Microsoft Touch Mouse: How Microsoft Took a Concept from Research to Product
By on July 31st, 2011

It is fascinating to learn that it took a collection of prototypes, collaboration between transatlantic teams, and a lot of user testing to bring Microsoft Touch Mouse to market. The Microsoft Touch Mouse project was unusual compared with other hardware-development projects, because it combined multiple disciplines in a tightly integrated way.

Microsoft Touch Mouse

The joint research effort between Microsoft Research Redmond, Microsoft Research Cambridge, and Microsoft’s Applied Sciences Group introduced five different multi-touch mice prototypes. The research paper, titled Mouse 2.0: Multi-touch Meets the Mouse, presents novel input devices that combine the standard capabilities of a computer mouse with multi-touch sensing. Each prototype explored a different touch-sensing strategy that influenced the design of different mouse form factors and their interaction possibilities.

Humans are naturally dexterous and use their fingers and thumbs to perform a variety of complex interactions to a high precision. The traditional computer mouse design, however, makes little use of this dexterity, reducing our hands to a single cursor on the screen. Our fingers are often relegated to performing relatively simple actions such as clicking the mouse buttons or rolling the mouse wheel. With the emergence of multi-touch, we now have the opportunity to manipulate digital content with increased dexterity.

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FTIR Mouse applies the principle of frustrated total internal reflection to illuminate a user’s fingers, and uses a camera to track multiple points of touch on its curved translucent surface

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Orb Mouse is equipped with an internal camera and a source of diffuse IR illumination, allowing it to track the user’s hand on its hemispherical surface.

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Cap Mouse (short for capacitive mouse) employs a matrix of capacitive touch-sensing electrodes to track the position of the user’s fingertips over its surface.

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Side Mouse rests under the palm of hand, allowing fingers to touch the table surface directly in front of the device. These are sensed using an internal camera and IR laser.

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Arty Mouse is equipped with three high-resolution optical mouse sensors: one in the base, which rests under the user’s palm, and two under the articulated extensions that follow the movements of the index finger and thumb.

 

The research team intended to refine their prototypes, both ergonomically and in terms of their sensing capabilities. Therefore, Microsoft Hardware decided to get behind the research, and a team was formed to bring a multi-touch mouse to market. The close collaboration between the hardware team and Microsoft Research in both Cambridge and Redmond went beyond just technology transfer.

The design of the final form factor required sculpting and testing of hundreds of models. The team also examined user interactions and evaluated the kinds of gestures that made sense. The multi-touch gestures are designed to amplify your experience with Windows 7, and are optimized for window management. The design also involved a challenge requiring that users should be able to operate the device using classic point-and-click interactions as well as the newly developed set of multi-touch gestures.

The delightful, fluid desktop experience of Microsoft Touch Mouse is a testimony to the value of the value of quality research to explore new possibilities.

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Author: Abhishek Baxi
Abhishek Baxi is an independent technology columnist for several international publications and a digital consultant. He speaks incessantly on Twitter (@baxiabhishek) and dons the role of Editor-in-Chief here at Techie Buzz.

Abhishek Baxi has written and can be contacted at abhishek@techie-buzz.com.
 
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