Computer Scientists and Industrial Designers from the University of Washington have developed a new input device, which they believe could replace the keyboard.
Prof. Catriona Gray is the Lead Scientist on the curious new device, and describes its structure. ‘It’s a small device fabricated from a hard polymer, moulded precisely into a concave shape that fits ergonomically over the thumb. Concealed inside are the elecronics: an accelerometer to detect whether the thumb is pointed up or down, and a bluetooth transmitter which sends this signal to the operating system.’
It really does look and feel just like an old sewing thimble, and fits snugly over this journalist’s thumb. The idea is that you operate your mouse with your right hand, as usual, and place the Thimble™ on your left thumb (or vice versa for left-handers). In this arrangement, it is indeed a simple task to browse the web, scroll down pages and simply give a ‘thumbs up’ or ‘thumbs down’ to indicate your opinion on everything you come across. The Thimble™ detects your thumb’s orientation, passes this input state to the operating system, and it instantly shows up in your web browser. It already works with popular sites such Facebook and Digg (note: not compatible with Internet Explorer 6).
It is so much easier than having to think up words and then type them in by tapping keys—unnecessary effort which may one day, thanks to this device, be a historical curiosity.
Dr. Tom Whyman, who’s PhD thesis led to the design and development of the prototype Thimble™, explained the results of research that motivated him to work on new ways to interact with information.
‘People are clearly bored of typing, and of having to use words to let people know what they think. It just takes too long; there’s too much stuff to have an opinion on. The keyboard is becoming redundant. It’s so old; older than the internet!’
Dr. Whyman’s studies highlighted a small but significant proportion of users whose levels of ‘liking’ are predicted to cause problems using only current interaction methods. He gave the example of Tristan Burke, a test case who stood out in his analysis.
‘Tristan is someone we would describe as a “Power Liker”. He has to click mouse buttons hundreds of times a day to indicate his positive or negative opinion of all the articles, videos, photos and status updates he comes across. This could lead to serious RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury) problems in a few years, and in the worst case he may suffer permanent damage to his “liking muscles” and have to spend the rest of his life in an unfortunate state of ambivalence. We hope that the Thimble™ will allow Tristan, and thousands of others, to like things well into their old age.’
Large, established hardware firms including Dell, Microsoft and Logitech have already enquired into licensing the intellectual property of Thimble™, which is patented to Prof. Gray and Mr. Whyman’s startup company ‘Tristan Burke Likes This, Inc.’, incorporated last month. Apple were rumoured to be looking into the feasibility of sculpting Thimbles™ from single blocks of aluminum or shiny white plastic before moving for the new technology.
We look forward to the Thimble™ becoming a standard item on every computer desk. And as for Tristan? ‘Tristan Burke likes this.’