ShortStep for repetitive work without stressing
hands, arms, shoulders, and neck.

A radically different approach to managing computer-related discomfort.

Copyright, 2003, AT&T. Author: Nils Klarlund

Revised 2003/6/6.


In this note, we provide an informal description of the ShortStep foot keyboard. The design is still preliminary and is undergoing tests. The author may be contacted for further information.

Moving the repetitive work to your feet

Much work on the computer today is extraordinarily repetitive. Whether you are sorting e-mail, preparing blueprints, navigating in spreadsheets, or simply surfing, the intensely repetitive use of the keyboard imposes a tense body posture on you, which may lead to short or long-term injuries.

The ShortStep foot keyboard is a combination of a foot rest and cleverly arranged keys that allow you to transfer this repetitive work to your feet. It allows you to drastically change body posture: when not entering text, you can lean back while working with little or no use of arms.

In fact, almost all existing keyboard shortcuts, including the hundreds defined by some applications, are directly expressible by simple taps on foot switches instantly reachable from the comfortable resting area of the ShortStep foot keyboard.

Who could benefit?

Are keyboard shortcuts useful?

Professional computer users in many areas would not be able to work without keyboards shortcuts. An architect using a CAD program is constantly panning, focussing in and out, and selecting drawing tools. Without keyboard commands, this work would be many times slower. Of course, most computer users recognize a few keyboard shortcuts, like Ctrl-C for the copy command, Esc for cancel, or Delete for erasing an email message or file. But in fact, there are dozens of generally useful shortcuts, see Keyboard Shortcuts for Windows, and most programs offer shortcuts for all common functions.

One problem with keyboard shortcuts is that they must be learned. But ShortStep effectively doubles the reward: once you know a keyboard shorcut it can be used in two ways, by hand or by feet.

So, can I ShortStep my way to Esc, Page Up, Delete, Left Arrow, F5, Ctrl-C, Alt-F4, Alt-Shift-Left Arrow, Alt-Ctrl-G,... ?

Yes, the keys Esc, Page Up, Delete, Left Arrow are among the most commonly used and they are all there for easy activation with one foot, along with ten other common keys. For the other keys F5 (refresh), Ctrl-C, Alt-F4 (close application), and specialized ones like Alt-Shift-Left Arrow (promote a paragraph in an outline mode [Microsoft Word]) or Alt-Ctrl-F (set coordinate system [TurboCAD]), the answer is also yes. These combinations are activated by feet according to the same modifier principle as on the standard keyboard: press the modifier, then the ordinary key.

Surprisingly, such combinations are about as fast to make by feet as by hands. In fact, on the ShortStep keyboard the modifier pedal is behind the heel, so while one foot presses the ordinary key, the other foot moves back a couple of inches to slide onto a modifier pedal. This patented method contributes to solving the key problem of foot pedals: a simple mapping must be devised from the hundreds of keyboard combinations that are already available to the modest amount of switches that can be operated by feet.

So how exactly does ShortStep work?

The Resting Areas

First of all, ShortStep provides you with a naturally sloped resting area for each of your feet, not unlike existing foot rests (such as 3M foot rest next,). To the right you see how each foot rests, mainly on the sloped part. The foot does not need to be precisely aligned all the time. It will very quickly obtain a sense of position, just as your hands do on the keyboard.

The keys that are used all the time

Second, ShortStep allows each foot to serve seven common keys. There are two keys above the resting area, one key that is part of the area, and two keys to each side of the area. The shapes of the keys are carefully matched with the anatomy of the foot: with the ball of the foot, for example, it is very easy to select either of the inner side keys.

DownLeft mouse
Right mouseRight
The outer side of the foot can press either of the two outer side keys by a slight, outward rotation of the foot. With this arrangement, all seven keys are an inch or two away from the foot---assuring very fast operation. (ShortStep must be operated without shoes---socks stay on.) To the left, you see the keys for the left foot and to right you see the keys for the right foot.

With these keys much repetive work already gets easier.

The Shft, Alt, and Ctrl modifiers

Third, the usual modifier keys are very easily activated, since they are arranged as shown, immediately behind the foot:

The keys are only raised an eighth of inch or so. Thus the heel can slide onto them without any need to lift the leg. For example, the left heel may slide back a couple of inches to rest at the Shft key, or back and to the right to rest at the Ctrl key, or right to rest at the Alt key. These movements are easily accomplished because of the positional awareness that the foot quickly learns. In fact, it may be more natural to press a modifier with a heel than with a little finger since the foot can easily rest while pressing the heel key---the same cannot be said about the hand while the little finger presses the modifier key on the manual keyboard.

Note that a combination like Alt-Shft can also easily be achieved as shown by the red arrow above: move the heel sidewards to the right and the down until the foot encounters the row of blue keys---which are raised and form a natural stop. The width of the shift key has been designed so that the foot will depress both the Alt and the Shft at the same time.

So what can we accomplish now? Examples are

The alphabetic modifiers for Ctrl-c, Alt-S, ...

Fourth, to access all the keyboard shortcuts that involve letters, the modifier arrangement above is replicated as the green keys below:

When you actuate one of these alphabetic modifier keys, the ordinary keys take on meanings that are letters. To the left, you see the letter layout of the seven ordinary keys served by the left foot--simply the first seven letters of the alphabet. Similarly, the right foot serves the last letters of the alphabet as shown on the right. So where are the remaining 12 letters of the alphabet?

~H J `
!N P "
ShortStep presents an innovative way to boost the number of available keys: the remaining letters are on the modifier keys! The key idea, so to speak, is that when the left foot presses an alphabetic modifier, the modifier keys of the right foot turn into ordinary keys according to the labels just provided. Similarly, the left modifier keys turn into ordinary keys when an alphabetic modifier keys on the right is pressed. This unique dual use principle dramatically extends the space of available key combinations. So, if you first press the alphabetic control key with your left foot followed by the alphabetic control key with your right foot, then you generate Ctrl-p. But if you press the keys in the reverse order, then you generate Ctrl-h.

The function modifiers for F1, Alt-F4, ...

Fifth, you get access to all the function keys in a way similar to how you get to the letters. If you lift the heel when stepping back, then you will be able to activate a function modifier key, which are colored blue: go straight back to get an unmodified function key, back and towards the center to get a function key modified by Ctrl, and back and away from the center for a function key modified by Alt. Thanks to the dual use principle, you will be able to find as well the special symbols, such as ".", that are most frequently used with modifiers.

-_ + =
[] \
;: ' ,
./ ?
The meaning of keys for the left and right foot are shown here.

Customizing the layout

It is the design rationale behind ShortStep to directly represent all the common keyboard combinations, in addition to all the uncommon ones. With common keyboard macro software, the utility of ShortStep can be further amplified.

A QWERTY layout

Instead of the alphabetic layout showed in the preceding diagrams, a QWERTY layout may be preferable. One suggestion is shown below.

Design summary

The ShortStep keyboard works because it combines multiple novel ideas into one form factor. The main insights are:

Side view.

Detail from prototype showing heel keys.

Summary of key meanings.


Length: 20.5 in. Height: 8.0 in. Width: 25 in. Keys: 14 ordinary keys, 16 modifier keys. Number of different key combinations possible: 412= 8*14 (8 alt+shft+ctrl combinations) + 7*(14+16) (7 alphabetic alt+shft+ctrl combinations) + 3 *(14+16) (3 function combinations). Connector: Male USB. Electronics: USB keyboard controller with customized EEPROM. Software: provides custom-designed debouncing and modifier functionalities.


The prototype of the keyboard has been specified in three-dimensional CAD drawings. The computer-generated images in this document are made from the specification. A production model would be built in molded plastic.