Video game controller lets disabled gamers play without hands

A team of engineers has crafted a bespoke controller that allows the user to interact with games using only their feet. The game-controlling sandals were built to give disabled video gamers and amputees a way of playing without the use of their hands.

The Gear (Game Enhancing Augmented Reality) is the brainchild of Johns Hopkins University graduate student Gyorgy Levay – who lost both hands following a meningitis infection – and two of his fellow engineering students, Adam Li and Nhat Tran. So far, the Gear has been successfully tested with games such as Fallout 4, Mirror’s Edge, World of Warcraft and even the fast-paced, eSports favorite, Counter-Strike.

Levay explains he embarked on the project to create a a controller that did not rely on intensive finger usage, as is common with a traditional gamepad, as this makes gaming difficult for those with some upper-limb disabilities and impossible for amputees such as himself. He also sees the Gear as a positive way of bringing the social aspects of online gaming to a younger disabled community.

“[About] 20 to 30 percent of all amputees suffer from depression,” said Levay. “They have a hard time socialising, especially young people. The Gear controller allows people to socialise in a way in which their disability is not a factor.”

The talented trio chose to craft a manipulable, padded foot-controller as they saw the dexterity of a person’s lower limbs as a potential method of interacting with a physical game interface. After going through several prototypes, the current Gear model operates via three sensors that respond to intricate foot movements.

Tilting or raising the heel or front of each foot is then translated by internal circuitry and, in a basic form, can simulate up to eight different button commands. With time however, the graduate students are reportedly confident they can raise this number to at least 20 different button combinations.

To test the effectiveness of their creation, the engineers captured footage of Gear-controlled gameplay and posted it online alongside traditionally-controlled clips. An online survey was distributed, asking viewers to decide which footage featured characters being controlled with the Gear and out of a sample size of 51 participants, only 19% were correct.

The Gear bagged the inventors a $7,500 (£5,466) prize in the 2016 Inter-Cornell Cup, “a college-level embedded design competition created to empower student teams to become the inventors of the newest innovative applications of embedded technology.”

While currently only in a prototype stage, the inventors are aware that their noble creation could fill a gap in the gaming market, with Levay stating that the team are “keen to take the project as far as possible.”