People with physical disabilities often cannot access computers because mice, keyboards, touch screens and other conventional interfaces require fast and accurate hand motions. There are some alternatives, such as desk-mounted “sip-puff joysticks” that can be moved with the mouth and “clicked” by sipping or puffing into them. However, what’s currently on the market is expensive, immobile, and unconfigurable.

Adriana Mallozzi came to the MIT Assistive Technology Hackathon with the idea of a sip-puff joystick for smartphones. This concept intrigued a group of engineering students, who worked with Adriana to create Puffin, a sip-puff joystick that is affordable, portable, and durable. Together we did well on the day of the hackathon, but the real challenge will be to make something that works every day.

We’re trying to make assistive technology that fits itself to the user, instead of the other way around. We want Puffin to work in every place and way that people do, providing them with the same level of access to computers and smartphones that many take for granted.

Joystick and sip-puff sensor / April 2015

The materials for our hackathon prototype (made with off-the-shelf components) cost less than $200, while the primary alternatives Jouse and Quadjoy cost $1300 and $800, respectively. Our current prototype runs for days on a charge, while the Jouse and Quadjoy don’t have batteries at all. Puffin is rainproof, fully positionable, can be mounted anywhere from a bed to a wheelchair to an airplane seat, and folds into a shoulder bag for transport. Users can also calibrate the device’s sensitivities however fits them best.

If our goal was just to make something for Adriana, we’d be more than satisfied: after the hackathon she used Puffin to take a team selfie. But we’d like Puffin to be still smaller, cheaper, and more configurable. We want to test it with more people, so we can make something useful in diverse situations. And we want to see how far we can go towards making interfaces tailored to people’s abilities. We think this approach will work even outside those differences commonly labeled as “disabilities”.

To do this we’ll need to design and build more prototypes. We’ll need to test them with many people for short periods of time, and a few people for long periods of time. We’ll need to join and listen to new communities. Over this spring and the summer, we plan to make half a dozen Puffins and put them into the hands of people who will tell us when our prototypes frustrate or fail, so we can make something that can be taken for granted.

Team Puffin

p.s. We’d love to hear from you at team@puffinsip.com.

Wifi and bluetooth chips, with the battery removed / April 2015

We are

At the AT Hackathon, our first full test / March 2015