Only 90s Kids Will Appreciate This Prototype

[Madox] is a trackball user, which is fine; we at Hackaday respect and appreciate those who live alternative lifestyles. As you would expect, there aren’t many makes and models of trackballs being sold, and [Madox] wanted something ergonomic. A DIY solution was necessary, but how to you model something ‘ergonomic’ before printing it out? Floam, apparently.

Highly advanced 3D prototyping skills

Floam is a sticky, moldable goo originally sold as the follow-up to Nickelodeon’s Gak in the early 1990s. It consists of styrofoam pellets held together with a colored binder that doesn’t leave a mess and doesn’t dry out. While the Nickelodeon version is lost to the sands of time, a Floam-like substance is available at any toy store. [Madox] picked up a few blister packs and began modeling his ideal trackball.

With the proper shape in hand, [Madox] needed a way to get this design into a computer. Photogrammetry is the solution, and while earlier experiments with Autodesk Catch were successful, Autodesk has morphed and rebranded their photogrammetry software into Autodesk ReMake. Turing a pile of styrofoam balls into a 3D model is as simple as taking a bunch of pictures and uploaded to Autodesk’s ‘cloud’ service.

In just a few minutes, a proper 3D mesh arrived from the Autodesk mothership, and [Madox] took to importing this model into Fusion 360, fiddling with chamfers, and eventually got to the point where a 3D printer was necessary. It took a few revisions, but now [Madox] has a custom designed trackball that was perfectly ergonomic.

34 thoughts on “Only 90s Kids Will Appreciate This Prototype

    1. I am using a track ball right now, why the negatives? I have preferred trackball over mouse since I first encountered them in professional music production studios back in the 80’s, the ones that had the cue ball and four buttons that you could customize. Since I do little typing and a fair amount of audio visual stuff the track ball is a superior interface for me – yes I type with 2 fingers and look at the keyboard when I type but I can edit audio files faster than a keyboard/mouse combo could with a track ball. Different strokes for different folks I guess.

      1. I’ve been using a trackball for decades. I do a fair bit of graphics work and I can work gimp like a pro with a trackball. For a while, I tried using a graphics pen and tablet, but I was much better at drawing with the trackball than the pen! It is hard to use with the CAD programs I’ve been trying to learn, but I still find it so much better than a mainstream mouse. Sometimes you’ve just got to go against the grain :)

    1. Didn’t bother with smoothing it out in the scanned model as I completely modelled around it. There are smoothing tools available within ReMake if you really want to smooth it.

  1. I would have made a mold out of Logitech’s Cordless TrackMan. Best feeling trackball mouse ever made (imo.)

    The ELECOM M-DT2URBK comes in a close second after replacing the ball with one of Logitech’s.

  2. Microsoft Trackball Optical 1.0. The thumb ball one. Would be nice if they’d bring that back, with silicon carbide bearings instead of steel to support the ball.

    The steel one easily got flat spots and the ball drags in the socket. There were people rehabbing them with silicon carbide and charging $60 to do it.

    Logitech had a similar model but it was only 2 button instead of four.

    1. I use a Microsoft Trackball Optical at home. When I went looking for another to use at work a few years ago, I was surprised to find that they were no longer made, used ones cost as much as a decent new mouse, and new old stock ones were crazy expensive. I settled on a Logitech M570 but it’s not the same, a little too small for my hand. Nobody seems to know why Microsoft stopped making the Trackball Optical.

      Lately I have been using a Logitech G600 MMO gaming mouse for my work (software development). I have programmed the extra buttons for quick navigation in my IDE and code comparison tool.

      If I ever realize my custom trackball, it will be similar to a Microsoft Trackball Optical but with the Logitech hyper-fast scroll wheel and some extra buttons (probably not 12 like the MMO mice have, that’s more than I need and it’s too hard to hit them all accurately).

  3. Gak is still a trigger word for a kick script in one of the IRC chat channels I frequent! LOL XD
    I can’t argue with he choice of materials for prototyping this. Simple!

  4. “Doesn’t dry out”.

    Funny, I seem to remember my mother banning the stuff from the house after some got into the carpet. It was subsequently discovered that the stuff might have well been colored superglue after it dried out. I think there’s still a smudge of the stuff on a sleeping bag around here, 15 years later.

  5. I did this in the 94, but I used flour to made an ergonomic trackball, which didn’t exist at this time.
    I was a bit naive, when some state employed startup, told me he could help me to get that design to Logitech…
    They weren’t interested, but 6 month later… the ergonomic Trackman Marble came out….

    1. I have three. Why? Because this is the best form-factor ever for a trackball. Their age (being from the nineties/naughties), indicates that they were either (a) built like a tank, or (b) the design itself made them extremely durable, or (c) both.
      No, will not sell one; it’s a great place to keep a spare cue ball.

  6. Well, my dad’s “alternative lifestyle” is that he can’t move his left arm after his stroke so he still enjoys his trackball as well. Other than cleaning the optical sensors every year for xmas, it is still going after 10+ years of use. I am a trackpad kinda guy, but to each their own.

  7. Please note that the “doesn’t leave a mess” is a bit of an exaggeration. If you leave it sitting on something, it will probably leave some dye behind, and if you beat it up, it will shed tiny styrofoam balls.

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