While splitting a keyboard into two distinct zones may well make for more comfortable typing, especially for touch typists like myself, you still need to reach out to the side to grab your mouse and confirm onscreen actions. The Combimouse addresses this by having the right arm of the divided keyboard also serve as an optical mouse.
The consuming passion of Ari Zagnoev, the first patent relating to the Combimouse design was filed back in 1999. Numerous prototypes have since been built, including one that underwent evaluation by Wichita State University in 2003. Though the latter yielded "very promising" results, it wasn't in a fit state for commercial development.
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The designer has been refining and testing his concept ever since, while patiently waiting for the technology that will allow the production of a consumer-ready version to be made available (including advances in thin wall plastics and mold flow analysis software, lighter keyboard technology, improvements in battery life and less power-hungry electronics). Now, Zagnoev and his team (Simon Herron, who is tasked with business development and accounts, and software engineer Roger Larcome) are preparing to enter the final stages in development before the product is released into the marketplace.
In addition to accommodating its share of the QWERTY keys, the left portion of the Combimouse is also home to the 12 F keys and some multimedia control buttons. This module will run on two AA-sized batteries, which should be good for over a year of normal usage. The early prototype images on the company's website also show a scroll wheel underneath the space bar, but this has not made it to the final design.
The rather odd-shaped keyboard/mouse combination to the right features a touch sensor to the side of the grip that activates the mouse functionality when a pinky is detected, moving a cursor around the screen much as you would expect a mouse to do. Specific keys are assigned two or three mouse click button behavior. The latest layout design for the right module shows a click scrolling function activated by one of two keys, with mouse movement determining the scroll direction.
The design team has also indicated that surface-activated scroll is an option currently being considered, perhaps opening up certain keys to similar touch control as, say, Apple's Magic Mouse or Logitech's T620 or T400. A thumb scroll wheel has also been thrown into the pot, but is unlikely to be implemented.
Moving the little finger away from the sensor restores the unit to keyboard mode. The device doesn't move while typing, although actual details of how this is achieved are not being released at this time. The designers are aiming for three months of normal use on one AAA-sized battery.
Combimouse communicates over a 2.4 GHz wireless connection with a USB dongle plugged into a Mac, PC or Linux machine, but future production units may operate via Bluetooth. By default, the combined I/O peripheral will power on in keyboard mode.
Images of the latest working prototype have been intentionally blurred by the designers, since it's a crude mockup and as such is not a good advertisement for the final product. When more polished prototypes have been produced, a photo shoot will doubtless be arranged to show them off.
To that end, the company has launched on Indiegogo to get two of these units built and made ready for independent evaluation. Curtin University will be tasked with putting the prototypes through their paces, under the direction of Professor Leon Straker of the Health Sciences faculty.
A second campaign will be launched to help bring the final pre-production prototype to market, but backers of either campaign will be offered the chance to buy the very first Combimouse units off the production line at a discount price.
A pledge of just US$10 will knock $11 off the cost of the final product. Bumping that pledge up to $80 should be enough to cover the whole of the final purchase price, based on current estimates of a retail cost in the region of $100 (although no manufacturing estimates have yet been provided).
The latest prototype design replaces the palm-filling bulge of the mouse/keyboard unit with a gentle incline, sees its weight reduced to 74 g (2.6 oz), which includes 26 g (0.9 oz) of weights for optimum weight distribution and center of gravity, and cuts the overall height of the keys to 14 mm (with 3 mm of travel) to make typing easier. At present, there are no plans to release a Southpaw version of the Combimouse.
The funding campaign closes on May 20. If the first round target of $20,000 isn't reached, priority will be given to covering the cost of the Curtin evaluation.
The Indiegogo pitch video is shown below.