UW News

February 8, 2000

New infrared technology could exterminate your computer mouse

Richard Johnston isn’t looking to build a better mousetrap.

He wants to get rid of the mouse, period.

The former University of Washington researcher and founder of a new start-up company called Dot On has found a way to demouse home computers. In its place would be a ring that allows computer users to manipulate their cursor with the lift of a finger – and without taking their hands off the keyboard. The technology also makes computer presentations a breeze with the use of a remote wand, promises to nudge Web TV into the realm of truly convenient entertainment and eases computing for those with disabilities. And then there are potential applications for virtual gaming.

“There are a lot of possibilities for this,” Johnston said. “I show it to people and they get very excited. They all say, ‘I want one of those.'”

Johnston initially obtained a grant from the Washington Technology Center and researched the idea in collaboration with the UW’s Human Interface Technology Lab, where he used to run the lab’s Virtual Retinal Display project.

“That collaboration is something we may continue, as we get more funding, to take this in new directions,” Johnston said.

The concept for the mouseless technology is relatively simple. A tiny camera is mounted at the top of the keyboard, aimed at the user. Inside the camera are light-emitting diodes, or LEDs, which bathe the area in front of the computer with infrared light. Johnston then uses reflective dots – on a ring, wand or headmounted device – to provide a reference point for the computer.

“The computer tracks the reflective dot,” he said. “As you move the dot, the software moves the cursor.” Seated at a computer in his Seattle area office, he performed an impromptu demonstration, placing a small reflective dot on the end of his finger, then moving his finger in small arcs. The cursor on the screen moved in concert.

“See, now my finger is the mouse,” Johnston said. He then placed the dot on his forehead and began tilting his head. “Now my head is the mouse.” Next came his nose. “Now my nose is the mouse.”

The impetus for the dot-tracking technology came from Johnston’s aversion to taking his hand from the keyboard to manipulate a mouse. “It’s not an efficient or natural way to do things,” he said. “It used to just drive me nuts.”

In finger tracking, computer users wear a small ring near the tip of an index finger, the movement of which propels the cursor around the screen. A small key installed on the keyboard near the space bar allows the user to click on an object when the cursor is in position. The method also works with a pencil-size wand, which can move the cursor when the user is not seated at the computer and up to about 30 feet away. The wand uses a button and two reflective dots to click. In addition to bringing convenience and flexibility to presentations, Johnston said the method has promise for such applications as Web TV.

“Right now, viewers move the cursor with a controller similar to what you use for video games,” he said. “This makes it more like a television remote.”

The technology is also being developed for video games, Johnston said. The computer can track as many as 15 dots at once, which opens the door to an abundance of interactive possibilities. “The dots could be lined up on a sword, for example, and the computer could then track the sword movements as the user played the game,” he said.

Johnston started Dot On early in 1999 with independent investor and consultant Steven Hubbard, currently company chairman. The group hopes to have the initial version of the product on the market sometime this year.


For more information, contact Johnston at (425) 681-0559 or rjohnston@doton.com.
A high-resolution color image of the finger-tracking equipment can be found on the Web at http://www.washington.edu/newsroom/news/images/finger-hr.jpeg.