October 1, 2005 An alternative to the mouse, the SpacePilot 3D motion controller combines programmable keys with a circular controller that can sense and adapt to the user's needs. In a recent study, ergonomists found a 66 percent reduction in pain for those using the controller for one month.
NEWARK, Calif.--If you're one of the 10 million to 20 million professional computer users in the United States, chances are you've experienced muscle stress, carpal tunnel, or pain from just doing your job. A new invention may save your hands and arms from hurting.
It's a hazard for people who spend hours on the computer, whether it's for work or play. Barry Smith, from VSI Risk Management and Ergonomics, in Newark, Calif., says, "The problem is that these users will perform thousands of operations -- similar operations -- all through one hand, and that culmination of that much activity creates the stress and the pain in the arm."
The SpacePilot 3D motion controller is a new device that combines programmable keys with fluid motion control and can sense and adapt to the user's needs. Niraj Swarup, Vice President of Marketing at 3Dconnexion in Los Gatos, Calif., says, "With minimal mouse movement and with slight movements on SpacePilot, I'm able to save myself a lot of stress on my mouse hand as well as speed up my whole process."
By distributing the work over two hands, stress is cut down. But can this approach reduce pain? In a recent study, ergonomists measured users' pain before and after using the controller. In one month, the users' pain was reduced by 61 percent.
Smith says, "They move from working where every hour they're aware and conscience of their pain to afterwards having virtually no pain."
The SpacePilot is available now to help reduce muscle fatigue and pain.
BACKGROUND: Two hands are better than one when it comes to computer-aided design. A new family of intelligent motion controller computer interfaces (such as one's mouse or keyboard) can sense and adapt to the user's application and workflow. The result is a dramatic boost in productivity (as much as 30 percent), because of the worker needs to do fewer repetitive tasks.
THE PROBLEM: In most computers, the mouse controls all tasks except for typing words and numbers and issuing keyboard shortcuts. Panning, zooming, or selecting menu commands are all done through the mouse. This can be quite time-consuming for "extreme" computer users, such as gamers or computer-assisted designers, and can lead to repetitive stress injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome. Working in three dimensions as opposed to the usual two brings some very specific problems. For instance, computer aided design systems typically rely on a combination of a keyboard and conventional mouse to control what's on the screen, so the user must constantly shift between navigation and selection, slowing down the process and causing muscle strain.
THE SOLUTION: Several new interface devices seek to reduce repetitive strain and the time it takes to execute commands for extreme computer users. The SpaceMouse motion control system from 3Dconnexion enables design engineers to spin design models in 3D with one hand and carry out detailed work with the conventional mouse, so they can work more quickly and comfortably. The SpacePilot incorporates an LCD display that allows users to easily see how each key is labeled; they are also extendable, so there are an almost unlimited number of functions based on the user's current task. The SpaceNavigator keyboard has a trackball device built into its side that enables users to scroll through Web pages and zoom in on document details with the left hand, freeing the right hand for using the mouse to select and modify text or other elements of a model. The company also offers a SpaceTraveler for those with portable computers: it is bundled with a travel-size mouse as well as the left-hand navigator for panning, zooming and rotating.
WHAT IS CAD: A computer-aided design system combines hardware and software to allow the user to design everything from furniture to airplanes. The user can view a design from any angle and zoom in or out for close-up or long-distance views.
The Human Factors and Ergonomics Society contributed to the information contained in the TV portion of this report.
Editor's Note: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.