often are able to move their mouths, and BYTE lets them take advantage of that capability. This device is intended to be held in the mouth, and contains a kind of joystick that can be operated with the tongue and a pressure sensor that detects biting forces to signal a mouse click. Combinations of the biting pressure and tongue movement can be used for more complicated actions. Biting lightly while moving the joystick, for example, moves the mouse cursor, while moving the joystick up and down without biting mimics the use of a mouse’s scroll wheel.
There are, of course, assistive devices on the market intended for the same purpose, but they’re often expensive and don’t suit the needs of all individuals. BYTE is completely open source, which means it can be modified as needed. Of equal importance, it can be built using affordable components, making it more accessible than similar devices on the market. An Arduino Nano board was used during the prototyping phase, but the final BOM calls for the use of a Seeeduino XIAO, which is much smaller and also less expensive than a genuine Arduino. When plugged into a computer via USB, BYTE emulates a regular mouse. That ensures complete compatibility with all computers, without the need for any special software or drivers. As the grand prize winner, BYTE was awarded the title of “Best All Around” project and its creator, oneohm, received $50,000 in prize money. That money should go a long way towards furthering development and tooling up for an actual production run.