infoTECH Feature

November 15, 2010

Microsoft Earns Patent for Foot-Based Human-Computer Interface Technology

How often have you thought to yourself, “I could be so much more productive if only there was a way to interface with a computer using my hands and my feet?” If you have had such a thought, there’s a good chance you’re a gamer. And, even if not, there could be something to the idea.

Microsoft (News - Alert) definitely sees potential in a foot-based human-computer interface. Way back in 2006, the company applied for a related patent, which was finally granted last week on Nov. 9.

Patent number 7,830,359 describes an “application program” that’s “configured to receive user input via a foot-based interface.”

TechFlash blogger Todd Bishop noted in a Wednesday report that Microsoft is already using the now-patented technology in its recently released Kinect full body motion control system for Xbox 360.

In a Nov. 6 blog entry, TMCnet CEO Rich Tehrani (News - Alert) said Kinect is “revolutionary,” and explained that “the technology senses the location of your full-body and as a result, games can utilize the location of your body, legs, arms, hands and feet as input.”

Tehrani added: “The interface itself of course has infinite possibilities and eventually the gesture-based system may be integrated in many of the computer tasks we perform. It is especially interesting when you consider the fusion of an interface which is based on moving your hands and feet with swiping and other gestures used in a touch-screen environment.”

Microsoft, too, sees potential for the technology outside of gaming, Bishop said. It could help prevent hand/wrist fatigue and carpel tunnel and enable people whose hands are otherwise occupied (such as a mother holding a baby, or shoppers holding bags) to perform computing tasks with ease.

Not everyone thinks the foot-based interface will take off, though. In the comments section for Bishop’s report, one user said that the technology is unlikely to help people with normal computing tasks, unless they happen to have no arms.

Another reader concurred, saying: “I'm afraid this wouldn't be nearly as accurate, affordable, portable or attractive as the keyboard. My fingers are far more efficient than moving the clunkers on the ends of my legs, which tire easily.”

Seattle Weekly blogger Curtis Cartier Thursday has other concerns about the technology, namely that it might really take off and put additional pressure on people to get more done in the same amount of time.

“If employers suddenly find their employees with not two but four usable limbs, will they then demand an appropriate return in work output?” Cartier wondered in a Thursday report. “The image of modern workers hunched over a desk, typing with two hands and scrolling with two feet somehow brings to mind the legions of sewing machine operating seamstresses employed in World War II. In other words, it doesn't scream “wave of the future.’”

Mae Kowalke is a TMCnet contributor. She is Manager of Stories at Neundorfer, Inc., a cleantech company in Northeast Ohio. She has more than 10 years experience in journalism, marketing and communications, and has a passion for new tech gadgets. To read more of her articles, please visit her columnist page.

Edited by Tammy Wolf

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