Graduate students from John Hopkins University have developed video game controllers that can be worn on the feet and used with widely-popular video games.
In a big win for those who are challenged by the loss of the use of their hands, a team of graduate students from Johns Hopkins University has developed a new video game controller to bring mainstream gaming back into play for the disabled via foot control.
The foot controllers were developed by three Johns Hopkins biomedical graduate students, Gyorgy Levay, Adam Li and Nate Tran operating as the GEAR (Game Enhancing Augmented Reality) team.
The challenges of having upper-limb disabilities are well known by Levay, who suffered the loss of both his hands as a result of a Meningitis infection.
Levay, who said he was a big fan of computer games prior to the loss of his hands, sees the foot controllers as more than just a way to open up the world of gaming to those with disabilities, but also a possible component in caring for their mental health.
"About 200,000 people in the United States alone have lost at least some part of an upper limb,” he told Hub, the university's news center, "and 20 to 30 percent of all amputees suffer from depression. They have a hard time socializing, especially young people."
"The GEAR controller allows people to socialize in a way in which their disability is not a factor," he said. "That was a key point we wanted to make with this device."
According to Hub, the footwear uses complex circuitry to turn the gamer’s foot movement into eight to 20 different buttons and has been successfully used to play some of the most popular games including Counter-Strike, Fallout 4, and World of Warcraft, which collectively include gaming communities of millions of players.
Sandal-like footwear allows gamers to play a variety of games. Photo credit: Screenshot from Youtube video by Johns Hopkins University
"This is a very simple design," Tran told Hub, "but it can potentially help a lot of people since it's wearable, and it's adjustable."
To test if the footwear made noticeable differences in gaming the students posted gameplay clips online as part of a small survey to see whether viewers could identify when games were being played by amputees using the foot controller.
“Of the 51 viewers who participated in the survey, 81 percent failed to identify the correct GEAR-controlled character,” according to Hub.
The foot controllers have gained recognition as winners of the 2016 Cornell Cup USA student inventor challenge presented by Intel and were finalists in the 2016 Johns Hopkins Healthcare Design Competition.
The GEAR team took home a $7,500 grand prize for their win at the Cornell Cup.
With the controller’s ability proven, getting the devices onto the feet of disabled gamers is the next stop for the GEAR team, who have secured a provisional patent for their invention and intend to license their invention to a company that can produce it at scale, according to Hub.
“We created something that as we looked through our research of what kind of products are out there we found that it doesn't really exist right now,” said Levay. “So that’s why we are excited about taking it as far as possible.”