Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Mouse 2.0: Multi-touch Meets the Mouse

(Comments left on Nate Brown's Blog)

The idea presented in this paper was to implement multi touch technology on mouse like devices that would allow for more dexterous manipulation and interaction with computer applications.
The research group then creates and tests several multi touch mouse devices and finds out which designs/implementations were most intuitive to new users.

The research team for this paper developed 5 different mice.

The first mouse was an FTIR mouse that detected finger contact across an acrylic board by using frustrated total internal reflection. The acrylic board is lit with infrared light and a finger on the board disperses the light which can be detected with an infrared camera. The FTIR mouse also included a clickable section at the front of the mouse.
Disadvantages with the FTIR mouse includes ergonomic problems, high power consumption, multi touch sensing is limited to the tip of the acrylic and the IR sensitive camera was too sensitive to sunlight and other external sources of IR light.
On the plus side, clicks were easy to detect, user interaction was robust and the acrylic plate design is easily modified to be visually pleasing to the human sense

The second mouse they introduced was the Orb mouse which also used FTIR techniques to capture the position of the user's fingers. But this time infrared camera was housed within the orb of the mouse which was also clickable.
One disadvantage to the Orb mouse was that it was still susceptible to external infrared light and that the infrared camera consumed a lot of power which is particularly bad for laptops that have limited battery life.
Advantages to the orb mouse included a larger and easier to manipulate multi touch area, a smooth gradient on the multi touch area, and a more ergonomic design than the FTIR mouse.

The third mouse was the capacitive sensing electrode based mouse or "Cap mouse."
This particular mouse looks like a regular mouse but underneath the surface, a grid of small electrode capacitors each 5 mm apart sense the finger positions of the user.
This particular mouse was had much more precise sensing the the infrared camera based designs and featured lower power consumption. It also didn't suffer from any of the problems from external factors that the previous two had. Unfortunately the sensing area on the mouse was too small because the design was constricted to the shape of a regular mouse.

The fourth mouse achieved sensing by using an infrared sheet illuminator beam that is projected from the sides of the mouse. Thus, the mouse was named the side mouse. Whenever the infrared beam is breached a camera picks up the infrared light reflected back to the camera and the finger is sensed by the mouse.
While the side mouse offers the advantage of having an interaction area that isn't limited by the size or design of the mouse itself, the side mouse suffers from the fact that objects not intended to be sensed by the user can be picked up by the mouse. Also the side mouse, looking like a simple block with a rest for the palm is ergonomically challenging and performing a regular mouse click must be done by pressing down on the with the user's palm. This made it difficult to both move and click simultaneously as well as use the multi touch and click simultaneously. Furthermore, the mouse suffers from all the problems all the other infrared mice had like high power consumption and interference. The research team also mentioned that the some of the users' hands were either too big or too small to use the mouse effectively.
The final mouse was the articulated mouse called "Arty."
Arty was made with 3 high resolution optical mouse sensors.
One at the base of the mouse and one at the end of both articulated arms that are manipulated with the user's thumb and index finger. This design allowed for easy pinching action as well as the simple application of traditional 2 button clicking.
Arty also had blue tooth technology that made it the only wireless mouse of the group. The research group noted that the use of 2 separate high resolution optical mouse sensors over each finger allowed "...high sensing fidelity compared with capacitive or camera-based sensing techniques."
My thoughts:

While many of the mice designs were interesting, I failed to really see how adding multi touch technology to mice was a significant improvement in the ease of use of everyday computing situations. I do understand their passion for making more immersive technologies and improving interaction with the computer by making use of natural human hand dexterity though. So I applaud their work nonetheless.

Really the biggest work that needs to be done here is making the public aware of and excited about the existence and uses of multi touch mice. Otherwise I don't see this going very far.

The side mouse is far from pleasing to the eye. It just looks like a block.
It was a cool idea though.

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