A project spearheaded by prolific Microsoft researcher
Patrick Baudisch has produced a wireless mouse for PCs that
doesn't have to just sit on a desk. Called Soap, the device is
a modified optical mouse. Judging by this video,
it's good for playing PC video games, clicking through
presentations, and, Baudisch hopes, operating MP3 players and
other personal electronic devices.
Airborne PC controllers aren't new; they've had various
incarnations. But so far consumers have been cool to the idea.
That attitude seems to be changing, though, as Nintendo turns
heads with its new video game system, Wii, in which
players use a motion-sensitive remote controller to fly
planes, hit baseballs, and shoot bad guys. In addition, last
year, gadget maker Gyration began offering a mid-air mouse for
PCs with one gigabit of storage, called Gyrotransport.
Soap differs from both in its simplicity. Instead of adding
a gyroscope, as with Gyrotransport, or designing a new type of
remote controller, as Wii does, Baudisch and his team took
advantage of a standard mouse's built-in optical tracking
They placed a "hull" of stretchy fabric around the insides
of a mouse, after removing the plastic case, so that it covers
the optical sensor. To move the cursor with precision, one
gently tugs at the fabric over the sensor. To send a cursor
traveling across the screen, one rolls the mouse within the
In the video,
Baudisch demonstrates it with game-playing accuracy -- and
also reveals details about how to make your own. (Note: the
instructions are about two-thirds of the way through the clip.
I didn't try making one, so I'm not sure how thorough they
It's a far cry from the first computer mouse, which debuted
in 1964, when Douglas Engelbart, a researcher at Stanford
Research Institute in Menlo Park, CA, gave a presentation to
an audience of 1,000 curious engineers. At that time, the
device was a box-like contraption, yet it still impressed the
crowd by moving a cursor across a computer screen. Here are
of that demonstration.
Even though computers have changed dramatically in 40 years
-- shrinking to the size of mobile phones, and able to respond
at the tap of a finger -- the mouse has remained entrenched in
its original design and function, with minor modifications.
It's unlikely that Soap will replace the traditional mouse --
it's much more suited for gaming and presentations uses.
But it may also have a place in portable computing. As
devices shrink, current interfacing methods, such as the tiny
keyboard and PDA stylus, are becoming increasingly awkward and
frustrating. Could Soap make mobile computing easier? Check it
out. And let us know what you think. -- By Kate