New interface looks to endanger mouse, keyboard

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

The new interface 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 researchers said.

The mouse-eliminating technology was originally developed by UD 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 last five years, along with UD Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering John Elias.

The two are now marketing the interface, dubbed 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 Thursday. The researchers believe that the system is revolutionary in that it mimics humans' natural tendency to use gestures to communicate and interact.

Already, a number of UD students and faculty are using the technology, according to a FingerWorks spokesman.

The system is multitouch, requiring only light, subtle movements, the researchers said. For example, to open a file, the user rotates her hand as if opening a jar, and to maximize or minimize a screen, the user expands or contracts her hand.

However, Elias said that it takes three to four weeks for users to learn how to use the system and some users can't 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 believes that the system could change the way the world does computing, and software makers could eventually start building applications that take advantage of the technology.

According to the researchers, the technology is much more flexible than voice recognition systems, because it is difficult for computers to process speech differences. The iGesture inventors believe that the technology could eventually allow users to gesture passwords only known to them.

FingerWorks is currently marketing both a stand-alone touch pad and touch pads built into nonmechanical 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 US$179 while the iGesture Keyboard is going for $199, according to the company's Web site. The products work on Macintosh, Windows and Linux systems, and require no extra software, FingerWorks said.

Although Elias concedes that the product pricing is high right now, he said with increased sales volume the company hopes to move production offshore and reduce prices.