UBC Reports | Vol.
50 | No. 11 |
Dec. 2, 2004
Building a Better Mouse
By Michelle Cook
Consider the computer mouse. Most of us spend hours each
day holding one, yet we rarely give a second thought to how
it feels or looks.
We can thank Stanford engineer Douglas Engelbart for coming
up with the idea, in 1963, for the user-friendly little fellow
and its interactive point-and-click feature that revolutionized
computer use. But, as the ultimate human / machine interface,
forestry professor Philip Evans found the device lacking,
and set out to design a better mouse.
The problem, says Evans, director of UBC’s Centre
for Advanced Wood Processing, is that the mouse is made of
plastic and plastics, while wonderfully versatile, aren’t
Wood, on the other hand, begs to be touched. Its grain and
surface texture, warmth, resilience and characteristic smell
makes it what an interface is supposed to be, compatible with
the components or materials it links. Throughout history,
wood has been the material of choice for many products, and
despite the availability of other more modern, synthetic materials,
it is still preferred in many applications -- banisters, pro-league
baseball bats, sailboat tillers, canoe paddles just to name
a few. Why not the computer mouse too?
Evans did a little digging and was delighted to learn that
the first prototype of Engelbart’s groundbreaking device
was, in fact, hewed out of wood. Albeit ergonomically challenged
by today’s standards, it was a sturdy little block with
two metal wheels and the electrical wire “tail”
that would soon earn it its name. Evans and colleague Zbigniew
Krupowicz set out to update the wood mouse by designing a
fully functional ergonomic optical model with great tactile
and visual appeal.
Since today’s computer-numerically controlled multi-axis
wood processing centres can rapidly machine wood into virtually
any shape, they weren’t limited to any particular form.
The result is four mice that look very much like their plastic
cousins but are made from teak, ebony, purpleheart, and cocobolo
sanded to a super smooth finish. All are fully functional
and plug into a USB port.
Evans says the wood models are pleasant and restful to use,
and the universal response from everyone who cops a feel is
that they want one. But don’t expect to find one of
these caress-able little devices in your Christmas stocking.
Evans has no plans to mass-produce them and the prototypes
are not for sale.