BT launches movement-controlled laptop device

BT researchers have used Nintendo Wii-style technology to develop a device for laptops that removes the need for a keyboard or a mouse.

BT researchers have used Nintendo Wii-style technology to develop a device for laptops that removes the need for a keyboard or a mouse.

The product, called BT Balance, works by enabling the user to manipulate menus and applications simply by moving or tilting their machine.  

The small, specially designed adaptor containing movement sensors can be plugged into any standard laptop or tablet PC. The adaptor is then able to "talk" to software downloaded to the laptop, and then translate the motion and rotation into actions on the user’s computer screen.

The software can be adapted so that users can move a cursor around the screen or even turn the pages of a virtual manual or book just by tilting or moving around their machine.

Adam Oliver, BT head of age and disability research, who helped develop the concept, said, “The technology has obvious implications for those who are disabled or elderly and have difficulty using a fiddly laptop keyboard or mouse.”

He said, “We also wanted to create an interface that was simple and intuitive. Standard ways of controlling PC applications can be too complicated, so we decided to use the analogy of a book to work with. 

“What we ended up with gives you the same look and feel of picking up a book and reading it, but in a 3-D digital format.”

Oliver said there were also commercial applications for the technology, such as someone needing to use their laptop in conditions where trying to type or manipulate a tiny keyboard is tricky or where they are unable to use both hands.

This could include an engineer or technician working in the field needing to navigate quickly round maps or diagrams, or even someone just using their laptop on a crowded train.

“The software is extremely adaptable and can be used in all sorts of ways. For example, it could be programmed so that a user could make or connect an incoming internet voice call or to access digital pictures simply by tilting and tipping the computer,” said Oliver.

The BT Balance adaptor is built around an accelerometer chip, which works in much the same way as the balance system in the human ear. It tells the computer which way is up and how the device has been moved.

When the user makes an action, like tilting the machine left or right, the BT Balance software interprets this and manipulates the on-screen content.

BT researchers in the Broadband Applications Research Centre at the firm’s Adastral Park site in Ipswich are currently developing these techniques to provide interfaces for people in a range of situations on a variety of devices.

For instance, allowing those with arthritis simple access to broadband services or allowing field-engineers to access information on their laptops without removing their gloves on a cold day.

The project is part of BT’s Age and Disability Research programme.

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Comment on this article: e-mail computer.weekly@rbi.co.uk

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