The hands-free Etch-A-Sketch

New Scientist is reporting on something it calls the "Moanstick," an alternative joystick technology designed for people with motor impairments. With Moanstick, you can move the mouse smoothly in two dimensions, click, and double click–hands-free.

New Scientist is reporting on something it calls the "Moanstick," an alternative joystick technology designed for people with motor impairments. With Moanstick, you can move the mouse smoothly in two dimensions, click, and double click–hands-free. How, you ask? By moaning dolefully with varied pitch, energy and vowel sounds. (The video has disappeared from YouTube. See some clips of similar technology here.)

So What?

The original video is really, really impressive. Using only his voice, the operator moves the mouse around, clicks a few links, and adjusts a scroll bar...all the while producing a faintly adenoidal drone to which the mouse apparently responds. The pictureat right is an illustration drawn using the technology.

You'd think it would be even harder than using an Etch-A-Sketch, but judging by the quality of the draftsmanship in the picture, it's actually quite a bit easier.

As a practical matter, however, you can justify almost any user interface technology by saying that it's for people with this or that impairment. The broader question is whether there are applications for those less impaired. I'd give that a qualified Maybe:

There is something to be said for having mouse functionality available without taking your hands off the home keys. Scrolling, for example, would be useful, as would the ability to select text. Once you were facile with that, you might be willing to ditch your mouse altogether. I'd certainly be up for giving it a try, particularly since I can't for the life of me use the touch pads with which so many laptops come these days (we all have our tragic flaw).

Now, you may think that the success of this approach would hinge on your being able to moan alone. Not so: We've gotten used to people talking into cell phones in all sorts of environments–it's a small step to accepting somebody on the train next to you droning his way nasally through his inbox.