Pranav Mistry, Pattie Maes and Liyan Chang from MIT's Media Lab have managed to create an invisible computer mouse for just a few dollars. Using an Infrared laser and tracking camera, the Mouseless system registers and interprets a user's hand movement and translates it into onscreen actions such as cursor movement and button clicking.
While others take the familiar input peripheral to new levels by cramming as many buttons as possible onto it or making the surface available for multi-touch interaction or even moving the whole experience to the end of a user's leg, Pranav Mistry and colleagues have dispensed with its physical form altogether.
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With their Mouseless prototype, a user's hand movements are tracked with a line-capped Infrared laser beam and an Infrared camera. The beam's plane is aimed just above the surface of the user area and when the user cups the hand, as if holding a physical mouse, this breaks the beam at the points where each finger touches the surface The camera then registers and interprets the changing field shapes and translates them into movement or action, such as clicking and double-clicking.
The developers are continuing to improve the tracking and recognition algorithms to build up a library of commands, possibly leading to multi-touch gesturing in addition to simple click confirmation.
The prototype system is said to have cost just US$20 to put together and can be seen in action in the following demonstration: