3DTouch is the computer mouse of the future

A pair of students at the University of Wyoming have developed 3DTouch, an intelligent device that enables wearers to interact three-dimensionally with their computers.

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Dating back to the 1960s, Doug Engelbert’s mouse has dominated the way in which humans have communicated with their PCs. Though 3DTouch has an optical flow sensor that measures movement against a two-dimensional surface similar to its ancestral device, the smart thimble will now let a wearer control an onscreen mouse with a wave, tap or poke of a finger. Even cooler? Having more than one 3DTouch on different fingers facilitates multi-touch interaction.

Connected to an Arduino Uno (ATmega328) controller, the input device is equipped with a 3D accelerometer, magnetometer and gyroscope. This allows the data from each sensor to be compared and combined to produce a far more precise estimate of orientation than a single measurement alone.

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This data is then streamed to a conventional laptop or desktop PC. Yet, the Maker duo are cognizant of the device’s bulkiness. “This wired connection later could be replaced by a wireless solution using a pair of XBee modules.”

The designers have tested the pointing accuracy of the new device and so far so good, claiming it’s possible to move a 3D object within an 84 x 84mm target area with a positioning error of only about 1 mm.

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While 3DTouch may not the first accessory seeking to revolutionize the way we interact with our cyber world, it does possess a trifecta of unique benefits including its modularity, its flexibility in supporting multiple form factors, and its ability to open new design opportunities for the wearable interaction space. In fact, the team cites examples such as adorning 3DTouch to an index finger and using the palm of the other hand as the touch surface, or wearers interacting with curved surfaces.

“But the 3DTouch has a big advantage: price. While these other designs depend on technology that can cost anywhere from hundreds to tens of thousands of dollars, the 3DTouch relies upon sensors that cost pennies on the dollar. Even better, the thimble works just fine on today’s computers.”

3DTouch

So, the question is: Can this DIY device lead to the obsolescence of the computer mouse?

“[It] is designed to fill the missing gap of a 3D input device that is self-contained, mobile and universally working across various 3D platforms,” its creators conclude. “With 3DTouch, we attempted to bring 3D interaction and applications a step closer to users in everyday life.”

Interested in learning more? You can access the duo’s entire paper from the Cornell Library here.

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