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Tuesday, August 15, 2006

On the subject of input devices...

After having used a Griffin PowerMate controller for over 2 years now, I can safely say that I am a firm believer in new input technologies. This fascinating device allows a new input method for computers, and is compatible both with Windows and OS X. As computer users, we have become familiar with two very specific input devices, the keyboard and the mouse. Of course, there have been variations on the basic designs of these two devices, but they all function in essentially the same manner as the original design. The PowerMate is slightly different, as it is an assignable controller; this means that with the use of software, this device can provide different kinds of inputs in different circumstances.

Because the PowerMate provides several input methods (specifically, rotation, single click, double-click and click during rotate), these can provide several functionalities within software that you might use today. For example, when I am using Microsoft Word, the rotation input allows me to scroll through the open document, while this same rotation input provides volume control in iTunes.

Of course, the PowerMate does not replace the mouse or keyboard, but simply adds to this combination. The other day, as I was browsing through Logitech's website, I saw a link for one of their subsidiaries, called 3Dconnexion; once on their site, I quickly deduced that they specialized in input devices, similar in concept to the PowerMate and just as revolutionary... As their website states: "These devices will revolutionize the way you work in 3D - pan, zoom and rotate all at once! From F1 racing and aerospace design to animated film and game development". They have calculated that on average, most users increase their productivity by up to 30%, and reduce overall mouse use by over 50%. That can be excellent news for anyone suffering from repetitive stress injuries.

One of the devices that caught my eye was the SpaceTraveler. It is a compact motion controller that on first appearance seems to copy the PowerMate. But appearances can be deceiving; the SpaceTraveller provides 6 axes of control, in what is essentially a very stubby joystick. But in this application, the concept of the joystick is taken out of the gaming world and brought into a new spere...

The SpaceTraveler is the perfect space saving solution for the designer who prefers a more efficient two-handed work style.Simultaneously pan, zoom and rotate 3D models or datasets with the controller in one hand while the other hand selects, inspects or edits with the mouse.

Another device that caught my eye seems to be a refinement on the SpaceTraveller, and it is called the SpaceBall (no, I am not kidding)... This device is somewhat larger that its diminuative cousin, but I can imagine that for professionals, who perform thousands of hours of CAD design, or animation and similar fields, might find this device more useful.

The SpaceBall features enhanced high-precision optical controller, drift-free/calibrationless sensor mechanism and a contactless/non-wearing measuring system. The 5000 model is available in USB.

Go take a look a some of these devices if you can; it may change your mind about the ones that you have been using at home. Some gamers have already understood this and several specialized devices have come out on the market lately, aimed squarely at this audience.

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