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Sufferers find ‘Lightglove’ at the end of the tunnel

For those who have suffered through carpal tunnel syndrome, relief may soon be on the way.

The Lightglove, a virtual mouse that allows computer users to surf the Web without repetitive clicking, could be on shelves as early as the first quarter of next year.

The technology, developed by a Manassas-based start-up company, detects hand and finger motion through a light scan that is then communicated to the computer screen.

The device essentially eliminates the need for pronounced movements that could lead to carpal tunnel syndrome, a nerve condition that develops in the hands and fingers from repeated motions such as typing.

"[Lightglove] is like a wrist-worn computer mouse, but instead of pushing a button you push a beam of light," said M.G. Howard, who cofounded Lightglove with her husband, Bruce, an electrical engineer.

The idea for Lightglove was born after Bruce Howard’s mother, a former graphic and sketch artist for the Secret Service, developed carpal tunnel syndrome.

"She was a gifted artist," said M.G. Howard. "When he saw her pretty much lose the ability to hold a pencil or paintbrush, he thought, ‘There’s got to be a better way for people to use their computers.’ "

Lightglove has been in development since 1998.

While the technology could have far-reaching applications — the device is also being developed as a video game controller, television remote control and light switch — the company will initially focus on distribution through the health care industry.

In addition to offering the device to those with carpal tunnel syndrome, the Howards are hoping to make the device available to others with limited mobility.

For example, the company is in talks with Walter Reed Army Medical Center, which is interested in Lightglove’s applications for wounded soldiers.

Targeting a niche market is one way to find success in a competitive wireless device market, said Steve Koenig, senior manager of industry analysis for the Washington-based Consumer Electronics Association.

"[Lightglove’s technology] is consistent with the general trend of cutting the wires in all manner of portable devices," Koenig said.

"The market for input devices is fairly crowded, so there’s a high barrier to entry, but because this product is somewhat specialized they would probably have better luck through nontraditional channels."