PC gaming is still alive and well and on course for racking up 24 billion dollars in sales in 2012. That might explain why Microsoft is thinking of refreshing their gaming mouse lineup sometime in the not-too-distant future. The US Patent and Trademark Office have published a Microsoft patent that details a new haptics-based gaming mouse that includes a very interesting twist: it provides the user with the ability to call up extra buttons that are hidden within the mouse. If you happen to be a die-hard gamer, then check out our report for more details.
Overview of Microsoft's Advanced Mouse
Although Microsoft's invention generally relates to a mouse and keyboard that will use actuated buttons, our report focuses in on their work regarding a new advanced mouse that is aimed at the PC gaming market.
The face of Microsoft's new advanced mouse will comprise of two or more buttons wherein the motion of the buttons are controlled by actuators under software control such that their motion is inter-related. The position or motion of the buttons may provide a user with feedback about the current state of a software program they are using or provide them with enhanced user input functionality.
We begin with Microsoft's basic improved mouse which is shown in the first two schematic diagrams 101, 102 below.
In this first embodiment noted above we're able to see an overview of the basics relating to Microsoft's improved mouse. Firstly, we're able to see what appears to be two standard mouse buttons 105 and 106. However, these buttons are mounted on shafts (108) which enable them to pivot, as you can see in patent point #110.
Secondly, the mouse also comprises of at least one actuator, noted above in patent point #112. The actuator is operable to change the physical position of the buttons 105, 106. Thirdly, the mouse may further comprise an interface element #114 which is able to receive signals from a software program (like a video game) running your computer and convert them into control signals for the actuators.
Actuators: Small Servo Motors
Digging a little deeper, we learn that in one implementation noted below in patent FIG. 3, that the actuators may in fact be small servo motors comprising of a DC motor 302, gear train 304, position sensing potentiometer 306, control circuitry 308 and a physical output drive 310. The position/rotation of the physical output drive is controlled by applying a pulse-width modulated (PWM) signal to the servo motor and an example device allows the position of the physical output drive to be set approximately between 0 and 180.degree.
Further into their invention, we see Microsoft's related patent FIG. 6 which is a schematic diagram illustrating the inference of pressure on a button based on the servo position.
Microsoft's Advanced Patent Pending Mouse
Microsoft finally introduces their advanced gaming mouse in patent FIG. 7 as noted above. In addition to the two standard positioned buttons, Microsoft's gaming mouse has the ability to carry two additional buttons, noted as patent point numbers 733 and 744 above, which sit on retractable arms.
The actuators within the mouse are adapted to move the arms 735 under software control either so that they extend out from the mouse or retract back within the mouse.
In an example application, the arms 735 may be extended when a user is using a particular software application such as a computer game which is designed to operate with the four buttons 731, 733, 734. In another example application the mouse may be used to replace a dedicated games controller which typically has more buttons.
In respect to games, Microsoft notes that the height of both the mouse buttons may be changed to provide feedback about the current state of game-play. For example, the buttons may begin to rise if the player of a first person shooter game begins to get low on ammunition. Other features could be assigned to the feedback button depending on the game being played.
Some of the other feedback example could indicate to a user which actions are recommended and which actions are not recommended (or not so highly recommended) when navigating through a video game. For example, when a user places the cursor over a selection, which may be a button or an item in a menu, that is highly recommended, the buttons may be moved upwards, and when a user places the cursor over a selection that is not recommended, the buttons may be moved downwards (e.g. which may give an impression to the user that the buttons are "shrinking away" from them).
In a final example, Microsoft states that the buttons may have sensors. The noted sensors are found in patent FIG. 7 above within the dotted lines and yellow markings. The sensors are noted as being capacitive sensors. These particular sensors are able to detect a finger hovering over the button and be actuated to move upwards towards the user's finger.
Possible Future Market Applications
While most of the examples found in Microsoft's invention pertain to an advanced gaming mouse, the fact is that the use of actuators to control the physical position of physical buttons is also applicable to other types of user interface devices such as in-vehicle management computer, new gaming consoles, controllers or a hand-held gaming device.
Microsoft's patent application was originally filed in December 2010 and published by the US Patent and Trademark Office in Q2, 2012.
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