written by: Daniel Barros•edited by: Lamar Stonecypher•updated: 11/5/2009
In our final article in the new "Future Hardware" series, we look at how the mouse may evolve into a hardware-less solution.
slide 1 of 5
Moving past the keyboard now, we get into the territory of an old PC favorite – the mouse. Originally developed to control things in an X-Y plane, the mouse is remarkably different today than it was 20 years ago. Today’s mice are a wonder of technological innovation. The modern mouse boasts laser and optical sensors that were unimaginable 10 years ago, and sports Bluetooth or wireless technology that makes the device completely wire-free. Contoured shaping and ergonomic development makes the modern mouse much more satisfying to wield as opposed to the old white mice of the 90s. But where does the mouse go from here?
slide 2 of 5
Touch The Future
There is a large group of scientists and researchers as well as engineers and physicists that are moving towards a capacitive touch-based device for future manipulation. What you currently see as the HP Touchsmart PC might one day be available for any and all to purchase in the form of hardware (either in the monitor or perhaps as a sophisticated sensor system).
A touch screen poses a unique problem for manufacturers though - who wants to be touching a screen that has traditionally been kept in odd positions on desks (at an angle, etc)? Furthermore, what about people who are not willing to spend the several hundred dollars that large-scale touch screens would cost? How do you fold those people into the market?
Today’s consumer sees a touch screen as a cool innovation, but at the same time, as a sort of gimmick. Only on devices such as the iPhone has a touch screen proven to be efficient enough to work as a dedicated system for controlling a device. That being said, the iPhone and other touch smart phones are all portable devices that are easy to grasp and touch without the discomfort of having to touch a computer monitor all day long. Ideally, future PC monitors would then work as tablets that can be carried around, but that too would cost a fortune.
So then, what is the solution to the problem that is manipulating the screens of the future?
slide 3 of 5
Let me start off by saying that Microsoft’s project Natal will in no way, shape or form influence the videogame industry the way they are hoping. Where that particular technology does have applications however, is in the realm of the computer.
Place a small camera into (or on top of) a screen with the Natal technology and suddenly you have a device capable of scanning items into your PC, allowing you to move objects around the screen and perhaps even “control" your favorite PC games.
The promise of a future with a camera controlled, head-assisted navigation device sounds rather promising, especially considering that the Natal device can function in three dimensions. However, the technology is currently very primitive and rather jumpy. When the tech has been perfected though, it’d be easy to see how people would much rather move their computers with their hands rather than a mouse that needs to constantly be repositioned in a mousepad that is a few orders of magnitude smaller than the screen.
But for kicks, let’s assume this too doesn’t come to pass, does the mouse still have a future then?
slide 4 of 5
The end of the road for the mouse becomes the day a computer can be controlled with your mind. Scientists are still in the earliest phases of making this a reality. They are performing experiments on willing volunteers with actual physical defects such as quadriplegia who cannot move. In these cases, experimenters have actually implanted a rather (alarmingly) large device into the motor control region of the brain to translate brain waves into binary code.
In this manner, the patient was able to move a computer controlled robotic arm, and even write and draw into a computer screen.
This technology however, is still a long ways away from being safe and useful for the public. Thus far, implant technology has been received with both skepticism and fear – no one wants to be putting things into their body when it isn’t absolutely necessary.
And that wraps up our Future Hardware series – hopefully the next ten years will show us whether or not any of these predictions were close to being accurate.