Monday, March 09, 2009

Wanted: A Good Footmouse

As any enthusiastic player of World of Warcraft—or other video games played on computers—knows, giving up the prehensile tail was a great mistake. Some things are best done from the keyboard, some with a mouse, and we only have two hands each. The problem exists for most things done on modern computers but is particularly serious when a delay of a few seconds as you switch from keyboard to mouse and back to keyboard may get you (virtually) killed.

One obvious solution is a foot mouse, a device that would let you control the mouse with your foot while leaving your hands on the keyboard. A little online searching located two such devices, the NoHands Mouse from Hunter and the Foot Mouse from Bili. Both are expensive, and the one comment I could find by someone who had actually used them both was that the better of the two, which costs about $300, had sufficiently bad quality control so that the user had gone through four of them in four years. I also found one other device which used the head instead of the foot, via the combination of an infrared camera attached to the computer and a dot visible to the camera that you could attach to your hat, glasses, forehead, ... . A detailed review of that one concluded that it was inadequate for computer gaming.

I'm not an engineer, but I don't see why one could not design a reasonably simple foot mouse—essentially a larger and sturdier version of a standard mouse built into something like a slipper—with a production cost not much more than that of an ordinary mouse. Such a product would be useful not only for those with physical handicaps, the market that the products I looked at seem mainly intended for, and gamers, but for anyone who routinely uses both mouse and keyboard and finds switching between them inconvenient.

Am I missing something? One possibility that occurs to me is that the foot may not be adequate for the purpose. We use our hands for tasks that involve considerably finer control that what we normally do with our feet. Perhaps the machinery of nerves, muscles, tendons controlling the food doesn't permit the sort of fine control needed.

But I would still like to try it. Perhaps a slipper, a mouse, and duct tape?


Anonymous said...

"I don't see why one could not design a reasonably simple foot mouse -snip- with a production cost not much more than that of an ordinary mouse."

I'd bet your right on that. I'm sure that once you have all of the design complete, the marginal production cost will not be high enough to require charging $300 per unit -- assuming that the marginal production costs are on a very high quantity sold.

But the marginal production cost is probably very small compared to the total cost of design and production, and my suspicion is that the total market size is not sufficient to amortize those costs or achieve significant economies of scale.

Companies making mice are selling millions of them a year, and they can leverage that to make them dirt-cheap. I just don't think foot-mice are a big enough market to bring in all the cost savings seen in traditional mice.

Arthur B. said...

Compare the feet and the hands, especially in the motor model.

I wouldn't try to modify a mouse. A mouse requires you to recenter one in a while. Instead, you could use a joystick. Cut the stick and put a plank perpendicular to the axis, then move the plank like a pedal. Could work.

Anonymous said...

Some laptops come with trackpoints on their keyboards. My own laptop is equipped with one and I've found myself using it all the time (even when I have an external mouse connected). It drastically cuts down on the mouse-to-keyboard switching time and the responsiveness of the device is very impressive. Unfortunately, it is probably the most unergonomic thing I own; probably due to it's placement at the center of the keyboard rather than slightly to one side.

Kim Mosley said...

Years ago there were some one handed keypads at MacWorld. Using the keypad in one hand and a mouse in the other might be the solution, esp. for those without feet.

monique said...

I'm not convinced there's much of a gamer market. I played EQ and WoW using a trackball, and pretty much everyone laughed at me. For gaming, fine motor control is king. I never did manage circle strafing with a trackball. And with the advent of voice programs like Ventrilo, there's not as much need for full keyboard use.

You might look into the Logitech G15 keyboard -- it has a bunch of macro keys on the left side that you can use to expand your left hand's utility on the keyboard, possibly freeing your right hand for more mousing (assuming you're right handed). I have the old G15 that has 18 macro keys; the newer G15 only has 6.

Also, a lot of gamers use mice that have extra buttons, so that their most frequently used abilities can be triggered with the mouse hand.

Anonymous said...

When I am being productive, I virtually never have my hand on the mouse. The mouse sucks (is slow, cumbersome, etc) for everything except aiming or drawing, neither of which I do very often.

It is possible, especially on Linux, to arrange your stuff so that you can get everything done much faster with the keyboard than most people can aim.

I don't know well for games (I don't do those very often either), but I think most gamers would prefer a 'normal' mouse over the footmouse as it gives you better control and better speed, and while you're using the mouse you haven't need of two hands on the keyboard anyway.

gcallah said...

My friend Wabulon invented the rectal mouse for just this purpose.

Anonymous said...

I think you need to mount an optical mouse in a platform over your foot. With a pair of socks with the right texture, you move your foot under the stationary mouse and get the result you're looking for. If worse comes to worse, tape a mouse pad to the top of your foot. The platform could be as simple as a modified milk crate with tie wrap straps.

NCLu said...

Learn a one-handed Dvorak setup?

Wayne Conrad said...

Instead of the foot, the head? I use TrackIR for flying games. It takes about 10 minutes to train your brain for it, and then it's seamless.

Anonymous said...

Make a two dimensional tilt table, like a joystick, for one foot; and a rocker switch, right-center-left, for the other as the buttons. Should be more durable than a roller mouse, too.

jdgalt said...

I suggest just placing a good, sturdy trackball on the floor, and manipulating it with a bare or stocking foot.

I have a trackball from Logitech that is more than sturdy enough to use this way; it's even in a wedge shaped case, with buttons low on each side where you wouldn't be likely to hit them by accident.

Anonymous said...

I have a FingerWorks TouchStream keyboard, which is basically two touchpads stuck together, one for each hand. The right one also doubles as a mouse, when two fingers are down at once. It works quite well for most things, though I think it might have some speed/accuracy issues in games.

Unfortunately, Apple bought the company, so the going price on EBay is in the $1000 range.

DossierD said...

I made one, but using my feet is always slower than using my hands.

For my second footmouse I used a tablet, which can be set to mousse-mode (relative mode) or pen-mode (absolute mode). The pen-mode makes it useful for gaming. But for fast games, it is too slow. (check also the 'details' page)