Touch pad could make mouse and keyboard redundant

Researchers at the University of Delaware have invented a technology that they claim will do away with the traditional mouse and...

Researchers at the University of Delaware have invented a technology that they claim will do away with the traditional mouse and keyboard, replacing them with a touch pad and finger motions that will allow computer users to control their machines "like magic".

The interface, called iGesture, consists of a touch pad that acts like a video camera, recording the objects touching its surface. An embedded microprocessor then uses an algorithmic process to convert the touches into commands understood by the computer.

The mouse-eliminating technology was originally developed by University of Delaware visiting assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering Wayne Westerman, who began the project as part of his doctoral thesis. Westerman has been working on developing the technology over the past five years, along with University of Delaware professor of electrical and computer engineering John Elias.

The two are now marketing iGesture through a company called FingerWorks.

"Ultimately, I think the technology is completely capable of replacing what we use today," Elias said in an interview yesterday. The researchers believed that the system was revolutionary in that it mimicked our natural tendency to use gestures to communicate.

A FingerWorks spokesman said a number of University of Delaware students and faculty were already using the technology.

The system is multi-touch, requiring only light, subtle movements. To open a file, the user rotates a hand as if opening a jar, and to maximise or minimise a screen, the user expands or contracts a hand.

Elias said that it took around three to four weeks for users to learn how to use the system, but admitted that some could not get used to the technology.

"Sometimes people just don't want to change," Elias said. "I'm sure my grandmother didn't want to switch from a typewriter to a computer."

However, Elias said that he believed that the system could change computing, and that software makers could, eventually, start building applications that take advantage of the technology.

The researchers claimed the technology was much more flexible than voice recognition systems, because it is difficult for computers to process speech differences, and that users could gesture passwords only known to them.

FingerWorks is marketing both a standalone touch pad and touch pads built into non-mechanical keyboards, so that users do not have to move their hands when switching from typing to using the mouse.

The iGesture Pad is priced at $179 (£115) while the iGesture Keyboard is going for $199 (£127), according to the company's Web site. The products work on Macintosh, Windows and Linux systems and require no extra software.

Elias conceded that the product pricing is high right now, but with increased sales volume the company hoped to move production offshore and reduce prices.

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