In a magic trick that only geeks can pull off, researchers at MIT have found a method to let users click and scroll exactly the same way they would with a computer mouse, without the device actually being there.
Cup your palm, move it around on a table and a cursor on the screen hovers. Tap on the table like you would click a real mouse, and the computer responds. It’s one step beyond cordless. It’s an invisible mouse.
The project, called “Mouseless,” uses an infrared laser beam and camera to track the movements of the palm and fingers and translate them into computer commands.
“Like many other projects in the past, including the Nintendo Power Glove and the Fingerworks iGesture Pad, this attempts to see how we can use new technology to control old technology,” says Daniel Wigdor, a user experience architect for Microsoft who hasn’t worked directly on the project. “It’s just an intermediate step to where we want to be.”
Though new user interfaces such as touchscreens and voice recognition systems have become popular, the two-button mouse still reigns among computer users. Many technology experts think the precision pointing that a cursor offers is extremely difficult to replicate through technologies such as touch and speech.
Last week Intel CTO Justin Rattner said though Intel research labs is working on new touchscreen ideas, the mouse and keyboard combination is unlikely to be replaced in everyday computing for a long time.
In the case of the Mouseless project, the infrared laser and camera are embedded in the computer. When a user cups their hand as if a physical mouse was present under their palm, the laser beam lights up the hand that is in contact with the table. The infrared camera detects this and interprets the movements.
A working prototype of the Mouseless system costs approximately $20 to build, says Pranav Mistry, who is leading the project.
Mistry is one of the star researchers in the area of creating new user experiences. He previously developed the “Sixth Sense” project, a wearable gestural interface that lets users wave their hands in front of them and interact with maps and other virtual objects — much like Tom Cruise in Minority Report.
The Mouseless idea is not as big a breakthrough as Sixth Sense. Though it is fun, it is difficult to see a real-world case for getting rid of hardware while keeping interaction the same. User interfaces are going beyond the point-and-click interaction that the computer mouse demands. And mouse hardware itself is cheap, so there’s not much of a cost saving here.
Check out this fun, partly animated video to see what the Mouseless can do and how it works:
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