Victorian Mouse

If Babbage had started the computer revolution early, we might have seen a mouse like the one [Peter Balch] created. He started with the guts from a USB wheeled mouse and some gears from an old clock movement. In addition to the big wheels to capture X and Y movement, the mouse buttons look like the keys from an old typewriter.

mechanical-mouse-magicWe were afraid the project would require advanced wood or metal working capability, but the bottom of the mouse is made from paper mache. The top and sides are cut from tinplate. Of course, the paint job is everything.

The electronics part is pretty simple, just hacking a normal mouse (although it is getting harder to find USB mice with mechanical encoders). However, we wondered if it would have been as simple to use an optical wireless mouse. That would leave the wheels just for show, but honestly, most people aren’t going to know if the wheels are useful or just ornamental, anyway.

If you don’t feel like gutting a mouse, but you still want USB, you could use an Arduino or similar board that can simulate a mouse. We’ve seen quite a few of those in the past. Now all you need is a matching keyboard.

27 thoughts on “Victorian Mouse

    1. Well what I meant was a purely optical sensor not an optical mechanical encoder. You are right, though, not a purely mechanical encoder. I had in mind one of those optical sensors without the visible light so it didn’t look like an LED shoved into it.

  1. I can understand why an optical mouse wasn’t used; the flickering red LED wouldn’t really complement the aesthetics…

    If the LED were replaced with a neon tube (and support electrics), would the mouse still work? I’ve seen the ‘replace red laser with blue LED’ hack before and the mouse worked excellently. :)

    Maybe an amber LED or one of those fancy faux-vintage filament bulbs would be cool!
    I really like this build, great job [Peter Balch]!

    1. No kidding. Straight up or sideways and your scratching the hell out of whatever this is resting on…. Lots of lateral stress on the axis of the gears. Probably break within a couple days…

    2. It’s like the first mouse built by Douglas Englebart. Telefunken was making a device with a ball inside a hemispherical housing, and trackballs had been made for missile targeting systems as early as 1941. (I wonder if the people who programmed the Missile Command arcade game knew that?)

      Those early ball based pointing devices had a problem from their design of using a rigid ball running on rubber (or soft plastic) covered rollers. When Apple was developing their mouse for the Macintosh, they ran into the same problems before hitting on the idea of reversing the materials, coat the metal ball and use bare metal rollers – which all other ball mice since have used.

      There was one commercial implementation of a mouse with wheels running directly on the surface. It had two small wheels at 90 degrees to one another, less than 1/2″ diameter, mounted at an angle with a beveled edge. Sort of like a tiny version of an Androbot’s wheels. Their shafts were spring loaded to maintain contact and accommodate minor imperfections. The wheels directly drove a pair of encoders. It worked but not well on a too smooth surface. I tried to find info online but wasn’t successful. I only know of it from a magazine article on it when it was new, and I saw one once in a thrift store but decided I didn’t need an old RS-232 mechanical mouse, even if it was a unique and weird design solution in search of a problem.

    3. I think that you could tilt your hand backwards when you want to move vertically. But with the current geometry, it doesn’t appear that tilting would work particularly well for horizontal movements.

  2. The original Englebart mouse doesn’t look so different, except the wheels are inside the case. I’ve even looked at the photos and wondered how well it rolled over the surface, with wheels instead of a ball.

    A steampunk trackball is almost a real thing, since there was a trackball in 1941, for radar. Almost early enough to be “art deco”, at least some radio equipment in the thirties had that look.


  3. If Babbage had started the computer revolution early, we might have seen the Germans have computers as good as the British and they may have won WWII because the British would not have had the huge advantage of being able to covertly monitor their communications.

    1. Buuuut, that didn’t really influence the war until later, and in the earlier parts, if British had used computing with their radar and fighter dispatch, the Battle of Britain might have more severely mauled the Luftwaffe sooner. Also US may have had more secure comms, and there was a leak from the US embassy in Italy of British intentions in Western Desert which allowed Rommel to chase them all the way to Egypt, if THAT hadn’t have happened there could have been landings in Italy in 1941. If landing in Italy happened sooner Hitler could have been denied the fuel reserve for the Italian fleet, which was huge, and could have run out of fuel for tanks, aircraft, logistics etc, by 1943, which would have meant a pretty severe collapse of military capacity, war in Europe over nearly 2 years sooner…. maybe.

      1. Although another consequence of rapid German collapse, earlier, could have been that US/UK didn’t have the build up of men and material to capitalise on it from a second front and the Iron Curtain could have been drawn a hundred miles into France.

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