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On the eve of its 50th Golden Anniversary, the humble computer mouse is staring extinction in the face. Steve Prentice, an analyst at consulting firm, Gartner, predicts the death of the computer mouse within the next 3-5 years. Douglas Engelbart, at the Stanford Research Institute, invented the first mouse prototype in 1963, with the assistance of his colleague Bill English (who went on to invent the trackball mouse). The first prototype was made out of a wooden shell, a circuit board and two metal wheels.
Since then, the humble mouse has been the primary interactive input device for computers, but modern gestural input mechanisms are starting to come into their own and the little mouse may be nibbling at the cheese of the mouse-trap.
We look at six technologies that could be sounding the deathknell:
1. Touchscreens — Currently leading the fray is the touchscreen. Touchscreens have become popular in handheld devices like mobile phones, and the iPhone explosion has made the touchscreen almost ubiquitous. The recent exponential growth in the tablet computer market (such as the iPad) is further entrenching the interactive display and manufacturers are coming up with some interesting applications. Take Microsoft’s Surface and the HP Touchsmart computer as examples of touchscreen’s coming of age. Sales of touchscreen units will reach more than 136-million in 2014 off a base of just 15.4 million this year, says market research firm iSuppli.
2. Face Recognition — Many digital cameras have built-in facial recognition and even Facebook has implemented facial recognition into its picture tagging. The technology is currently used for security systems, as well as biometric access control. For example, Omniperception‘s CheckPoint.S™ automatically captures an image of a person in real-time as they move past a camera. The system extracts the facial features from the image and compares these against images already stored in an existing database. The search is completed in a matter of seconds and if a match is recorded, CheckPoint.S™ relays alarm information if a suspect is detected. But soon we’ll be seeing live face recognition control systems being based on detecting head movements and facial gestures, such as eye movements, eyebrow movements, and mouth and lip movements.
3. Eye Tracking — Eye tracking measures point of gaze, basically gauging where you are looking. Combined with blinking and eyebrow movements eye-tracking looks to be a promising addition to the gestural control market. If you’re squint or have a nasty eye twitch, you should avoid this one. World leaders Tobii offer an OEM solution so you can build eye-tracking into your device. When combined with voice recognition, eye-tracking technology from Eyetech offers you full handsfree operation of your computer.
4. Voice Recognition — Voice recognition technology has been around since 1952, but there are some great applications coming out now for voice control. Check out Nuance’s Dragon software and Gracenote’s CarStars for some amazing developments in this arena.
5. Motion Detection — Far from a distant reality, motion control is already a burgeoning industry. Wii controllers, Xbox Kinect and numerous others are already using motion and gestural control to give you an epic gaming experience. Panasonic’s D-imager looks to make motion detection with a 3D-user interface as common as your remote control.
6. Your Mind – This is some serious next-level sci-fiction, but it’s already here! You can use your brainwaves to control your computer! Simply put on a headset with sensors that can read your brainwaves and you’re good to go. It takes a bit of practice to get used to this technology, but they all have training programs to train your brain. Emotiv released a mind controller a few years ago and more recently PLX’s Xwave now allows you to control your iPhone and iPad via mind control. Not to mention that chip maker Intel says we’ll all have mind-controlling chips in our heads by 2020. Or how about translating your thoughts into words?
Dangers of gestural interfaces: Gorilla Arm
Many of these gestural interfaces are amazing, but they risk creating fatigue if you have to hold your arms up all the time. One of the arguments for the survival of the computer mouse is that it requires minimal energy to operate. A small turn of the wrist and the cursor moves, as opposed to flinging your arms about with a Wimmote. This has been termed “Gorilla Arm”.