|Publication number||USRE40324 E1|
|Application number||US 11/409,542|
|Publication date||May 20, 2008|
|Filing date||Apr 20, 2006|
|Priority date||Apr 3, 2001|
|Also published as||US6724366, US20020140668|
|Publication number||11409542, 409542, US RE40324 E1, US RE40324E1, US-E1-RE40324, USRE40324 E1, USRE40324E1|
|Inventors||Peter James Crawford|
|Original Assignee||Dhol New Ventures, Llc|
|Export Citation||BiBTeX, EndNote, RefMan|
|Patent Citations (33), Non-Patent Citations (17), Referenced by (88), Classifications (16), Legal Events (5)|
|External Links: USPTO, USPTO Assignment, Espacenet|
This invention relates to a computer input device. More specifically the present invention is an ergonomic hand controller pointing device with functionality that enables it to replace current pointing devices such as a mouse or a digitizer pad. The present invention is less taxing to the user to minimize fatigue even during a protracted period of continuous use.
Many computer applications require or accept input beyond the input of text from a keyboard. The types of input vary but the input can be broadly categorized as point and click. The pointing device couples an x-y position on the display with input from an actuator on the pointing device (although some computer keyboards have designated keys to duplicate some actuators for the pointing devices). Thus, an x-y position of a position icon on a display screen is combined with an input of some type from the actuator in order to select something such as a command or menu choice from a series of such choices, a piece of text, or a drawing element. This selection is known as a “point and click” operation. Thus, input devices used for this sort of input are often called “pointing devices”. Often the act of selection can be coupled with one of several command choices from one or more actuators on the point device. Sometimes these commands are a sequence of selection indications from an input so that a single click, double click and even a triple click can convey different requests. Sometimes maintaining pressure on an actuator is interpreted as a different command, for example a drag instead of a click. Sometimes alternative input actuators on the pointing device are used (so that a right click from an actuator typically on the right side of the pointing device is processed differently than a left click). In some cases, some input commands are relatively insensitive to the specific position of the position icon on the computer display such as in applications that allow a “right click” to bring up a menu or frequently used commands that are relevant to the current state of the application. Such a pointing device can be used to input commands into a wide range of applications including those operating on distributed computer terminal workstations, personal computers, games and amusement devices, and other equipment with need for user input.
One such printing device is the mouse, which is moved by the user's hand across a work surface such as a desktop. Some mouse pointing devices need or benefit from moving the mouse over a special mouse pad located on the user's desktop. The movement of the mouse is detected and communicated to the computer so that an indicator on the display screen moves. The position indicator can be something simple such as cursor, a cross hair or a more fanciful indicator ranging up to a cartoon character. For sake of simplicity, we shall call this symbol a position icon. With practice, the user can move the mouse to move the position icon over various choices, text, or locations so that one or more movements of the user's fingers can couple an input command with the location choice to make a request to be acted upon by the computer application.
The invention of the mouse is attributed to Doug Englebart as part of work done for NSA in the mid 1960's. While the mouse was a large improvement over other pointing devices such as light pens, the repetitive motions required to place the position icon in the desired location and the movements to couple an input command with the selected location have been linked with repetitive motion injuries to some computer users. The problems are particularly acute among users who use a mouse pointing device frequently as is the case with people who use such a device as part of their occupation. The unresolved problems from use of the mouse and alternative prior art pointing devices is discussed in more detail below.
In light of the popularity of the mouse as a pointing device since its invention in the mid-1960s, and the recurrent problems of repetitive motion injuries, there have been many attempts to improve the device to account for the interaction between the mouse or mouse alternatives and the human body. This trend has continued as interaction with computers in certain applications such as computer aided drafting or browsing the World Wide Web portion of the Internet may require many point and click operations and very few text input operations, thus increasing the importance of the mouse design in minimizing repetitive motion injuries. The improvements have refined the initial design but do not eliminate the adverse effects of repetitive use. A brief description of selected attempts to improve the mouse is included below.
U.S. Pat. No. 4,862,165 for an Ergonomically—Shaped Hand Controller issued in 1989. The '165 patent reviews the prior art designs for hand controllers or mouse devices and finds that the shape of the prior art mouse was not ergonomically compatible with the user's hand. The proposed solution is an alteration to the outer housing of the mouse which is asserted to be ergonomically shaped to minimize hand muscle fatigue even during protracted periods of continuous use.
U.S. Pat. No. 5,287,090 for a Combination Mouse and Track Ball Unit was issued in 1994. The '090 patent asserts that the combined mouse/trackball device of the '090 patent particularly reduces the onset and severity of or can prevent entirely repetitive strain injuries, and other neurological or orthopedic malfunctions such as tendonitis and tenosynovitis that are commonly related to usage of a flat and rectangular-type mouse. The '090 device may operate as a trackball, as a right handed mouse or a left handed mouse. In brief, the device had a track ball that protruded through the bottom of the device to act as an input when in mouse mode and also protruded through the face of the device distal to the arm of the user to serve as a thumb operated track ball. When operated as a mouse, the user moves the mouse to indirectly turn two slotted wheels positioned at right angles to one another to provide input to move the position icon. The '090 device uses a pair of V-shaped switch plates (best shown in '090 FIG. 5) which actuate microswitches located below the switch plates to convey as input command from the user. Thus, operation in mouse mode to supply the x-y input called for gross motion of the mouse using the various muscles in the arm to move the hand.
When the user chooses to move the '090 device to trackball mode, several “bullet switches” are caused to extend from the device to lift the mouse movement detector from the surface of the desk. The trackball mode required manipulation of the trackball with the thumb of the user.
U.S. Pat. No. 5,414,445 for an Ergonomic Pointing Device assigned to Microsoft Corporation was issued in 1995. The '445 patent asserts that by enlarging and modifying the shape of a mouse that the user's fatigue will be decreased through positioning the user's lower palm on a work surface such that the user's hand plane is supported by the pointing device and the user's fingers are placed in a neutral posture to control the keys on the device without the need to compress or reach. The '445 patent notes that every user is different in physical size and physical proportions and suggests that the solution is a one that does not force user's into a tightly defined “grip architecture”.
U.S. Pat. No. 5,530,455 for a Roller Mouse for Implementing Scrolling in Windows Applications assigned to Mouse Systems Corporation issued in 1996. The '455 patent adds a roller to the mouse on the top front of the mouse so that the roller is within finger reach of the three input control switches. The mouse is used in a conventional way to provide x-y input to move the icon on the display. Operation of the roller moves the displayed image in the y direction on the display (“scrolling”), of if the thumb is depressing a “shift” key the movement of the roller causes the displayed image to move in the x-y direction (“panning”).
U.S. Pat. No. 5,570,112 for Ergonomic Computer Mouse issued in 1996. The '112 patent teaches changing the mouse design from a hard outer housing to a soft foam rubber pad intended to support the wrist and palm of the user in comfort. The rubber pad is covered by a thin fabric material and otherwise operates as a conventional mouse.
U.S. Pat. No. 5,576,733 for Ergonomic Computer Mouse issued in 1996. The '733 patent attempts to minimize fatigue, discomfort and pain from sessions of extended mouse use by changing the orientation of the user's hand from generally parallel to the desk or work surface to a generally upright hand with the four fingers of the user's hand in extended but slightly bent positions in a generally upright stack with the thumb supported on the opposite side of the mouse.
U.S. Pat. No. 5,726,683 for Ergonomic Computer Mouse assigned to Midas Mouse International Pty issued in 1998. The '683 patent teaches a mouse with a smooth hard, curved housing that allows the mouse to be gripped with the ring and little finger on one face of the mouse opposing the thumb on the opposite face. The index and middle finger are curved over the top and front face of the mouse where the one or more buttons are located. While the applicants for the '683 patent assert that it is measurably superior to other commercial mouse products as indicated by EMG activity level studies, the mouse requires an x-y motion of the hand to effectuate an x-y input as do other prior art mice.
Other Pointing Devices
U.S. Pat. No. 5,543,590 for an Object Position Detector with Edge Motion Feature assigned to Synaptics, Incorporated issued in 1996 as one of several related patent applications arising from an application field in 1992. The '590 patent describes an input pad for receiving x-y input and tap signals as an alternative to a mouse type device. As it is a capacitance sensing system, the sensing mechanism does not require that the user actually touch the surface of the touchpad in order for the mechanism to sense the user's finger. The patent asserts that this feature can be used to reduce strain on the user. The text of the patent (such as column 27) describe the implementation of a “glide” feature whereby a user can slide the user's finger onto one of the outer edges of the pointing device to input a “glide” command to have the position icon move in the indicated direction as long as the user's finger remains in this perimeter position. Thus the touchpad effectively has an x-y input zone for translating movements of the finger tip into x-y movements of the icon on the displayed image, and several predefined “edge motion” glide input zones for the user to input an ongoing request for continued movement of the icon in any of the corresponding directions as long as the user's finger remains in the glide input zone.
U.S. Pat. No. 5,748,185 for Touchpad with Scroll and Pan Regions assigned to Stratos Product Development Group issued in 1998. The '185 patent teaches the use of a cursor control region, a scroll control region, and a pan control region, defined as separate areas in a touchpad. Movement of the contact point in the cursor control region causes movement of the cursor in the graphical user interface. Movement of a contact point in a scroll control or pan control region causes scrolling or panning respectively of the workspace in the Graphical User Interface (GUI).
U.S. Pat. No. 5,943,052 for Method and Apparatus for Scroll Bar Control assigned to Synaptics Incorporated issued in 1999. It teaches the use of a scroll zone having a central axis defined on a touchpad. The patent teaches the use of software to scroll the information in an active window owned by the operating system or software application. The software is adapted to not scroll based on finger input that is not substantially parallel to the axis of the scroll zone.
U.S. Pat. No. 6,031,518 for Ergonomic Input Device assigned to Microsoft Corporation issued in 2000. The disclosed device is like a mouse in that it is a pointing device to be placed on top of the work space and is shaped to accommodate the geometry of the hand and fingers. Unlike a mouse, it does not require x-y motion of the mouse to effectuate an x-y motion of the position icon on the display. The actuators on this device are: a track ball positioned to be manipulated by the index finger, keys positioned to be operated by the thumb, and a scrolling wheel positioned to be operated by the middle finger. As shown best in
Thus, while there have been many incremental improvements to the mouse device as well as a search for mouse alternatives such as devices employing touchpads, there are longstanding and previously unsolved problems with prior pointing devices.
Problems Associated with Prior Art Solutions
Applicant hereby incorporates by reference the following articles and will subsequently refer back to these references as REF1 through REF7, respectively.
The growing occurrence of computer-related conditions such as repetitive stress injury (RSI), tendinitis, bursitis and carpal tunnel syndrome is a serious problem. If not remedied, these injuries to the hands, wrists, arms and shoulders can become permanently debilitating. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), repetitive motion disorders in American office workers have doubled between 1987 to 1997. (See REF1) In 1997, over 11,000 people were reported to have missed work due to computer-related ailments. (See REF2) However, the number of unreported cases and workers who endured the pain on the job is likely much higher than that figure. Unfortunately, office workers are not the only group of computer users at risk.
The growing requirements for students to use computers is also taking a toll. A recent study conducted by Dr. Erik Peper, Ph.D. of San Francisco State University indicated that 30 percent of the university's students suffer from intense hand and wrist discomfort as a result of using computers for schoolwork. (See REF3). Additionally, the BLS suspects that home computer and Internet users are at risk for similar problems, but as yet no data is available.
Public awareness of computer-related injuries is growing. This awareness is emphasized by a recent government drive to reduce RSI in the workplace, including those related to computer use. In 1996, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) established a standard requiring employers to minimize recurrent repetitive stress problems at work (including office work). On the state level, California has passed laws to increase employer responsibilities further, and several other states have followed suit.
It is well known that using a computer mouse causes a large proportion of the repetitive stress injuries among computer users. Public concern about mouse-related injuries has spurred a new market in ergonomically alternative pointing devices. New government pressures on employers is also fueling this market growth. As a result, Internet and retail stores are promoting a variety of “ergonomic” pointing devices. Most of these devices represent only minor variations of conventional designs, however, and are of limited benefit to computer users subject to repetitive stress injuries.
Ergonomic Problems Associated with Pointing Devices
The nation's leading experts in computer ergonomics recognize several major pointing device problems that contribute to repetitive stress disorders. Although some of these problems overlap, they can generally be attributed to eight different ergonomic factors. These eight factors include arm/wrist movement, device placement, small muscle/tendon movement, joint position, small exertions, muscle tension, body posture and localized pressure. The following subsections describe each factor as it relates to popular pointing devices.
1. Arm/Wrist Movement
Pete W. Johnson, Ph.D., of the University of California at Berkeley and the San Francisco Ergonomics Lab in Richmond has found that conventional mouse use causes shoulder pain and injury in computer users. He attributes the distress to the repetitive arm movements that slide the mouse around the mouse pad. Dr. Johnson has found that shoulder problems are reduced with the use of stationary pointing devices such as trackballs. (See REF4 at page 2)
2. Device Placement
The placement of a pointing device relative to the user is recognized as an important factor in computer ergonomics. Professor Alan Hedge, Ph.D., of Cornell University's Department of Design and Environmental Analysis Ergonomics Laboratory emphasizes the need to keep the pointing device in a comfortable, convenient location. He says it is important in the prevention of repetitive stress disorders to keep the wrist straight and the arm close to the body. (See REF6 at pages 3 and 5). Additionally, Dr. Johnson has found that repetitive stress problems are reduced when the device is operated near the centerline of the body and no higher than the keyboard. He warns, however, that many computer workstations do not provide a safe space in which to operate the device. (See REF5) Overreaching for a poorly located pointing device is a common problem among computer users, he notes. Unfortunately, nearly all mice and trackballs are desktop devices that are operated on whatever surface the work area allows. Ideally, the hands should rest easily in the lap as much as possible.
3. Small Muscle/Tendon Movement
Some devices that minimize arm and wrist movement do so at the expense of the small muscles and the flexor and extensor tendons that work the fingers. Typical trackball devices are arranged so that the thumb or forefinger (also known as index finger) must make a kicking motion to rotate the ball and send the cursor vertically across the screen. With this kicking motion, joints are repeatedly over flexed, applying undue stress and friction to tendons and joints. Dr. Johnson discourages the use of thumb-oriented trackballs for this reason. (See REF4 at page 2). Kicking also requires the greatest amount of flexor and extensor tendon travel through the carpal tunnel, which can initiate or aggrevate carpal tunnel syndrome.
4. Joint Position
Joints, muscles and tendons experience stress and fatigue when held in unnatural positions for extended periods of time. Chris Grant, Ph.D., of F-One Ergonomics in Ann Arbor, Mich., attributes many stress problems to “non-neutral” joint postures. As a solution, Dr. Grant has found it best to keep wrist and finger joints positioned near the center of travel. (See REF7 at page 2).
According to Dr. Johnson, using desktop devices such as mice and trackballs encourage undesirable wrist extension. (See REF4 at page 2) This unnatural stretch puts harmful stress on joints, tendons and the sensitive carpal tunnel. Further compounding the problem, most mice keep fingers extended well beyond their natural position. In general, any repeated, awkward reaching or bending will cause problems in the body. Additionally, Professor Hedge emphasizes the need to keep the elbow at a right angle or straighter to prevent compressing the nerves near the joint. (See REF6 at page 3). Unfortunately, most pointing devices are desktop-operated and often keep the elbow at a less desirable, acute angle.
5. Small Exertions
Dr. Grant has found that sudden, little exertions can damage small muscles and tendons and should be avoided or minimized. (See REF7 at page 2). Even the repeated force of clicking or holding mouse buttons should not be ignored. With today's graphical, mouse-oriented computing environment, injuries from excessive clicking and dragging operations have become a serious problem. To reduce soreness in fingers and tendons, Dr. Johnson recommends using a mouse that requires the least amount of activation force to clock and hold the buttons. (See REF4 at page 2).
6. Muscle Tension
Constant muscle tension in the hands, arms and shoulders is another serious contributing factor. Dr. Hedge and Dr. Grant stress the benefits of keeping limbs and shoulders as relaxed and loose as possible. (See REF6 at page 3 and REF7 at page 2). The design of many mice and trackballs encourage gripping the device to better control the cursor. For this reason, Dr. Johnson urges users to let go of the device when not navigating. (See REF6 at page 5). Any pointing device should be held lightly when in use. Ideally, the experts agree, the hand should be in a neutral, relaxed position as much as possible between and during input actions.
7. Body Posture
Good posture is the basis of ergonomic computer use, according to Professor Hedge. (See REF6 at page 3) A good sitting posture is not stiff, but balanced and relaxed. Good posture minimizes prolonged stresses in the body, especially where skeletal support muscles are involved. In practice, however, many mice and trackballs are situated to encourage the user to slump or lean forward when reaching for them.
8. Localized Pressure
Dr. Grant stresses the importance of minimizing pressures localized to small parts of the body. He especially urges users not to support their wrists or elbows on edges or smaller surfaces. He advises against trying to offset the drawbacks of desktop pointing devices by using wrist rests. (See REF7 at pages 2 and 4) Wrist rests tend to apply pressure to the soft underside of the wrist compressing nerves together with moving tendons. Such a situation can easily compound repetitive stress problems.
Ergonomic Problem Summary
In summary, computer ergonomics experts agree them mouse-user interaction needs to be improved to reduce the stresses and irritation associated with repetitive-motion injuries. A more relaxed and natural hand and wrist position, minimal motion in the arm, wrist and fingers, and minimal button activation (or “clicking”) pressure are essential properties of a truly ergonomic pointing device. Reaching should be eliminated altogether. Shoulder and arm stresses can be reduced by using a stationary pointing device that is centrally located close to the body. A lower, centralized location encourages the most beneficial body posture and reduces elbow bend and related nerve pinching. Ideally, users would sit and work with their hands relaxed and partially open in the lap.
It is, therefore, an object of this invention to provide a pointing device that is easier and more comfortable to use than existing pointing devices. It is another object of this invention to provide a pointing device that will minimize any fatigue experienced by the user.
It is an object of this invention to eliminate the need for repetitive arm movements to move the pointing device in order to control the x-y position of a position icon on a computer display.
It is an object of this invention to allow the user to place the pointing device in a comfortable convenient location including a location with the wrist straight, arm close to the body, and preferably with the hand resting easily in the user's lap.
It is an object of this invention to provide a pointing device that does not overwork the small muscles and the flexor and extensor tendons of the fingers such as occurs in the kicking motion to rotate a trackball to move the position icon a large amount on the display screen.
It is an object of this invention to avoid the imposition of stress and fatigue on joint muscles and tendons attributed to maintaining “non-neutral” joint positions.
It is an object of this invention to use actuators in the pointing device that require less activators force to “click” or hold than the activators found in prior art mouse devices.
It is an object of this invention to develop a pointing device that can be used by users with a variety of hand sizes.
It is an object of this invention to develop means for adjusting the pointing device to increase the range of hand sizes that can comfortably use a particular size of the pointing device.
It is an object of this invention to provide a pointing device that avoids the imposition of constant muscle tension in the hands, arms, or shoulders of the user by allowing the user to hold the pointing device in a neutral, relaxed position as much as possible.
It is an object of this invention to provide a pointing device that does not encourage placement on a desktop such that the user must lean forward, stretch or reach to use the pointing device.
It is an object of this invention to minimize the pressures localized to the wrist when using the pointing device.
These and other advantages of the present invention are apparent from the detailed description that follows.
The present invention takes the functionality of a mouse-type pointing device and places these functions in a pointing device that avoids the various demands on the user's body as described above. The net effect is to minimize the harmful, and repetitive shoulder, arm, hand or finger movements associated with the use of most computer pointing devices. The present invention is an entirely new pointing device that takes advantage of existing technologies to help avoid many irritating aches, pains, and ailments associated with other pointing devices. Rather than being slid around on a mouse pad or being restricted to desktop use, the present invention is designed to be used with the hand resting in the lap so that the hand, while the wrist and arm remain in a natural and comfortable stationary position.
In the present invention, the housing or shell of the device comprises an upright, rectangular portion that extends upward from a horizontal grip-shaped main body portion.
The upright portion of the device presents an x-y input sensor to the user. This x-y input sensor may be a trackball, touchpad or other device with similar function. The user hold the device by wrapping fingers around the main body portion with the thumb on top extending forward toward the upright portion of the device. The x-y input unit is controlled with light movements of the thumb tip. The index and middle fingers rest in grip-like channels on the bottom of the main body. (Note, the middle finger is sometimes called the second finger). These channels contain zero-force touch switches that act as left and right mouse buttons for the two fingers.
In a preferred embodiment of the invention, a third touch switch located near the thumb causes the first two touch switches function like a scroll wheel found on the typical modem computer mouse. Thus, the user can efficiently scroll through windowed computer applications. Electronic auditory or vibratory feedback alerts the user to touch switch activation thereby giving the zero-force switches a simulated tactile feel.
Also in the preferred embodiment, a unique wedge-shaped fin protrudes upward from the side of the main body of the device. This fin fits comfortably into the user's palm beneath the thumb to stabilize the device and to accommodate varying user hand sizes.
The present invention, hereinafter “pointing device” is best suited to graphically-oriented computer use wherein the “point”, “click”, “drag” and “scroll” operations associated with computer input devices consume more time than direct, keyboard text editing. Such uses may include graphically oriented programs for design, drafting, art, and programming. Other uses include, but are not limited to, operations with navigation and selection primarily by point and click, such as navigation and use of Internet sites and providing input applications such as web based television. For activities with significant input via the keyboard, a desktop mouse may be simultaneously connected through the computer's serial port or universal serial bus port for convenience, so that the hand does not need to move repetitively from lap to desktop and back. As shown in
The pointing device makes the best of the body's natural tendencies. Its shape fits the contours of the hand when relaxed in the lap so that no joints or tendons are stressed. Use of the present invention allows the elbow to rest at a preferably obtuse angle close to the body without constantly having to reach for a desktop device. There is no stress to the wrist from over extending, and a more upright body posture is naturally encouraged. The arm and hand are supported comfortably in the lap to reduce the various stresses associated with holding mice, trackballs and touch pads that rest flat on a desktop. Since the device is operated from the lap, users are not adversely impacted by limited desk space.
The preferred embodiment of the invention comprises a plastic housing, a cursor navigation unit for x-y input, three small switches or buttons and internal electronics and cable with which to interface the device with a computer. The plastic housing is to be cast and constructed using methods and materials known to the pointing device industry.
The particular preferred embodiment of the invention shown in the accompanying figures and related text is configured for use with the right hand. However, it can be understood that the invention can be configured for use with the left hand by production of a device that is a mirror image of the device shown. Furthermore, the present invention is limited to the physical configuration of the pointing device and the way the various input actuators are placed in juxtaposition to the fingers to minimize fatigue. The electrical, electromechanical, and software interfaces necessary to convey the input signals to a computer application are well known in the art. To the extent that minor variations are necessary from existing device interfaces to create the necessary software interface (driver), and to integrate a pointing device as described below with computer systems, such a variation can be done by those of suitable training and experience without undue experimentation.
In order to promote clarity in the description, common terminology for components is used. The use of a specific term for a component suitable for carrying out some purpose within the disclosed invention should be construed as including all technical equivalents which operate to achieve the same purpose, whether or not the internal operation of the named component and the alternative component use the same principles. The use of such specificity to provide clarity should not be misconstrued as limiting the scope of the disclosure to the named component unless the limitation is made explicit in the description or the claims that follow.
In order to provide orientation, the following convention will be used in this specification and the claims that follow:
As held properly in the user's right hand,
Bottom, when referencing a view indicates looking upward at the device from below as it is held by the user.
The fingers curve around the ‘grip’ portion of the device. The index finger 108 and middle finger 112 are positioned in grip-like shallow troughs or channels that orient the device properly in the hand and position the pads of those fingers over the ‘mouse button’ like switches. These mouse-button switches, or components thereof, may be constructed to slide a short distance within each channel to accommodate variations in finger length. The remaining two fingers (ring finger 116 and little finger 120) gently wrap around the device to support it against the palm leaving the index finger 108, middle finger 112 and thumb 104 free to operate the controls.
In the preferred embodiment of the present invention, the housing or shell of the device comprises an upright or vertical, rectangular x-y input portion 206 that extends upward from a horizontal, somewhat grip-shaped main body portion 214.
The x-y input portion of the device 206 is a flat, rectangular box rimmed on the front with a rectangular bezel that frames a rectangular touchpad. The overall width and height of the x-y input portion 206 are governed by the dimensions of the touchpad used. The touchpad is oriented with its x-axis horizontal and its y-axis vertical. The x-y input portion 206 is between 0.5 cm. and 3 cm. thick depending on the range of position adjustment provided for the touchpad. Extending through the back of the x-y input portion 206 are three adjustment screws positioned in a triangular arrangement. (see
The x-y input portion 206 is approximately 8-cm. wide and 7 cm. tall including the contiguous lower back end of the main body. The size and shape of the x-y input portion may be varied to accommodate different touchpad sizes and may be concave to hold a curved or flexible touchpad used to better fit the arc of thumb-travel.
As viewed from the front, the main body 214 extends forward from the bottom of the bezel; conversely, the x-y input portion 206 extends vertically from the back end of the main body. The main body 214 is shaped to fit the contours of the user's right hand with the fingers curved together into a the open grip position shown in FIG. 1. In this position, the thumb is at the top and extends straight roughly 1.5 cm. above, and perpendicular to, the second bone of the index finger 110 (see FIG. 1). Also in this position, the thumb rests on the top surface of the main body 214 with the thumb tip 124 touching the bottom center of the touchpad. The bottom surface of the main body has a grip shape that bulges in the middle and that has channels defined by ridges. There is a molded channel 216 to position the index finger 108 and a molded channel 220 to position the middle finger 112 in a grip-like fashion. These finger channels are roughly 5 cm. long and lie nearly perpendicular to the length of the main body 214.
As viewed from above, the main body extends from the touchpad at an angle to the left of between 90 degrees and 115 degrees from the direction of the x-axis. As viewed from the right, the top surface of the main body 214 extends horizontally from the bezel approximately 4 cm., providing a surface for the thumb to rest on. It then gently arcs downward to blend with the lower front end of the main body 214. Overall, the middle of the main body 214 is approximately 5 cm. to 8 cm. wide with an average vertical thickness of approximately 3.5 cm., and the overall length is at least 10 cm. These dimensions may be varied to fit a wider range of hand sizes if needed.
In a highly preferred embodiment, there is also a prominent, narrow fin protruding vertically from the upper right edge of the main body. (see
This fin 210 helps to position the device properly in the hand and prevents the device from rolling out of position toward the palm. For this reason, the fin 210 provides stability so that the hand may remain relaxed, yet hold the device steady with the thumb and first two fingers remaining free to operate the controls.
A second function of the palm film 210 is to accommodate varying hand sizes. The tapered shape of the palm fin 210 allows a larger size hand to obtain the preferred open-grip posture. The wider hand will cover more of the taller portion of the fin thereby keeping the hand open enough so the longer fingers will not wrap too far around the main body. Conversely, a smaller, narrower hand will not extend as far up the tapered fin. The smaller hand will close sufficiently around a shorter portion of the palm fin 210 thereby retaining the desirable open grip as well. Thus, the fingers of various sized hands will wrap around the bottom of the main body 214 with fingertips positioned properly in the channels 216, 220 and with thumb tip 124 properly reaching the touchpad for comfortable navigation.
In this preferred embodiment, the fin 210 emerges from the upper right edge of the main body approximately 6 cm. forward of the touchpad and gently curves upward at an average angle of 60 to 80 degrees from the direction of the x-axis. This curved, top edge is at least 6 cm. long. The apex of the fin 210 is rounded with the 4.5-cm-long front edge turned downward to blend with the lower front edge of the main body. As viewed from the top, the fin 210 appears generally straight, but slightly convex on the right side, and it appears congruent with the right edge of the main body 214.
The size and position of the palm fin 210 or any other portion of the housing can be designed to be adjustable to better fit a variety of hand sizes, or the entire housing may be constructed in varying sizes to better accommodate the range in hand size and shape of the user population.
The pointing device is operated in a stationary position, which is in contrast to the way a mouse is moved in order to provide the x-y movement input. Thus, the user may position the pointing device where comfortable. The preferred method of use would place the user's hand in a comfortable position on the lap so that the weight of the hand is supported on a soft surface close to the user's body. Note that the pointing device would be useable in situations that would not work well with a mouse such as an airplane seat or standing during a presentation where a mouse and mouse pad would be difficult or impossible to use.
The Pointing Device
The computer is likely to have a keyboard 320 for the input of text. In some computer systems the pointing device 200 may be connected to the computer 300 through a connection in the keyboard 320.
In this case, the vertical platform 206 includes a flat, rectangular box rimmed on the front with a rectangular bezel that frames a rectangular touchpad
As best seen in
The Use of the Thumb Tip.
Like the pointing device of the present invention, typical trackballs and touch pads are superior to mice because they keep the arm stationary and reduce the muscle work in the arm when compared with x-y sliding needed for x-y input in a traditional mouse. However, trackballs and touchpads cause unneeded small-muscle strain through compound finger motions. In typical trackballs and touchpads, the placement of the trackball or touchpad adjacent to the pad of the finger or thumb requires all of the digit's joints to be fixed to produce a single vertical cursor movement. Such flexural motion requires a complex combination of muscle and tendon movements. (See
For example, the finger or thumb being used to provide user input must be alternately flexed and extended in a cumbersome kicking motion to achieve vertical movement of the position icon 316 relative to the display image 312.
User input for vertical (y-direction) motion is a particularly common motion as most files, such as text files require much more y-axis navigation than x-axis navigation. While display screens are made sufficiently wide so as to allow a line of text to be displayed at magnification suitable for reading, the length of the text file is often 10 or even 1000 times longer than can be displayed at a legible magnification. Typically, even a one page letter for a standard sheet of office paper is longer than the text that fits within the displayed image of the text at standard magnifications. Thus the input from the user to move up and down the displayed image is perhaps the most frequently performed input motion.
In contrast, the pointing device according to the present invention uses pivotal motion of the thumb to position the cursor.(See
As shown in
Edge Motion Feature
The preferred embodiment of the pointing device has a feature that greatly reduces repetitive stroking with the thumb tip 124 when propelling the cursor across the screen. At the end of the thumb stroke, pointing device 200 allows the user to continue movement of the position icon 316 effortlessly in any of the predefined directions.
One way is to incorporate a touchpad with “edge motion”. Edge motion is a touchpad feature where the x-y input continues as along as the user's finger or thumb is sensed in an edge motion zone. Synaptics Incorporated of San Jose Calif. is one supplier of touchpads with an “edge motion” feature.
The x-y input device 212 of the pointing device 200 in
The size of the various edge motion areas can be changed by configuration software to accommodate the user, and thus may vary from one pointing device to another. Likewise, the perimeter around area 260 may be set to have diagonal edge motion areas in the four corners of the touchpad (not shown), or have the corners inoperative as glide input (not shown) so that glide commands are not based on somewhat ambiguous placement of the thumb tip for example in both the upper and right corner.
One embodiment uses a trackball in place of the touchpad. The trackball is ringed with a plurality of semicircular buttons, which may be nudged by the thumb tip 124 to provide the desired edge motion command as would the edges of the touchpad described above. The trackball variation of the device gives the user a more visual and tactile method of cursor navigation and edge motion capability.
Details on the Zero Force Touch Switches
As discussed above, the problem of small exertions associated with conventional mouse buttons is minimized by the use of zero force touch switches.
In one embodiment of the present invention, the zero force touch switches for index and middle fingers (224 and 228) are immovable metal or composite contacts that detect finger contact from the fingertips or the proximity of the fingertips instead of requiring a forced click as with other pointing device buttons. Note that in the case where actual touch from the user, rather than proximity is required by the sensing mechanism, the actual force applied will be near zero and not zero. This distinction does not alter the fact that the zero force touch switch virtually eliminates the stress imposed on the user's hand by the repetitive action to actuate the zero force touch switch. The positions of the zero force switches may be designed to be adjustable within their respective channels to better accommodate variations in finger length.
As a less desirable, yet economical alternative to one or all of the zero force touch switches, a mouse button type micro-switch with a very light activation force may be used. A micro-switch with performance characteristics equal to or better than those found in the original Microsoft® mouse would suffice.
As with most pointing devices, a controller chip located within the housing of the device converts x-y input signals and “mouse button” inputs into digital information for the computer.
Alternatively, the touch switches can be optically triggered. The preferred embodiment of this alternative uses infrared optics although other wavelengths can be used. Infrared optics are considered very stable under varied conditions. As shown in
As illustrated in
The use of zero force touch switches for providing the clicking and dragging commands popularized by the mouse pointing device has the potential to reduce the fatigue and injury associated with extended mouse use. Another innovative feature of the present invention is to use the zero force touch switches for vertical scrolling.
In today's world of heavy Internet surfing and the use of other scrollbar-intensive applications, mice with scroll wheels have become popular. See, for example U.S. Pat. No. 6,031,518 for Ergonomic Input Device described above that uses a scroll wheel driven by the middle finger. The direct translation of finger movement into scrollbar motion on the screen can save substantial amounts of clicking and dragging work. In addition to convenience, scroll wheel technology can potentially reduce hand movement and associated stresses. Unfortunately, the flexural action of jockeying the wheel with an index finger is similar to the motions described above in connection with moving a trackball. If done with frequency, such a motion of the index finger becomes yet another cause of harmful tendon and joint stress.
As is well known with the various mechanical wheels and rollers of traditional mouse devices, these mechanical implements are sensitive to buildups of dust and dirt within the device.
Superior to a scroll wheel, would be a pair touch switches linked to digital circuitry that generates a pulse matching that of a mouse wheel. With “touch scrolling”, the user can simply touch an “up” or “down” touch switch and hold it as long as scroll movement is desired. Some mouse and touchpad controller chips may already include this circuitry, thus simplifying the addition of scroll touch switches. One example is the Synaptics® MultiSwitch TouchPad Model TM41P-350 pin-out of Connector J1. This touchpad's built in controller chip includes external connections for adding scroll buttons (or touch switches) with a minimum of extra circuitry.
A single “scroll-select” touch switch 232 was added to the top of the pointing device housing beside the thumb platform 208. As seen in
Activation of the scroll select touch switch 232 activates a simple logic circuit, as known to the art, which redirects the function of the zero force touch switches (224 and 228) that normally serve as the right and left “mouse buttons” to instead activate each control scroll input of the mouse or touchpad controller chip. While the scroll select touch switch 232 is activated, activation of one of the two zero force touch switches (224 and 228) provides an upward edge motion signal to scroll up or a downward edge motion signal to scroll down. Thus, the user's fingers remain in the same position whether “clicking and dragging” or scrolling, and no motion is wasted. In the preferred embodiment of this alternative, the scroll select touch switch 232 is a zero force touch switch of the type described above. Note that a pointing device provided with both upward and downward edge motion areas (276 and 268) and a scroll select touch switch 232 may advantageously implement the two edge motion functions with different scrolling speeds so that the upward and downward edge motion areas (276 and 268) operate at a first scroll speed for short scrolling operations and the scrolling using a combination of the scroll select touch switch 232 and zero force touch switches (224 and 228) would operate at a second higher speed to allow for rapid movement.
Optionally the pointing device can be configured so that “double-clicking” the “scroll-select switch” puts pointing device in the popular “auto-scroll” mode wherein scrolling of the underlying image within the active window of the displayed image occurs with the x-y input applied via area 260, (or trackball 280) and any input to edge motion areas (264, 268, 272, or 276). Auto-scrolling differs from normal operation of the pointing device in that an x-y input from any of the above listed inputs would normally first move the position icon 316 to the edge of the active window before scrolling (or panning) the underlying image. In auto-scroll mode the position icon 316 maintains its position relative to the perimeter of the active window while the underlying image is scrolled.
Adjustments for Finger Length
In an alternative embodiment to what is disclosed in
In this embodiment the light source 404 and light sensor 408 are mounted on a carriage 504 that can be moved in a frame 508 relative to the channel 216 in order to move the light beam 420 along the channel towards or away from the wrist so as to adjust for a range of finger lengths. One input means for finger length adjustment is the rotation of an externally accessible adjustment screw 512. The conversation of rotation of the adjustment screw 512 to motion of the carriage 504 can be accomplished by any of the ways known in the art. A simple pin and slot mechanism suitable for small ranges to rotation is shown here but the invention is not limited to that particular embodiment. The screw may be replaced by another input mechanism such as a lever or knob. A rack and pinion arrangement or other alternative would suffice. Electromechanical mechanisms to accomplish the movement, including mechanisms receiving digital input may be suitable for certain applications.
A series of position indicator markings 516 as best seen in
As seen on
Those skilled in the art will recognize that the methods and apparatus of the present invention have many applications and that the present invention is not limited to the specific examples given to promote understanding of the present invention. Moreover, the scope of the present invention covers the range of variations, modifications, and substitutes for the system components described herein, as would be known to those of skill in the art. It is anticipated that other electronic actuators or x-y input devices will be developed or improved subsequent to the filing of this patent such that those components could be advantageously substituted for the components suggested within this patent while staying within the inventive concepts disclosed herein.
The legal limitations of the scope of the claimed invention are set forth in the claims that follow and extend to cover their legal equivalents. Those unfamiliar with the legal tests for equivalency should consult a person registered to practice before the patent authority which granted this patent such as the United States Patent and Trademark Office or its counterpart.
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|U.S. Classification||345/157, D14/405, D14/418, 348/734, 345/173, 345/156, 463/37, 348/601, D14/412|
|International Classification||G06F3/033, G09G5/08|
|Cooperative Classification||G06F3/03547, G06F3/03549, A63F2300/1068|
|European Classification||G06F3/0354P, G06F3/0354T|
|Jul 28, 2006||AS||Assignment|
Owner name: DHOL NEW VENTURES LLC, DELAWARE
Free format text: ASSIGNMENT OF ASSIGNORS INTEREST;ASSIGNOR:CRAWFORD, PETER JAMES;REEL/FRAME:018034/0083
Effective date: 20060324
|Mar 24, 2009||CC||Certificate of correction|
|Sep 23, 2011||FPAY||Fee payment|
Year of fee payment: 8
|Sep 24, 2015||FPAY||Fee payment|
Year of fee payment: 12
|Nov 2, 2015||AS||Assignment|
Owner name: BENHOV GMBH, LLC, DELAWARE
Free format text: MERGER;ASSIGNOR:DHOL NEW VENTURES LLC;REEL/FRAME:036940/0884
Effective date: 20150811