Hands free computing – the options

25th December 2012  •  No comments yet  •  Posted in Mobility issues

For those who need or want to use their computers hands free, what are the options?

There are basically 5 technologies at the moment to help people to operate their computers in a totally hands free mode:

  1. Voice recognition
  2. Head operated mouse
  3. Mouth stick
  4. Mouth mouse
  5. Face gesture control
  6. Eye gaze control

Voice Recognition

By far the most popular method of accessing your computer hands free is voice recognition. Dragon have produced a range of voice recognition programs for both the PC and Applemac, although at the moment the PC version is superior. During the last few years the quality of context-sensitive recognition has increased the usefulness of the software such that it is a good solution for anyone wanting to operate their computer hands free. The main products are:

That said, the software requires a fairly powerful PC and to get the best out of it and a fair amount of training.  The accuracy for people with strong accents or poor speech quality is ‘variable’ and the idea that somehow the computer has some ephemeral link to your brain, is still the stuff of science fiction.

The software comes with a basic headset microphone which plugs into the microphone jack socket on your PC.  For better recognition a better quality microphone is recommended, preferably with a USB connector.  There are now a range of wired and wireless microphones with or without connectivity to a phone system.

There are also a number of  add-ons that can help people to operate the system in a hands free mode but these tend to only be compatible with the more expensive versions of the Dragon software. In particular TalkingPoint allows you to create your own commands in a much simpler way and we also have a set of macros available that have been designed specifically for users who want to completely voice enable their computers.

Head Operated Mouse

For many people where the quality of volume of their speech is not good enough for voice recognition, a head operated mouse such as the SmartNav is a good option.  The user ‘wears’ a small self adhesive silver sticker which can be attached to their glasses or hat. A special camera is attached to usually to the top of the monitor and this then picks up any change in reflected light due to movement.  In this way movement of the head causes the mouse to move.

Smartnav Pro with GridKeys

This is combined with for instance a onscreen keyboard and dwell-click software (software which when you pause the mouse at a particular spot, automatically does the click for you), allows the user to ‘type’ using just movements of their head.

The downside this kind of software is that since it relies on controlled head movement, it can be tiring and requires the user to take frequent breaks.

Mouth Stick

At one time the mouth stick was the preferred or indeed only method for someone with no use of their hands to access a computer.  This was a low cost solution with a stick which is rubber tipped at one end and has a plastic mouth-friendly moulding at the other.  A normal keyboard can be used or better a specially adapted keyboard which allows easier access such as the one shown below.


It has been found though that constant use of such a device can over a period of time damage the teeth. So generally, we would not recommend such device for someone who is likely to use their computer regularly or intensively.

An enhancement of this device is the Zygo Head Pointer which is a head brace which incorporates a pointer. So the action is similar to the mouth stick but the strain of the key selecting is taken by the head brace rather than the teeth.

Headpointer for computer

Mouth Mouse

The so-called puff and blow switch has been around for some time. A double action switch which is often used to control wheelchairs, select TV stations and host of other operations.  More recently a varient of this switch, the IntegraMouse allows the user to move their lips in order to control the mouse. So twisting their lips to the right moves the mouse to right and so on.

This needs to be combined with an onscreen keyboard and by means of puff and blow, either a single mouse click or a double click can also be simulated.

IntegraMouse mouth operated mouse

Face Gesture Control

This is a relatively new type of software which opens a whole new world of empowerment for the user.

The system requires a standard webcam and special software such as Claro FaceMouse which is unfortunately currently unavailable.  Facial gestures, for example a left wink, a smile, opening the mouth etc. can be defined within the software to simulate a particular mouse action and in this way complete control of the computer can be achieved merely with these gestures.

The sensitivity of the software can be controlled as can the dwell-click.  So even if the user is prone to move their head in an uncontrolled fashion, the computer may be able to ignore this.


Combined with a onscreen keyboard, communication software or other external devices such as switches this type of system can provide a relatively inexpensive assistive technology solution for many users.

Face gesture mouse

Eye Gaze Control

This is one of the ultimate sci-fi solutions which is now a practical and used technology.  This system has the ability to ‘latch on’ to the users eyeball such that merely by looking at a letter on an onscreen keyboard, with the aid of dwell-click software, allows you to select it.  So typing a word would entail looking at each letter on an onscreen keyboard to select it. Predictive text simplifies and speeds up the task.

PCEye Mini eyegaze

Because it is a relatively new technology, the type of solution is still relatively expensive.  Such a system requires an assessment to determine its suitability for a particular user followed by the supply, fitting and training.  As a communication aid the equipment may typically consist of a tablet computer fixed to a wheelchair, the eye gaze control unit, onscreen keyboard and predictive text software and speakers.


For further details on our hands free products and much more click here.

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