Who Invented The Mouse? Are You Sure?

If you ask most people who invented the mouse, they won’t know. Those that do know, will say that Doug Englebart did. In 1964 he had a box with two wheels that worked like a modern mouse as part of his work at Stanford Research Institute. There is a famous demo video from 1968 of him showing off what looks a lot like an old Mcintosh computer. Turns out, two other people may have an earlier claim to a mouse — or, at least, a trackball. So why did you never hear about those?

The UK Mouse

Ralph Benjamin worked for Britain’s Royal Navy, developing radar tracking systems for warships. Right after World War II, Ralph was working on the Comprehensive Display System — a way for ships to monitor attacking aircraft on a grid. They used a “ball tracker.” Unlike Engelbart’s mouse, it used a metallic ball riding on rubber-coated wheels. This is more like a modern non-optical mouse, although the ball tracker had you slide your hand across the ball instead of the other way around. Sort of a trackball arrangement.

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Ploopy Open Source Trackball Keeps Rolling Along

We’ll be honest. When we first heard about a mouse, we weren’t convinced. The argument was that business people weren’t familiar with computers. That didn’t ring true since every business person in the last century had at least seen a typewriter keyboard, but most of them had never seen a mouse before the 1980s. The mouse has since become totally ubiquitous, so presumably, it was the right choice. However, if you are a serious touch typer, it is annoying to have to move your hands off the keyboard to a different location each time. There are several solutions for that, but the oldest one is probably the trackball. Ploopy is an open source trackball you can build yourself and it looks pretty capable.

While we aren’t wild about the name, Ploopy looks pretty good and is one of those projects that would have been very difficult ten years ago. It requires two PC boards. Those used to be hard to get. It also requires some very customized plastic parts. Getting a handful of plastic parts made used to be hard, too. But now you probably have a 3D printer that is just begging for something to do.

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What The Scale? Mouse Teardown Throws Up A Few Surprises

[Eric Weinhoffer] and his colleagues did a great comparative tear down of the MX Master 3 and the MX Master 2S mice from Logitech. Tear down’s are great fun and often end up teaching us a lot. Looking at the insides of a product can tell us a great deal about how to solve certain problems, or avoid pitfalls. Opening up two versions of the same product provides an even greater wealth of useful information on how product design evolves based on lessons learned from the earlier versions. Logitech is no greenhorn when it comes to Mice design, so the MX Master 2S was already almost perfect. But looking at the Master MX 3 shows where the earlier version fell short of expectations and how it could be improved upon.

These mice have intelligent scroll wheels, which can rotate in either “detente” or “freewheel” modes. Detente allows slower, precise scrolling, while freewheeling allows rapid scrolling. The two mice models have completely different, and interesting, methods of achieving these actions. The older version has a rubber-coated wheel and uses a motor, which turns a cam. This forces a detent ball onto the inside of the wheel for detent mode and releases it for free mode. Once the rubber wears off, the mouse is pretty much headed for the dumpster. The new metal wheel does away with the rubber coating as well as the noisy, slow, and prone to wear-and-tear motor assembly. The actuation is now done using a bi-stable electromagnet. A 25 V pulse magnetizes the coil which sits inside the wheel and it pulls on little metal teeth on the inside rim of the wheel. This gives a noiseless detente feel, without any physical contact. A second 25 V spike de-magnetizes the coil, allowing the scroll wheel to spin freely.

[Eric] points out several incremental changes in design which have resulted in improved ergonomics. He also uncovers a few nuggets of useful information. The use of interchangeable mold inserts help make molds last longer while still offering the flexibility to make changes in the molded part. It’s interesting to see special components being used for withstanding vibration and high-G forces. Some of these insights can be useful for those moving from prototyping to production. There’s one puzzling feature on the new PCB that [Eric] cannot figure out. There is a 15 mm scale screen-printed over the blue tooth antenna. If you have an answer on its purpose, let us know in the comments below.

If you are left-handed (which makes 10% of us), you’re out of luck with these right-handed mice and might like to sign one of the several online petitions demanding lefty versions.

Home-Brew CNC Router Mills A Wooden Mouse

First off, we’ll admit that there no real practical reason for wanting a wooden mouse – unless of course the cellulose rodent in question is the one that kicked it all off in “The Mother of All Demos” fifty years ago. Simply putting a shell around the guts of a standard wireless optical mouse is just flexing, but we’re OK with that.

That said, [Jim Krum]’s design shows some impressive skills, both in the design of the mouse and the build quality of his machine. Starting with what looks like a block of white oak, [Jim] hogs out the rough shape of the upper shell and then refines it with a small ball-end mill before flipping it over to carve the other side. His registration seems spot on, because everything matches up well and the shell comes out to be only a few millimeters thick. The bottom plate gets the same treatment to create the complex shape needed to support the mouse guts and a battery holder. He even milled a little battery compartment cover. He used a contrasting dark wood for the scroll wheel and a decorative band to hold the top and bottom together and finished it with a light coat of sealer.

It’s a great look, and functional too as the video below reveals. We’ve seen a few other fancy mice before, like this wood and aluminum model or even one that would look at home on [Charles Babbage]’s desk.

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Billiard Ball Finds A New Home In Custom Trackball Mouse

They walk among us, unseen by polite society. They seem ordinary enough on the outside but they hide a dark secret – sitting beside their keyboards are trackballs instead of mice. We know, it’s hard to believe, but that’s the wacky world we live in these days.

But we here at Hackaday don’t judge based on alternate input lifestyles, and we quite like this billiard ball trackball mouse. A trackball aficionado, [Adam Haile] spotted a billiard ball trackball in a movie and couldn’t resist the urge to make one of his own, but better. He was hoping for a drop-in solution using an off-the-shelf trackball, but alas, finding one with the needed features that fit a standard American 2-1/4″ (57.3 mm) billiard ball. Besides, he’s in the thumb control camp, and most trackballs that even come close to fitting a billiard ball are designed to be fiddled with the fingers.

So he started from the ground up – almost. A 1980s arcade-style trackball – think Centipede or Missile Command – made reinventing the trackball mechanism unnecessary, and was already billiard ball compatible. [Adam] 3D-printed a case that perfectly fit his hand, with the ball right under his thumb and arcade buttons poised directly below his fingers. A palm swell rises up to position the hand naturally and give it support. The case, which contains a Teensy to translate the encoder signals into USB commands, is a bit on the large side, but that’s to be expected for a trackball.

Still curious about how the other half lives? We’ve got plenty of trackball hacks for you, from the military to the game controller embedded to the strangely organic looking.

This Computer Mouse Houses A Mouse Computer

Everyone has heard of a computer mouse before, but what about a mouse computer?

Granted, [Electronic Grenade]’s all-in-one computer in an oversized mouse-shaped case is almost without practical value. But that’s hardly the point, which was just to do something cool. Inspiration came from keyboards stuffed with a Raspberry Pi to make a mostly-all-in-one machine; this Rodent of Unusual Size is the next logical step. With a Pi Zero W and a LiPo battery alongside a mouse mechanism inside the 3D-printed case – alas, no real mouse currently on the market would house everything – the computer sports not only a tiny and nearly-usable LCD display, but also a slide-out Bluetooth keyboard. The ergonomics of a keyboard at right angles to the display gives us pause, but again, usability is not the point. And don’t expect much in the performance department – the rig barfs after a few seconds of playing Minecraft.

Still, for all its limitations, this mouse computer has a certain charm. We always enjoy “just because I can” projects, whether they be a Gameboy ukelele or a fire-breathing animatronic duck. Such projects are often valuable not for what they produce, but for pushing into areas where no one has gone before.

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The Mother Of All Demos, 50 Years On

If you’re like me, chances are pretty good that you’ve been taught that all the elements of the modern computer user interface — programs running in windows, menus, icons, WYSIWYG editing of text documents, and of course, the venerable computer mouse — descended from the hallowed halls of the Xerox Corporation’s Palo Alto Research Center in the early 1970s. And it’s certainly true that PARC developed these technologies and more, including the laser printer and object-oriented programming, all of which would grace first the workplaces of the world and later the homes of everyday people.

But none of these technologies would have existed without first having been conceived of by a man with a singular vision of computing. Douglas Engelbart pictured a future in which computers were tools to sharpen the human intellectual edge needed to solve the world’s problem, and he set out to invent systems to allow that. Reading a Twitter feed or scanning YouTube comments, one can argue with how well Engelbart’s vision worked out, but there’s no arguing with the fact that he invented almost all the trappings of modern human-computer interaction, and bestowed it upon the world in one massive demonstration that became known as “The Mother of All Demos.”

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