I am always on the hunt for the strange and unusual, the outside of the box ideas, and things I think our readers would be interested in looking at. One day a few months back, I got a random phone call. Not having any clue where the number was from, I wasn't sure if I even wanted to take it. Well I decided to answer it, and just when I expected to hear a telemarketer cram some BS in my ear, I hear a gentleman introducing himself, commenting on my previous work with TweakTown, and that he was part of this new project he thinks I would like to see, and that my readers would like to have a look at as well. At the end of the conversation I was told that I would be receiving an email with literature and video of this new device.
Not even five minutes later I hear the ding of MS Outlook as it retrieved the new email. After reviewing the information, I really had to see one of these devices for myself, so I went back to the emails and asked for a sample. At this time it was still in the development stages, and I was asked to wait just a little bit longer. After a bit, maybe two weeks, I was told that they had something that they could send out, and it would be on its way as soon as possible. Well, a couple more weeks went by and I didn't see the product arrive, so I got back to them to find out there had been a shipping issue, and there were products lost in transit. Still eagerly waiting to see the new product, I waited some more, and finally one arrived.
Today is the day that we get to look at a new kind of foot switch system, and not just one that throws the PC back to the desktop if someone were to enter while you were watching something you shouldn't be with others in the house. I am talking more of a system of switches and almost a surfboard design to allow your foot to control four switches, allowing you to make fewer movements with the hands and the mouse.
I know that this product may not be for everyone, but why not open your minds into the potential that this new Stinky Footboard gaming controller can offer its users? Let's take a look over the next few pages.
Specifications, Availability and Pricing
In essence, what you have is a very large D-pad for your foot in the simplest of terms. What you get in reality is a plastic frame that is made of two pieces that never really touch each other. The base part of the Footboard offers a mini USB port on the bottom with just the slightest of cable retention and management, eight rubber feet to grip on any surface including carpet, and a way to tension the four switches that are inside this unit. These switches are Cherry MX blue switches that offer an audible click to the switch activation, but with the adjustable spring system, the force of the actual switch is irrelevant, it is used for its structural integrity and long life.
On the center of both halves of plastic, there is a steel frame that supports your foot and allows the board to pivot on a hub in the center. This allows your foot to be able to press forward, back and side to side. The top of the unit is then dressed up with a layer of textured aluminum to give a socked foot some grip, and has the Stinky name etched right into the top. It also offers a red LED for the front and back switches, and it will light up when those switches are pressed.
The other major component in the Footboard is the software and firmware that are used. Think about this. With the software, you can assign any single function, or two key combinations like shift, alt., and function buttons plus one other key. That alone can allow you to ease life in Photoshop, but think about the gaming potential. You can set it for grenades, weapons switching, crouching, strafing, spamming commands in MMOs - all sorts of things. The thing about the software that makes this really cool is that you can store four profiles for this board as well. This will give you a total of 16 things you can now do with your feet that used to take looking at the keyboard to get correct, or at minimum, shifting around buttons on the mouse.
Currently the Stink Footboard is only available directly from the manufacturer in pre-order status. It states that these should be ready for delivery sometime in July 2013. The thing that may turn a few off is that this four switch HID is listed for the price of $119.99 at Stinkyboard.com. While it is a bit pricey, you have to consider all of the R&D time, manufacturing and prototyping time, along with the software development time, it all costs money. I do think the price is a bit high, but for such an unusual product trying to break out on the market, it has to start somewhere. I do think the price will limit the sales a bit, but for those willing to give it a go, it is quite fun and easy to use after a bit if time forcing yourself to remember to use it.
Stinky Gaming Footboard
Since I got my sample so early in the development there wasn't any retail packaging ready. What I received inside of a padded envelope was the Footboard, some paperwork and some extra hardware.
The top section of the Footboard is mostly plastic, but this aluminum plate with the company name and LED lights is bolted all the way through so you don't have to worry about screws stripping or the plate coming lose. Dimensionally what you are seeing is 11 inches wide and 14.5 inches long, and it stands one and a half inches tall.
Under the Footboard you get some idea of what is going on with the spring system with the product sicker running the length of the board. You can also see the rubber feet and the connection area at the top left in this image.
Stinky gives the Footboard the model number of SGFB-101201, says it is a Gaming Footboard, and shows it draws 5V of power at 100mA. This device has yet to be patented, it is made in China, and they don't want you removing this large sticker.
The rubber feet aren't just taped to the bottom of the board where they would come lose and fall off easy. Stinky took the extra step to use these feet that require the rounded head to be inside of the footboard grabbing it and holding it in place even with a lot of pressure on the board.
In the space that allows for a couple of fingers to fit in there, there is the mini-USB connection for the included cable, and a power LED that glows red when the device is connected to a PC.
Skipping ahead, I grabbed the cable and plugged the mini-USB end into the Footboard, while the other end of it is obviously connected to the PC now. As you can see, the power LED is now glowing red as I said it would.
Without any drivers installed on the computer, when the Footboard is first connected, both of the red LEDs on top of the board stayed illuminated. It wasn't until I added the software and updated the firmware that I saw the lights acting differently.
Accessories and Documentation
As part of the hardware kit, Stinky sends some different weight springs. The reds are stiffest, greens are in the middle, and the blue springs are the lightest. Using the provided Allen wrench, you can swap out the stock blue and green springs for a custom tuned feel. You also get a retro skateboard-like sticker with the Stinky name on it.
You are also given over six foot of USB cable to help reach the case if it is on the desk rather than under it. One end is a standard USB connection for the PC, and the mini-USB end connects to the Footboard, as I showed earlier.
The only instruction I got were typed up on this letter. It first thanked me for looking at this product, then hits on the features. At the bottom is the important part as that is where they explain how to start off and program the Footboard.
Flipping the letter over the steps for programming continues. It then discusses the spring kits use, how to adjust the springs to fit me exactly, and how the four TBOX setups allow for the springs to be changed as well as the spring's tension.
Around and Inside the Stinky Footboard
To make any minor adjustments to the springs, you simply install the wrench and go right to stiffen up the feel or left to loosen them. If you loosen them too much, the screw and washer will eventually come off.
This is what I mean by that. If you continue to go left too far, the screw comes out and allows the spring to fully extend. This does require force to reseat the screw, so be sure you want to change the springs if you are going to loosen the screws too far. What is too far? Level with the plastic on the Footboard is far enough.
Removing all of the springs you can see that the stock setup uses medium springs for the front and back switch tension, and it uses the lighter strength blue springs to use the right and left switches. I found you pretty much always want softer springs on the sides; it is easier on your ankles that way.
I had to void my warranty to go any further, and for normal users, there is no need to go this far. To show the inside components, removing this large screws from the pivoting center hub is the only way inside.
Inside of the top of the Footboard you can see the red plastic inserts that give the Footboard lights their color. You can also see the nuts from the bolts that hold on the aluminum top plate and the thick brass stud the attaches the top to the base.
Looking now at the lower half of the Footboard you can see the switches, the steel support frame, the PCB, and loads of well managed wiring so it will stay out of the way during use of this device.
Each of the four switches used on this are in fact the Cherry MX blue switches we were told were going to be used, and I commend Stinky for not going with some lame rubber dome or other pad style switch that would easily break under the stresses you can give with a foot.
Since one of the switches is on the back of the PCB, there are only three extensions clipped into it. You can also see that this isn't' just slapped together either. The soldering is clean and there is no excess flux left on them.
This 8-bit AMTEL microcontroller is what is keeping track of your actions and sending them off to the PC, it is clocked at 16MHz and has enough memory for the firmware and that is about it, profiles are saved on the computer, not on the Footboard.
There are two things offered on the Stinky website in the download section, there is a firmware update .hex file, and of course this software. On the configuration tab, you can see the Footboard and the four switches. Currently they are set to numbers as if I were going to use them for weapons switching in an FPS game. In this tab you can name the device at the top, choose the type of action being set, keybond the command, and at the bottom you can save the configuration and add new profiles as well as saving them.
Under the Actions tab you have some choices. You can use it Normal, which offers a key press and release type of action to the switch. Then there is the self explanatory Key Down setting. You also have the Pulse setting that will spam a key press as long as you hold the key pressed on the Footboard. You can also set the switch to Unbound, so there is no command, but where is the fun in that?
Once you get used to the Footboard and start making more than one profile, you can start to bind them to specific applications. This way as you go about your day, you don't have to revisit the software every time you want to set the configuration. So, if I were to have BF3, DOTA2, Photoshop, and anything else, the Footboard is ready on demand for the application it is set to start with.
Under the Settings tab you will find the simple settings like if you want this to auto-start on Windows, should it start minimized, or to minimize when you click the X box, rather than shutting off the software all together. There is the Legal button that will show you all of the technical jargon covering the usage and modifications of this device. At the bottom you have the Firmware update tool. While I did use it quite a bit with version 1.0, I did eventually flash over to the version 1.1 software and tried that out as well.
The best piece of advice I read in the literature of the Stinky Footboard is to take it slow. This isn't a device your brain is automatically ready to use, and it takes some time investment before you really become proficient with the Footboard. Start with one thing, like grenades, then after you get your toes used to tapping when you need to chuck a grenade all the time instead of going to the default command on the keyboard or mouse. Once you have that down, then move on to adding say weapons switching to the right and left, get used to that, and then add the fourth key. Once you get used to it in any single application, then it is time to move on to multiple profiles. I did try to go at it with setting all four at once, and while I wasn't so much confused as to what I assigned where on the Footboard, I took a serious loss in the games as now four of my go to controls were now on the board, and I was hard pressed enough to remember to use it at all.
While I was testing the Footboard on the version 1.0 firmware, I had the lights on the board illuminated at all times, and setting the bindings was very easy to do. After about three or four days of use, I was at the point where I could really appreciate the software and use the multiple profiles and the application to profile auto swap part came in really handy. All I had to do at the end was remember four positions for whatever I was applying the board to. I did find that is does make gaming more fun in some aspects, but for other applications such as Photoshop or any editing software, the limitation to only two keys at once and no real Macro ability does limit this switch in ways I think many gamers would like to use it for. When I tested on the latest firmware, version 1.1, I noticed a few things. For one my lights went out unless I was pressing that key, and the second thing I found is that the key bindings were harder to save. You could save slot on with CTRL+O and set slot two with CTRL+S. Then when you go back to the first slot, the command was now just the O and the binding no longer worked. I found that multiple saves and overwrites of the profiles did eventually work, but they worked better on the original firmware.
Stinky does still have some time to tinker around with the features and work out the small kinks that I have seen with the Footboard by their release in July. I seriously think they should work on opening up the command option into more keys at once and possibly adding Macros as well. For MMO, RPG, well really any game, these can be as useful if not more so than what you can do with most single or double key combinations of the keyboard or mouse. The possibilities are truly endless as to what you can set to the Stinky Footboard and allow either of your feet to now take some of the movements away from your hands, keep your head in the game since you aren't looking at the keyboard to hit the combo of keys, and really does add an element of emersion once you have more of your body acting out actions in the game.
Even with a price point of $119.99, I think you are going to enjoy using it, and it is definitely something you will not find anywhere else.
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