Cannes Lions: Innovation winners 2023 

Augmental and Wunderman Thompson bag the Grand Prix for inclusive device powered by machine learning

MouthPad, a device that allows people to use and control their devices through the movement of their tongue, has been awarded the Innovation Grand Prix at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.

The MouthPad was created by Augmental, a hardware startup and spin-off of the MIT Media Lab Similar to a dental retainer or plate, it’s an intra-oral device that uses machine learning to translate tongue movements on the roof of the user’s mouth into instructions for Bluetooth-connected devices. Each device is customised to the user’s mouth using dental scans and acts like a trackpad for the tongue. 

Wunderman Thompson, led by its Lima office, provided brand support and brand experience on the campaign, which demonstrates the extraordinary impact of simple freedoms like privately composing a text or operating a sex toy via movements of the tongue. 

According to The World Health Organization, between 250,000 and 500,000 people worldwide suffer a spinal cord injury (SCI) every year. The condition presents significant obstacles to everyday activities, education, employment and socialising – but it also limits access to computers, the internet and mobile communication. 

While progress has been made in assistive technologies, eye-tracking technology, mouth-controlled joysticks or voice recognition assistance have their limitations. They lack privacy (dictating texts aloud, for example) or are obtrusive or tiring to use (mouth-controlled devices can damage teeth). The experience can be frustrating and leave people with disabilities with reduced autonomy.

The jury was looking for work where ‘you cannot imagine a world before this work existed,’ said jury president Grace Francis, global chief creative and design officer at WongDoody. ‘This Grand Prix is truly something I’ve never seen before, and it’s really important for disabled people because we often think about mobility design as [helping users] get from A to B, helping you to do your work, simple essentials.’ By contrast, MouthPad empowers users to have autonomy over smaller acts that improve their quality of life.

Francis also revealed that Shellmet, protective gear made from recycled scallop shells and the sole Gold Lion-winner in the category, was also in the running for the Grand Prix. Ultimately, they said, it came down to the impact the innovation could have on human life.

‘For me, it's about ability design [being] able to [achieve] such a wide, encompassing change in our lives,’ said Francis. ‘It can do anything – I did not expect to say masturbation in the first 10 minutes of the conference. But the World Health Organisation says it's a human right to be able to connect with our own sexuality and our own bodies, and I don't think enough people are talking about that.’

Gold Lion Winner / 

Shellmet, for Koushi Chemical Industry Co, by TBWA\HAKUHODO Inc, Tokyo

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