While the Internet offers valuable information for people with disabilities, many of those people cannot use a handheld mouse to surf the Web. Researchers at the University of Washington have developed software that provides an alternative using the oldest mode of communication: the human voice. Vocal Joystick software is an alternative to brain-computer interfaces, and detects sounds 100 times per second. It instantaneously turns that sound into movement on the screen.

Different vowel sounds dictate movement of the cursor in one of eight directions. Users can transition smoothly from one vowel to another, and louder sounds make the cursor move faster. The sounds "k" and "ch" simulate clicking and releasing the mouse buttons. There are versions of Vocal Joystick software for browsing the Web, drawing on a screen, controlling a cursor, and playing a video game. A version that operates a robotic arm could be used to control an electronic wheelchair.

Current head-tracking and eye-tracking devices require neck movement and expensive hardware. Vocal Joystick requires only a microphone, a computer with a standard sound card, and a user who can produce vocal sounds. Early tests show that an experienced user of Vocal Joystick would have as much control as someone using a handheld device.

Future research will incorporate more advanced controls that use more aspects of the human voice, such as repeated vocalizations, vibrato, degree of nasality, and trills.

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