Mice are not vital computer accessories as long as you know how to use key combinations to open files, but what do you do if your keyboard breaks? In this case a mouse becomes the single device with which you can control your computer.
We’ve all seen different types of mice on Mouse Arena ranging from concepts and fashionable mice to high-end devices like gaming mice, but we didn’t know much about them besides their specifications. I think that now it’s time to go deeper into this subject and learn all about our personal computer mouse.
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A computer mouse is a pointing device that detects 2D motion relatively to a surface and translates it into the pointer’s motion on the display. You will tell me about the Logitech mouse that works in the air. We’ll get to that too, soon.
Computer Mouse History
The history of the computer mouse starts at the Stanford Research Institute in the United States, where many technologies and solutions that are the base of today’s products were invented, such as the Electronic Recording Machine Accounting, the magnetic ink character recognition, the first mobile robot to reason about its actions, the world's first all-magnetic digital computer, world's first electronic computer network, remote surgery, the speech recognition, and many, many others which you can read about on Wikipedia.
One of their innovations is, of course, the first computer mouse designed by Douglas Engelbart in 1963. The patent was published in 1970 and described a wooden shell with 2 metal wheels working as an X-Y position indicator for a display system. Its nickname was “mouse” because of the tail coming out the end. Unfortunately he never received great recognitions for inventing the computer mouse as the patent expired in 1987 and other came out with new designs and different configurations that did not infringe upon the original patent.
William Bill English worked together with Douglas Engelbart at the world’s first mouse design and he built the first prototype, while later, after moving to Xerox PARC, he developed the first mouse ball.
In 1981, the Xerox 8010 Star Information System brought the first computer mouse on the market as part of the Xerox Corporation’s system, which consisted of a bitmapped display, a window-based graphical user interface, mouse, icons, folders, Ethernet networking, file servers, print servers, and e-mail.
There were a few mouse designs which could be considered the world’s first but as they didn’t get the public’s attention and no patent, they just vanished in time. One interesting mouse came from Tom Cranston, Fred Longstaff and Kenyon Taylor, who designed the first trackball in 1952, but as it was included in a secret military project, it wasn’t patented.
How Does a Computer Mouse Work?
Types of Mice
In the history of the computer mouse are several types of mice and I will provide you a brief description.
Mechanical mice like the ball mouse invented by Bill English had a single rotatable ball instead of the external wheels, and as you moved the mouse the ball was turned. It used X and Y rollers, optical encoding disks with light holes, infrared LEDs illuminating the disks, and sensors in charge with gathering light pulses to convert to X and Y velocities.
One of the rollers was detecting the horizontal motion and the other one the vertical motion, which was rotating the encoder wheels to interrupt the optical beams, generating this way electrical signals. The generated signals were then sent to the system via the connection wires, and converted into the cursor’s motion with the help of driver software.
An analog mouse, which is mechanical, uses potentiometers instead of encoder wheels and is compatible with analog joysticks.
The opto-mechanical mice were an improved version of the incremental rotary encoder-based mechanical mice, and use the ball or closed wheels, but they can detect the shaft rotation with the help of an optical encoder, for more reliability.
Optical mice have the LED technology and photo diodes which detect the movement on a surface, replacing the need for moving parts.
At the beginning, optical mice used either infrared LED and a 4-quadrant infrared sensor to detect grid lines printed with infrared absorbing ink on a special metallic surface, while algorithms in the processing unit were calculating the speed and direction, or were based on a 16-pixel visible-light image sensor with integrated motion detection on the same chip, tracking the light dots’ motion on a dark field or printed paper. The first concept couldn’t work perfect if the user moved the pad, and the second one was based on mechanical mice’s system.
Later these optical mice were improved and the modern mouse was created. It is independent of the surface and uses an optoelectronic sensor to take successive pictures of the surface. Optical mice work by illuminating this surface with a LED, while frames changes are processed by the image processing unit from the chip, and then translated into movement on the X/Y axes using an algorithm.
Laser mice replace the LED with an infrared laser diode to illuminate the surface and track 20 times more surface than the optical mice, being more sensitive and increasing the resolution.
Cordless mice used at first a tuning fork to detect movement and featured a switch to deactivate the movement circuitry between uses. Advanced cordless mice were transmitting the data through infrared radiation or radio.
3D mice work with ultrasound and the first model released on the market was the 3D RingMouse. It is wireless and to use it you would have to use a ring on your finger. The ring permitted you to access 3 buttons while keeping it in the air, and the tracking happened in a base station. It disappeared on the market because it didn’t provide enough resolution.
Later the double mice systems appeared and were operable by 2 users in the same time on the same system.
I was saying earlier that the coolest mouse of the moment, in my opinion, is the Logitech MX Air Rechargeable Cordless Air, featured in one of our previous articles. You can use it in the air and this is possible thanks to the unique Freespace motion sensing technology developed by Hillcrest Labs, which consists of a 3D motion sensor capable of translating human natural motions into screen cursor movement.
It is based on several new technologies such as Orientation Compensation for the natural motion control via Micro–Electrical–Mechanical Systems sensors mixed with special designed algorithms for strong control from any position and regardless of the device’s orientation. The Tremor Cancellation permits the mouse to make differences between the intentional and unintentional human movements so that the device will always respond to those intentional only.
According to tests’ results, Freespace motion technology is producing 50% fewer pointing errors than mechanical gyroscope–based devices, improving the pointing speed with up to 20%.
You can read more about it here.
In the present day you can find different types of mice and unique designs on the market including washable mice, foldable mice with calculator, phone-mice, mice with fingerprint reader, cool trackball mice, wireless mice, and mice created with best ergonomics in mind.