Disappointed with the absurdly expensive options I found when searching for a USB transcription foot pedal, I discovered that a $10 USB Dance Dance Mat controller will work even better for a fraction of a cost on both PC and Mac use.
Recently I found myself needing to transcribe over 20 hours of user research interview audio. A friend recommended that I invest in a transcription pedal and specialist transcription audio software, which allows you to activate audio control options (play, pause, rewind, etc.) with your feet without interrupting your typing cursor in the active window (e.g. Microsoft Word or Google Docs) as you listen to the audio running in a background program.
So I went looking for options. There are hundreds of different transcription software options, most seem to be extremely similar in what they offer, and if you weren’t interested in the integration with a foot pedal, you could probably get away with just using custom global hot keys in something like VLC.
When it came to pedals, there was a range of options with pedals ranging from $80 to $230. There was little indication in what separated the more expensive models from the cheapest. Most pedals looked to have a similar form and all pedals had almost identical functionality, 3 foot buttons that allowed for 2 states, on and off.
Without naming and shaming any organisations, the quality of the websites and product information from a number of these providers was generally very poor. I was completely disenchanted with the thought that even the cheapest foot pedal would potentially cost me more than $100 including shipping.
It was at this point that I decided to see if I could build my own. I was inspired by this post by Sacha Chua where she details how she converted an old musical instrument foot switch into an Arduino USB foot pedal. I started putting together a parts list to create my own Arduino foot pedal, my brain was racing with ideas for the form factor of the actual pedal component. And that’s when it hit me, I already had something I could use sitting in my garage.
A $10 Dance Dance USB game controller plastic foot mat that I had purchased off eBay many years early for a 8bit music project. I figured, this is a USB controller, it has 10 buttons, it should work. The mat used generic game controller drivers when hooked into windows, and it worked perfectly with emulator test runs, based on this I predicted it should work with transcription software.
A simple eBay search for USB Dance Dance Mat will produce plenty of mats.
Using the Dance Dance mat with software
I have been using the free demo version of ExpressScribe by NCH to test the mat.
For PC: I simply plugged in the dance matt, and ExpressScribe recognised the generic game controller drivers as a configurable foot pedal straight away. It then launched a wizard, which allowed me to customise each foot square to a function with the program.
For Mac: OS X did not recognise the same drivers so instead I installed USB overdrive to utilise the gaming controller driver support it provided to activate the mat and then mapped each foot press to a Function key (E.g. F8). Then inside ExpressScribe I manually set each Function key to the appropriate command (pause, etc.) using the customise shortcuts option in the setting.
I’ve been using the Dance Dance pedal for 3 weeks now. More often I’ve been using the bottom three buttons and folding it over in thirds so it fits snuggly under my desk. At first my team mates thought it was an April fool’s prank, but now I’m starting to get requests to get a few more shipped in!