Step User Interface (Step UI), an innovative technology prototype that encourages people to control their computers using their feet in addition to their hands, was among more than 150 innovative concepts featured at the sixth annual Microsoft Research TechFest.
The Step UI evolved from efforts by Microsoft researchers Brian Meyers, A.J. Brush, Steven Drucker and Marc Smith to extend the current model for interacting with a desktop computer. The result creates a way to interact with a computer while dealing with a variety of repetitive tasks. The StepMail application uses an off-the-shelf “dance pad” to let a user carry out commands in e-mail — such as scroll, open, close, delete, flag and place messages in folders — by tapping a set of six buttons on the floor. Another prototype application, StepPhoto, allows foot-controlled scrolling and sorting through digital photographs.
Besides giving computer users a way to stay more active at their desks, the Step UI technology has potential to help people with limited hand dexterity to work more productively. It also allows computer users to give their hands regular breaks from using their keyboard and mouse.
The Step User Interface is a research project and Microsoft has no immediate plans to turn it into a commercial product, a spokesperson said.
There is a similar product already available, called STEP ON IT!, from Bilbo Innovations, which provides three custom-programmable foot switches which can be used to emulate Ctrl, Alt and Shift or any other keystrokes, sequences, or mouse clicks. Another product is X-keys Foot Pedal from P.I. Engineering.