Microsoft's kind of blue

What do Gatorade, the Cookie Monster and high-definition media all have in common?

What do Gatorade (some flavours!), the Cookie Monster and high-definition media all have in common? They come in blue; now Microsoft is joining the party. At the centre of its new peripheral line-up is BlueTrack technology, a tracking system that will allow computer mice to work on a far wider variety of surfaces than current optical and laser products.

“It’s the world’s most advanced tracking technology and it allows you to take your mouse wherever you go”, says Microsoft's Sean Butterworth. Previous technologies have always struggled on certain surfaces. For example, reflective surfaces can cause issues with the sensors of optical mice, leading to inaccurate tracking.

However, according to Mark DePue, R&D manager and the man behind the new technology, those days are gone. “BlueTrack combines the power and width of optical with the precision of laser... It’s better than optical; it’s better than laser. Period.”

One of the critical changes in architecture is the placement of the sensor. The way these technologies work is by projecting light down to a surface and then taking thousands of photos a second as it travels back up to determine movement. On reflective surfaces a lot of the light is lost as it bounces off at an oblique angle.

With BlueTrack Microsoft has moved the sensor forward to snap up more of this light, creating a more accurate system. The blue beam is also considerably larger and more consistent than a regular red optical beam, which results in a smoother image and better tracking.

“Blue light has special properties,” DePue explained. “The sky is blue for a reason. Blue light, when it comes in and it hits these molecules in the upper atmosphere it scatters more than red light or green light or any other light. So we chose blue for the specific reason that it allows you to get high-contrast images of the surface.”

According to Microsoft, some of the surfaces the new technology will work on include granite and marble, as well as plastic (such as the tray tables found on planes).

“BlueTrack gives us the ability to work on more surfaces and it’s really addressing a need of people who are taking their laptops to different rooms of the house to different places, to the den, to the deck to the carpets on the floor.”

BlueTrack is currently used in three products: the new Explorer and Explorer Mini mice and the X8 gaming mouse. The X8 will not be released until early next year, however.

Microsoft expects the technology to gradually trickle down into the rest of its products.

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Andrew Kliem

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