Desk desk revolution

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Every now and then, in our long hours in front of the computer screen, we might take a walk to the fridge or jiggle a leg to prevent an oncoming cramp. However, it is not a common occurrence for us to move our feet when browsing the web. For early adopters of standing desks, often academics or tech company workers, leg movement can still be rare.</p>

Master’s student William Saunders, under the supervision of Dan Vogel, a computer science professor at UW, developed wearable technology for standing desks. Beginning on their first days of being a UW graduate student and professor respectively, Tap-Kick-Click: Foot Interaction for a Standing Desk allows users to interact with their computer using combinations of foot taps, kicks, jumps, and standing postures. Feet movement would be tracked using a depth camera and with the aid of special soles inserted into the shoes.

“Standing desks are quite common now,” Vogel said as he explained that the motivation for standing desk use is usually to achieve a healthier lifestyle. The Tap-Kick-Click system Saunders innovated would let users incorporate even more activity into their daily computer usage routines.

Besides encouraging physical activity, the feet-controlled system can also discourage cyberslacking, where users view distracting websites that can make their productivity difficult.  It is popular amongst graduate students to install plug-ins to block social media sites during thesis writing.  But, Tap-Kick-Click is different.

“[Cyberslacking] isn’t always a bad thing,” said Vogel.  He then explained that the Tap-Kick-Click system does not outright block users from browsing Facebook, YouTube, or popular blogs during their hours of work, but only asks users to position their feet in uncomfortable positions — such as a lunge — when browsing web content that is not prioritized.

What started out as a project with a Dance Dance Revolution game pad by Saunders has resulted in two published papers in a short time, one of which has been cited by other researchers. With the innovation already impacting others’ work, Tap-Kick-Click has been declared a research achievement.

After the success of their project, Saunders has  moved onto a career at Google in Mountain View while Vogel continues to encourage UW students interested in graduate studies to first check out the “crazy ideas” already pursued at UW when considering Canada’s best university for computer science as an option.

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