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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Hackaday Podcast 043: Ploopy, Castlevania Cube-Scroller, Projection Map Your Face, And Smoosh Those 3D Prints

Before you even ask, it’s an open source trackball and you’re gonna like it. Hackaday Editors Mike Szczys and Elliot Williams get down to brass tacks on this week’s hacks. From laying down fatter 3D printer extrusion and tricking your stick welder, to recursive Nintendos and cubic Castlevania, this week’s episode is packed with hacks you ought not miss.

Take a look at the links below if you want to follow along, and as always tell us what you think about this episode in the comments!

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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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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.

Roll Your Own Trackball Mouse

What do you do when you’re into trackball mice, but nothing out there is affordable or meets all your murine needs? You build one, of course. And if you’re like [Dangerously Explosive], who has a bunch of old optical mice squeaking around the shop, you can mix and match them to build the perfect one.

The mouse, which looks frozen mid-transformation into a rodential assassin, is a customized work of utilitarian art. Despite the excellent results, this project was not without its traps. [Dangerously] got really far into the build before discovering the USB interface chip was dead. Then he tried to sculpt a base out of Plasticine and discovered he’d bought the one kind of clay that can’t be baked. After trying his hand at making homemade salt dough, he painstakingly whittled a base from scrap pine using a drill and a hacksaw.

Every bit of this mouse is made from recycled bits, which, if you pair that with the paint job and the chosen shade of blinkenlights, makes this a green mouse on three levels. One of the two parts of this mouse that isn’t literally green, the cord, is still ecologically sound. [Dangerously] wanted a really long tail, so he scavenged a charger cable built for fruity hardware and threaded it through a hollowed-out piece of purple paracord.

We love the thumb-adjacent scroll wheel and the trackball itself, which is a ping pong ball painted black. The cool part is the guide it rolls around in. [Dangerously] spent a long time hand-whittling the perfect size hole in a particularly wide mouse palm rest. All that plastic shaving paid off, because the action is smooth as Velveeta.

[Dangerously] certainly designed this mouse to fit his preferences, and ergonomics seem a bit secondary. For a truly custom fit, try using whatever passes for Floam these days.

Trackball Gets Bolt-On Button Upgrade

The question of whether to use a mouse versus a trackball is something of a Holy War on the level of Vi versus Emacs. We at Hackaday want no part of such things, use whatever you want, and leave us out of it. But we will go as far as to say that Team Trackball seems to take things mighty seriously. We’ve never met a casual trackball user: if they’ve got a trackball on their desk then get ready to hear all about it.

With that in mind, the lengths [LayeredDesigns] went to just to add a couple extra buttons to his CST trackball make a bit more sense. Obviously enamored with this particular piece of pointing technology, he designed a 3D printed “sidecar” that you can mount to the left side of the stock trackball. Matching the shape of the original case pretty closely, this add-on module currently hosts a pair of MX mechanical keys, but the plans don’t stop there.

[LayeredDesigns] mentions that all the free room inside the shell for this two-button modification has got him thinking of what else he could fit in there. The logical choice is a Teensy emulating a USB HID device, which could allow for all sorts of cool programmable input possibilities. One potential feature he mentioned was adding a scroll wheel, which the Teensy could easily interface with and present to the operating system.

We’ve seen our fair share of 3D printed keyboards and keyboard modifications, but we can’t say the same about the legendary trackball. Ones made of cardboard, sure. Pulled out of a military installation and hacked to add USB? You bet. This project is just more evidence of what’s possible with a 3D printer, a caliper, and some patience.

[via /r/functionalprint]

Balloons And Bubbles Make For Kid-Friendly Robot Deathmatch

Because nothing says “fun for kids” like barbed wire and hypodermic needles, here’s an interactive real-world game that everyone can enjoy. Think of it as a kinder, gentler version of Robot Wars, where the object of the game is to pop the balloon on the other player’s robot before yours get popped. Sounds simple, but the simple games are often the most engaging, and that sure seems to be the case here.

The current incarnation of “Bubble Blast” stems from a project [Niklas Roy] undertook for a festival in Tunisia in 2017. That first version used heavily hacked toy RC cars controlled with arcade joysticks. It was a big hit with the crowd, so [Niklas] built a second version for another festival, and incorporated lessons learned from version 1.0. The new robots are built from scratch from 3D-printed parts. Two motors drive each bot, with remote control provided by a 433-MHz transceiver module. The UI was greatly improved with big trackballs, also scratch built. The game field was expanded and extra obstacles were added, including a barbed wire border as a hazard to the festooned bots. And just for fun, [Niklas] added a bubble machine, also built from scratch.

The game looks like a ton of fun, and seems like one of those things you’ve got to shoo the adults away from so the kids can enjoy it too. But if you need more gore from your robot deathmatch than a limp balloon, here’s a tabletop robot war that’s sure to please.

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