Innovators at NASA’s Johnson Space Center have developed a novel footpedal-operated system and device to control movement of an object in three-dimensional (3D) space. The system enables operators to control movement of spacecraft, aircraft, and watercraft using only foot pedals. This design leaves the hands free for simultaneous operation of other equipment. The foot pedal controller integrates six articulating mechanisms and motion sensors, and provides continuous positional feedback to the operator. Motion control across six degrees of freedom is enabled by three control motions for each foot. Specifically, the foot pedal controller moves the object forward/backward, up/down, and left/right (translation in three perpendicular axes) combined with rotation about three perpendicular axes, often termed pitch, yaw, and roll.

Top and side views of the foot pedal controller prototype.

The foot pedal controller enables an operator of a spacecraft, aircraft, or watercraft, or a simulation of one in a video game, to control all translational and rotational movement using two foot pedals. This novel technology allows control across all six degrees of freedom, unlike any technology on the market. The components of the technology are a support structure, a left foot pedal, a right foot pedal, and supporting electronics. The foot pedal controller is intuitive, easy to learn, and has ergonomic features that accommodate and stabilize the operator’s feet. A working prototype is available to demonstrate key technology features to potential licensees.

The foot pedal controller technology could be used in designs for the flight deck of the future, video game controls, drone operations, and flight simulators. This technology can be useful in any application where it is preferred or desirable to use the feet to control motion rather than using the hands. A potential market could be foot control of equipment by people with arm or hand disabilities. A unique aspect of the innovation is the consideration of natural foot mechanics in the design and placement of the sensors and actuators to reduce operator fatigue. The axes of rotation of the controller align with the joints of the foot so the foot moves naturally to control the movement of the craft.

NASA is actively seeking licensees to commercialize this technology. Please contact Michelle P. Lewis at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to initiate licensing discussions. Follow this link for more information: http://technology.nasa.gov/patent/TB2016/MSC-TOPS-52 .


NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the July, 2016 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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