Hillel's Tech Corner: Not eye tracking, try tongue tracking

The tongue. Hard to believe, but this company is here to stay.

TONGO IS focusing on the tongue as a way to control our devices. (photo credit: Courtesy)
TONGO IS focusing on the tongue as a way to control our devices.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
I am going to start with a confession. When I first heard about this company Tongo that lets people control devices using their tongue, I dismissed it as science fiction, and since I don’t write about science fiction, I didn’t consider it for this column. That won’t be the first (or last) time I was wrong about the potential of a tech company.
But first, a little background. The question I am asked most often is, “What is the most exciting type of technology you see?” My answer is, “Companies that operate in the human-computer interaction space.” In other words, it is illogical to me that we are still using a mouse to control our computers or a touch screen to control our phones.
While we have come a long way over the past decade, why, in 2020, are people still causing fatal car accidents or walking around like zombies crashing into poles because they are busy staring at their screens?
Now I am not saying that augmented-reality glasses are the solution, however, industry experts will have you believe that within a few years our glasses will simply project a screen in front of us that we can engage with using gestures in the air. This is not new. Google tried it with Glass, Microsoft tried it with Hololens, and Magic Leap is still trying to crack the code.
The fact remains, we need a better way to control our devices. Now read that last sentence and think of someone who cannot use their hands to control their phone, and imagine how much more a person like that needs a better way to control and interact with their devices.
There have been many attempts, including but not limited to, voice-activated devices and eye-tracking technology. Tongo is taking a different approach, by focusing on using the tongue.
As far as I know, this is the first attempt at a tongue-based computer-human interface, and the company is aiming to apply its technology across many sectors including gaming, sports, security, assistive devices, augmented reality and more.
Let’s talk about the tongue for a second. How is that for a sentence I never thought I would write in a tech article? The tongue has a natural precise orientation in the mouth. It is able to perform continuously without exhaustion, and it maintains full functionality even in the most severe cases of spinal cord injuries and neurological disorders.
So what is Tongo doing with that information? They have invented smart braces that wirelessly control smartphones, computers, wheelchairs and smart homes using only tongue muscles. They have developed a patent-pending intuitive interface for people to use their tongues in order to interact with their devices. In addition, the company has developed a suite of apps for typing, music, wheelchair navigation and gaming, among other future applications.
THE COMPANY has received support the Israel Innovation Authority, IBM, the Ra’anana MedTech Innovation Center, and the Hadassah Medical Organization, among others.
Tongo’s initial strategy to get into people’s mouths (again, a sentence I never thought I would write) is to focus on people who already have something in their mouth that can be turned smart using the company’s technology. Whether it is braces, diving equipment or assistive devices, this is the first target audience for Tongo.
A short visit to Tongo’s website will give you a clear picture of just how impactful this technology is. On the site, you can watch a video of a user who has been navigating his wheelchair with one functioning hand. This means he does not have a free hand for things such as holding the hand of a child, answering phone calls or eating while on the move, all things a person with two functioning hands takes for granted. By using Tongo to navigate, this will free up his one functioning hand, providing the freedom to multi-task while on the go.
The company’s mission is to change the lives of tens of millions of people worldwide who are living with SCI, stroke, neurological disorders and a wide variety of other conditions that result in limited control over their fingers and hands, making it difficult to perform everyday actions, and locking them out of the digital world.
The company has won awards from the Prize 4 Life ALS Foundation and the MedTech Ra’anana Accelerator – and unveiled its technology at Google HQ in both New York City and Mountain View.
If all that wasn’t enough, the company has a unique executive structure with two CEOs: Matan Berkowitz, an award winning inventor and a member of the Forbes 30 under-30 list; and Tal Parnass, a biomedical engineer and graduate of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology.
The concept of this company and what it is looking to accomplish makes it hard to believe it even exists.  However, not only is it real, but it is also recognized by some of the leading innovators worldwide. While everyone else is focused on external interfaces to control devices, this company is capitalizing on using something we were all born with. Something that is strong, capable and ready to get to work.
The tongue. Hard to believe, but this company is here to stay.