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MS boffins develop foot-powered interface

Nothing to do with Ballmer putting the boot in

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Microsoft boffins are working on a foot powered user interface as an alternative or adjunct to computer mice.

The interface, dubbed StepUI (Step User Interface), works with off-the-shelf dance pads and allows users to navigate through email or navigate through photo collections by stepping on particular areas of the mat. Users would be able to scroll through, open, close, delete and move messages using the interface, which is still in the early stages of development. The idea was one of 155 research projects demoed during a TechFest event in Microsoft's Redmond HQ this week.

StepUI would help people who have limited use of their hands through illness or disability (such as the artist Christy Brown, perhaps). But Microsoft reckons the idea could have wider appeal.

"People really like stomping with two feet to delete spam," said Kevin Schofield, general manager of strategy and communications at Microsoft Research told Microsoft Watch. "There are some applications and interfaces you want [to drive] just with your feet. Some you want to drive just with hands. And some with multimodal – both. It's all about choices... StepUI raises your energy level and heart beat, which is good for sedentary health issues," he added.

Hmmm, we're not sure how many calories someone would burn simply tapping their feet. A brisk walk might be a better alternative. But we digress.

As an alternative to the dance pad users could attach a Bluetooth device on an ankle bracelet or shoe and still be able to drive their computer with their feet. The ankle bracelet idea would likely go down well with Essex girls, since it fits with their well known habit of wearing white stilettos and dancing around handbags.

The idea is all very well for those who are proficient in ballroom dancing. But what of the more rhythmically challenged? A Blue Screen of Death might be the least of their troubles if they get into a tangle deleting spam.

For those who like to listen to music while tapping their feet the question arises about what tunes to listen to when using StepUI. Window Shopper by 50 Cent might find favour at Redmond. Step On from Madchester band The Happy Mondays comes to mind as an alternative. But perhaps Queen's I want to break free might be closer to the mark.

If our survey is correct and the IT world is apparently fixated with unpleasant Canadian pomp rock in the shape of Rush and Heart then the consequences are almost too dire to contemplate. Users listening to Rush while using StepUI might be expected to delete ecommerce receipts and messages from long lost friends while keeping penis pill offers, 419 proposals and other assorted tat. ®

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