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?
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 emerging to use and control our devices, 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.
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.
(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:
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)
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 [No Longer Available]
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 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:
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)
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)
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.
For Tracker Pro, there are a number of free solutions for Windows that will provide excellent mouse click functionality like ClickAid, Point-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.
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:
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.
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.
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 have trouble with conventional input methods. 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!
Do you use an alternative mouse? Could you see this technology being useful for you?