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Supercharged Pointing, Clicking, And TappingSupercharged Pointing, Clicking, And Tapping

Still using that old-and-busted keyboard and mouse? Check out the new hotness: a world of innovative input devices.

5 Min Read

The Weird And The Wonderful

Some input devices aren't easily categorized -- like the touch screen. IBM tried to introduce a touch-screen system about two decades ago. It was a clunky and unreliable. Sometimes you got what you touched, sometimes you didn't, and sometimes you had to reboot the system. Hardly ready for prime time. Today they're much more accurate and much better protected against moisture, dust, and the general grime and oil that collects on our fingertips.

Touch-screens also don't need to be complete monitors. There are touch-screen overlays available for existing displays and notebooks. Of course, you'll still need mouse-driven application software to interpret the screen touching. (In case you hadn't noticed, your PDA uses a touch screen, as do many smart phones.)

Courtesy of EyeTech.
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EyeTech Digital Systems offers a mouse replacement system called Quick Glance 2 that uses eye motion to position the cursor and either a switch, a wink, or a stare to simulate a mouse-click. Used in conjunction with an application such as Lake Software's Click-N-Type Virtual Keyboard, you can also produce text. Although Quick Glance was designed to help people with disabilities, it can be used in any environment where your hands are tied up but you also need to select or point on-screen. (Think of it as tapping on a PDA, but with a little bit more attention required.)

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If you've ever tried to balance a keyboard on one arm while typing with the other hand because you needed direct access to a rack-mount system, Jameco has a rack-mounted drawer, keyboard, and trackball just for you. At 18 pounds, it better be rack-mounted.

Courtesy of Ergodex.
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Not quite sure what you want to do with your keyboard? Programmables are available, but Ergodex's DX-1 Input System puts them all to shame. Not only are the keys programmable, but you can pick the keys up off the tablet and move them into any configuration you want.

Courtesy of Wacom.
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Keeping to the tablet theme, there's the Wacom Graphire. Technically, it's not a data entry tool so much as a freehand entry device meant to unleash the artist in you. It works with any software that responds to a mouse. And it's Bluetooth-enabled, too.

Courtesy of L3 Systems.
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Feeling a bit like Dick Tracy? Wear one of L3 Systems' alphanumeric keyboards on your wrist. It's protected from the elements, so don't let the rain stop you.

Courtesy of RailDriver.
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On the really special side, there's RailDriver's Desktop Train Cab Controller for you model railroad engineers. It has throttle, brake, reverser, and switch controls plus 34 programmable buttons.

Then there's the 3D Mouse from Virtual Realities, aimed at designers who build and manipulate three-dimensional models. The system has a tabletop transmitter, a control box, and a "mouse." The transmitter emits three distinct ultrasonic signals that are picked up by three receivers in the mouse, and the control box interpolates the position of the mouse dependent on the response timings of these signals. Of course, at close to $1900, you may end up just waving your hands in the air.

Courtesy of Metadot Corporation.
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Finally, if you're looking to make a statement, there's always Das Keyboard. It has totally blank keycaps -- no inscription on the keys whatsoever -- and is marketed to the really confident ÜberGeek.

On the horizon, IBM is toying with a pen-based keyboard using a system called SHARK (Shorthand-Aided Rapid Keyboarding ). Instead of tapping individual key representations, you start with the first letter of the word you want to type and then glide the stylus to the next letter in that word, and so on, and so on, until you're done. Software interprets the end result.

Still Haven't Found What You're Looking For?

Don't worry, there's more on the way. It's the nature of innovation to be boundless.

Bill O'Brien can be blamed for more than 2,000 articles on computers and technology topics. With his writing partner, Alice Hill, Bill co-authored "The Hard Edge," the longest-running (1992 to 2004) technology column penned by a techno duo. For more, go to technudge.com.

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