Experimental Computer Interfaces

    Here's the dirt: the computer as we know it has been around for around 15 years. But in that time, and digital computers have been around since the 1970s. In that time the way we interact with our computers has stayed more or less the same. Type in stuff using a keyboard, and more recently use a mouse to point, click and drag. Despite the massive leaps in other areas of computer technology, these things have pretty much stayed the same. Wireless devices and trackballs may seem different, but they really are just variations on the same theme.

    But how exactly would you interact with a computer if you're not going type in commands or use a mouse? The first thing comes into mind s of course Star Trek stlye voice interface. But this isn't nearly as simple as it sounds. Not only is the technology far from being suitable for daily use, there are a number of practical difficulties. Firstly, do you really want to be talking to your computer all the time? Can you imagine how incredibly noisy it will be in offices with everyone talking all the time? And just think about how impossible it will be to carry on a converstion with your spouse while checking your email. So voice intefaces might be cool for "computer, microwave my food NOW" but you wouldn't want to use it all the time. (Besides, no sane programmer would dictate all his code)

    So, if we're not going to use our mouths to get our work done, we'll just use the next best thing, namely, our hands. Remember the holographic computer interface from Minority Report? Looked cool right? Well, here's the news, a company is actually making something quite similar. Now that could be quite nice, not to mention fun (a bit like dancing i suppose) and you probably would get a fair bit of exercise as well, with moving your arms about like that. But then again there are practical problems. Seriously, how many of us would give over one of our walls to a souped up computer screen? And standing up and doing a weird dance, just to put out a blog post? No thanks. It might be good for specialized things, like movie editing where it would be great to drag and join various segments quickly, but not really for everyday use. And besides, the electricity bills that would bring up would make it prohibitively expensive. 

    The fact of the matter is that the keyboard mouse combo is really a damn good way to inerface with your computer. And you really can't get a way of putting down information that is more efficient than typing it out. Sure you can save it as an audio or video file, but editing them really isn't the easiest thing in the world. So is the keyboard here to say? Not so fast! While we've been all out checking the hip and cool and futuristic interfaces, there's been something that's been staring us in the face, literally: the computer screen. Look at this way, the main parts of our interface are the screen, the mouse and the keyboard.So why not roll them into one? The touchscreen! Sure the tablet PC and Microsoft's Origami ave flunked pretty badly, but that doesn't mean the concept is bad. Imagine a screen built into your tabletop, which can be raised to a small angle. Most of the time it acts as a normal screen, you simply use your fingers to find your way about (the details of navigation will be dependent on the software). When you need a keyboard, the bottom third of the screen is taken over by a transparent onscreen keypad, and the best thing is that the since the keyboard is software based, you could easily change it for different purposes and maybe make specialized keypads for gaming, graphics work oreven blogging. And you can say goodbye to moving your eyes up and down from the screen to your keyboard and no more moving your hand from the keyboard to mouse every once in a while. 

    If you have any other ideas, tell me about it and I might feature it. 

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Published by

Shrutarshi Basu

Programmer, writer and engineer, currently working out of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.

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