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How do you operate a modern operating system if you can’t use a mouse? Has years as a computer user brought on RSI or something else that makes it a painful experience 5 Dangerous Gaming Injuries And How To Avoid Them 5 Dangerous Gaming Injuries And How To Avoid Them Imagine that you can no longer grasp a can of soda without your wrist feeling like it wants to explode. That, my friend, is what that innocent-looking game console can do to you. I'm not... Read More ?

Let’s face it: we live in an age where most people require the use of a computer as part of work or home life — whatever the level of expertise, casual to geek, computers are a part of our lives. Despite the many new technologies Control Your Mac By Waving Your Hands With Leap Motion & BetterTouchTool Control Your Mac By Waving Your Hands With Leap Motion & BetterTouchTool Control your Mac with the wave of your hand instead of keyboard presses. BetterTouchTool and the Leap Motion controller can power-up your workflow with dozens of mouseless shortcuts. Read More emerging to use and control our devices, How To Use Your Trackpad To Powerfully Navigate Any App [Mac] How To Use Your Trackpad To Powerfully Navigate Any App [Mac] Read More  the point and click of the mouse will remain the standard form of interaction for some time.

If for some reason you are unable to use a standard mouse, here are 6 different ways to control your computer.

Head-Mounted Pointing

Essentially, this refers to a piece of hardware (normally a type of camera) placed in a central position on top of the computer screen which monitors a reflective surface (most often a small adhesive dot).  The dot is usually placed in the center of the users forehead and when the user moves their head the camera tracks the progress and position of the dot.

The camera relays this information to the computer which translates it into normal cursor movement. Wherever you move your head is where the mouse goes.

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(Though the video states otherwise, SmartNav does work on Mac OS).

There is a range of head mounted pointing solutions available, and you’re bound to find one that suits your budget and requirement. Here are three of the most popular:

Smartnav ($300)

Smartnav

A complete, hands free mouse package, with dwell clicking (explained below) software. Tracks user head movements, clean design and accurate tracking. Competitively priced considering the competition. Uses a standard USB connection, powered by host computer (both Windows and Mac).

Headmouse Extreme ($995)

Headmouse Extreme

 

A very high quality head tracking camera which offers various dwell-clicking software bundles. High resolution gives very precise tracking performance, at a cost. Uses a standard USB connection and is powered by host computer (both Windows and Mac).

Tracker Pro ($1,359)

Tracker Pro

High resolution head tracking camera with advanced light filtering that allows for use in direct sunlight. Extremely high quality, fine control tracking performance in a small and lightweight package. Powered by standard USB connection from host computer (Windows and Mac).

Camera Tracking

Camera tracking is similar to head-mounted pointing except that the reflective dot is replaced by a part of the user’s body, usually a facial feature like the eyes or nose. Once again a camera is used to track movement. And the hardware component; a dedicated camera, is replaced by the computer’s own internal camera (for example iSight on a Mac) or an off the shelf webcam.

Just like head-mounted pointing, there are numerous solutions for camera tracking. Here are three of the best:

iTracker ($34.99)

iTracker

Easy to use with a full-featured mouse-click panel, can be adjusted for sensitivity and works with your built-in iSight camera (Mac only).

Camera Mouse (free)

Camera Mouse

Very simple to operate with adjustable mouse click settings and sensitivity controls, Camera Mouse works with a built-in webcam or external USB camera and costs nothing (Windows only).

Enable ViaCam (Free)

Enable ViaCam

Comes with an intuitive configuration wizard to get you up and running as quick as possible. The app has a full range of customizable settings and sensitivity controls, and takes advantage of any standard built-in or USB webcam (Windows only).

Strengths and Weaknesses

The biggest issue with one of these packages is cost. Because the camera is a specialized and dedicated piece of hardware, it is expensive, but the technology provides a high level of performance and accuracy.

A high resolution camera results in very precise tracking, particularly compared to standard webcams. One of the failings of these cameras has been light filtering, with some models being unreliable in bright sunlight. This has been greatly addressed in the latest models, but it’s something to be aware of, as with any important purchase choice.

With the exception of Tracker Pro, all of the head-mounted pointing devices listed are accompanied by full-featured mouse click software, most also have the ability to plug in a switch device if the user wishes. A switch device is essentially a piece of hardware that will perform the same function as the click of a standard mouse. All three head mounted devices work with both Mac OS X and Windows.

Which will you choose

For Tracker Pro, there are a number of free solutions for Windows that will provide excellent mouse click functionality like ClickAidPoint-N-Click or Dwell Clicker 2. For Mac you’ll need to purchase DwellClick for $9.99.

In contrast to head-mounted pointing devices, camera tracking is a much more attractive option if budget is an important consideration. Of the three options the software is either free or of minimal cost (iTracker costs $29.99) and if your machine lacks a built-in camera the only outlay is a basic webcam.

Accuracy can be less precise depending on what type of camera you are using, but the result is still very usable.

Mouse-Clicking Software

Being able to move the mouse is of course the primary aim of the packages listed, but just as important is the accompanying software which enables the user to successfully do all the click functions of a normal mouse: left click, right click, double clicking, dragging, and so on.

One such solution is a technique called “dwell-clicking” which works by requiring the user move the cursor to the desired “click zone” and simply letting the cursor dwell in the same spot for a predetermined amount of time, after which, a mouse click will be performed.

Below is a typical example showing the SmartNav dwell-click panel:

Dwellclick Panel 2

By moving the cursor to the desired type of mouse click and dwelling, a function will be selected. The next dwell-click performed will take the form of whatever was previously chosen.

When not actively clicking, selecting the lightbulb icon will minimize the panel. Selecting the move icon allows the user to position the panel wherever is most convenient.

Dwellclick Panel 1

Mouse-Clicking Hardware

When it comes to head-mounted pointing devices, an input at the back of the camera allows for a physical switch to be plugged in. This provides the capability to issue mouse clicks in a more standard way.

The type of switch device used depends on the ability and needs of the user. There are many different types of switches available from simple buttons to foot-switches. I myself use a head-mounted puff switch. Some switches include the Buddy ButtonLeaf Switch and Imperium Sip and Puff Switch.

Final Thoughts

This is certainly not an exhaustive list of what is available or the features the different options offer, but with the exception of ViaCam Go, I have used all of the devices mentioned and have had outstanding success with all of them. I am a C4 tetraplegic with only head movement.

Immediately, it can be seen that these devices are an amazing boon to the disabled community. The technology can also be invaluable to able bodied users who through overuse or advancing age Tech Through 90-Year-Old Eyes: Are We Really Better Off? [Feature] Tech Through 90-Year-Old Eyes: Are We Really Better Off? [Feature] Young people tend to look at the older generation as second class citizens when it comes to technology. This is apparent from jokes we see online every day, and it stems, among other things, from... Read More have trouble with conventional input methods. As an example, an able bodied friend, watching me gaming using my head tracker and voice commands This Is How Disabled Gamers Can Play Anything! This Is How Disabled Gamers Can Play Anything! Okay, let's get something clear immediately, there is a prevalent train of thought that if you have a physical disability, you are condemned to floundering in the wasteland of computer gaming. Not true. Read More was so impressed with the speed that he now uses a head tracker for mouse movement so he can keep both hands on the keyboard!

Do you use an alternative mouse? Could you see this technology being useful for you?

  1. Ammar Rai
    July 3, 2016 at 9:45 pm

    I used Camera Mouse for a bit, but I don't feel that it's quite there yet... However, I've found Smyle Mouse to be an extremely polished product which also happens to be quite affordable. Plus, it works with your existing webcam. I have hand/wrist issues (just like everyone else in IT) and I've found quite a bit of relief, using this software.

  2. Lisa
    April 6, 2016 at 12:20 am

    Hello,
    Great article and comments! I've been using a foot mouse for about four years. I was using the Billpro foot mouse along with Dragon dictate. I recently switched from Mac to PC so I could utilize alternative methods as they come to the market. Most developers focus on the PC first, then the Mac.

    I really like using a foot mouse but I have found the Billipro unreliable. It usually breaks within a year and they can be slow when shipping things out. I was so frustrated that I made my own foot mouse with a cheap shoe from Walmart and an optical sensor mouse. I use a big switch for clicking. It works OK. It's heavier than the billiPro, so sometimes it bothers my hip.

    I found this article because I am researching other ways to use my foot. Do you think I could put one of those reflective dots on my shoe and place the WebCam on the floor?I have not used a head operated device, so I'm not sure if it will work. What do you think? Thanks again for putting so much useful information in your article.
    Best,
    Lisa

  3. Tom Mair
    January 4, 2016 at 3:01 pm

    I've been through wrist issues in the past. I've tried ergo mice, left hand mousing, a few other things. The best I found for me is this...

    Last year I began using a lightweight wireless combination keyboard with touchpad. This one is the Logitach K400r. I often grasp the entire board in my left hand and hold it vertically so that I can use the touchpad with right hand for pointer movement. This gives me freedom to move my shoulders, roll my seat around, and move my hands wherever is most comfortable. You can also peck at the keyboard with right hand for light key entry, or place the device on your table anywhere to type a longer text.

    Wish I could show a picture I took of this in my comment, but it sort a looks like you're holding the handle of a broadsword with the lefthand on top and the right hand on the bottom.

  4. Paulo
    November 15, 2015 at 7:31 pm

    I would love a software that put numbers in links and Windows folders, so that I could type the correspondent number in my keyboard.

    • NeverConfusedForNothing
      November 16, 2015 at 3:27 pm

      There is a browser addon for this.

  5. Median N. Mean
    August 21, 2015 at 6:45 am

    You may mention also "vertical mice" -- which are mice held in the more natural thumbs-up position.

  6. Anne Tipton
    August 4, 2015 at 6:15 pm

    Hi,
    first of all, great article. I have developed a series of rsi issues of wrist/forearm over the years and now elbow in part due to mouse use over the years so this article is very helpful right now. I was wondering about a related tool though...have you ever used voice recognition software for onscreen movement/activity? If so, can you offer me any feedback? I live in the US . Thanks again.

  7. ringhalg
    June 9, 2015 at 7:47 am

    "As an example, an able bodied friend, watching me gaming using my head tracker and voice commands was so impressed with the speed that he now uses a head tracker for mouse movement so he can keep both hands on the keyboard!"
    I can use a normal mouse, but I'd like to try these trackers, preferably free, so I can also keep both hands on the keyboard.

    • David O'Connor
      June 9, 2015 at 9:43 am

      Hi ringhalg

      As the article indicates, Camera Tracking is the way to go for no/minimal financial outlay. Having always used a Head tracker for gaming, it would be interesting to hear feedback if you tried a Camera Tracking option, in fact, l might try it, to compare the difference.

      Thanks for your thoughts, it has put forth an idea that never occurred to me.

      Cheers!

      • ringhalg
        June 9, 2015 at 1:03 pm

        Hi David

        I tested the Camera Mouse for a few minutes. Being free software, I expected it to be inaccurate and slow. I read some of the testimonials on the site and people found it very useful and a good replacement for the actual mouse. It will take some time to get used to, but I think it will make many things easier to do.

        • David O'Connor
          June 9, 2015 at 11:49 pm

          Hi ringhalg

          very cool, did you find the accuracy respectable? Which did you use?

        • ringhalg
          June 10, 2015 at 10:46 am

          Hi David

          I found, using both of the software that you suggested in the article, that it was tracking the wrong area of my face. It would track different parts of my face or sometimes something in the background. Also, the cursor on the screen would shake and I couldn't focus it on a point even if I kept my head still.

          I think it's because I have a low quality notebook webcam. Enable ViaCam suggest I have at least 25 fps and I was only getting 6 fps. I wanted to try this for fun and as an experiment.

          Any of the Head-Mounted Pointing options listed above are overkill for my use and far out of my budget, so I'd have research for much cheaper options and I may need to buy a better external USB webcam to get it working properly.

          Thank you for the article and the suggestions as I'd never thought of using head tracking to control the mouse.

        • David O'Connor
          June 12, 2015 at 12:23 am

          Hi ringhalg

          I would say you are correct about the quality of the webcam, for the Camera Tracking, l have a a high quality logitech and the performance is very respectable.

          I am glad you found the article useful,

          Cheers,

          David

        • Ammar Rai
          July 3, 2016 at 9:40 pm

          I used Camera Mouse as well, but switched over to Smyle Mouse. It's an excellent value for the price.

  8. Paul Goslin
    June 9, 2015 at 4:53 am

    Been using a logitech trackball for over 10 years after I started to develop carpal tunnel in my wrist. They work GREAT ! - only thing I move is my thumb. They are wireless and only have one moving part, the ball which has a random dot pattern that is read with a laser/led. Easy to clean also. Hope they never quit making them....

    • David O'Connor
      June 9, 2015 at 5:13 am

      Hey Paul!

      Ah yes, the venerable trackball, well worth mentioning indeed. And essentially just a mouse flipped over, sometimes the simple solutions can be most effective. Thanks for your feed back!

  9. hildyblog
    June 8, 2015 at 9:46 pm

    Yes, I use an alternative mouse but, while I had carpal tunnel several years ago, I can still use my hands so I don't use a hands free solution. At work I used a Kensington track ball. For my home desktop I have a Lenovo keyboard with a track stick (that red eraser from the ThinkPad laptops). My "laptops" have been Windows tablets with styli and, more recently, touch screens plus styli. I don't miss the rodents.

    • David O'Connor
      June 9, 2015 at 5:17 am

      Greetings hildyblog!

      Sounds great, obviously works for you. Appreciate your input .

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