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Under Your Thumb

A new kind of computer pointing device that spares the wrists could avert carpal tunnel syndrome

Like so many people who use computers all day, Abir Qamhiyah and her colleagues in Iowa State University’s Mechanical Engineering Department found that the mouse-intensive software they used was giving them numb hands and painful wrists-the signs of carpal tunnel syndrome. But rather than submit to the traditional solutions-wrist splints, painkillers, or even surgery-Qamhiyah decided to develop a new kind of pointing device, one that would leave the wrists out of the equation. The result: a kind of joystick without a base, with a pressure plate at the thumb end that can be used to move an on-screen cursor in any direction. Says Qamhiyah, “We looked at how much force a thumb is capable of exerting, and we specified the sensitivity range to be on the very low end”-meaning the new pointer shouldn’t cause its own ergonomic nightmares. Two buttons on the side take care of left-clicking and right-clicking. Iowa State is looking for corporate licensees to bring the device to market.