Performing mouse clicks with a little tap dance

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The position and activity of the feet are translated into system commands

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Full-blown standing desks, desktop converters or something inbetween are all aimed at getting you off your butt for the benefit of your health. Researchers at Canada's University of Waterloo have designed a system to help make the most of this upright approach to working by using lower limb activity for computer interaction.

The Tap-Kick-Click project was conceived as a fun way to increase the physical activity of standing desk users, and to combat so-called cyberslacking (keeping yourself amused by trawling the internet on company time for stuff to make the day go quicker). The work of student William Saunders and professor Daniel Vogel of the university's David R. Cheriton School of Computer Science, a depth camera and special shoes help convert combinations of kicks, foot taps, jumps and postures into computer input commands.

A Kinect camera mounted under the standing desk keeps track of the position of both feet, while the shoes are kitted out with pressure-sensing insoles, with pads at the toe and heel. The position and activity of the feet are translated into onscreen actions, such as scrolling, opening or closing browser tabs or menu navigation. Jumping brings up a help screen that displays foot-activated trigger positions.

"There's plenty of research showing that using feet to type or move a cursor isn't a very good idea," said professor Vogel, who presented the Tap-Kick-Click at the Association for Computing Machinery's Designing Interactive Systems 2016 in Brisbane, Australia, earlier today. "We demonstrate that with the right style of interaction, feet are a good fit for slower tasks with intermittent input. Things like scrolling a webpage while reading or interactive code debugging."

Rather than install site-blocking software on work computers, the Waterloo project forces time-wasters to adopt an uncomfortable pose if they want to visit social networks when they should be working. If users move to a more comfortable position, whatever amusing online content is keeping them from performing their duties is locked.

"People already use a standing desk to be healthier and more productive, added Vogel. "Increasing physical activity by using your feet to enter commands is our main focus, but the anti-cyberslacking pose is something that really pushes the whole idea farther."

The research has been published in the Proceedings of the 2016 ACM Conference on Designing Interactive Systems, and the video below briefly overviews the system, and looks at three possible usage scenarios.

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