Minput makes movement a new way to control small electronics

Brian Lee Apr 26, 2010

The world of electronics is rapidly changing. Today, touchpads like those seen in the iPad are popular, replacing conventional keyboards with a screen. As handheld devices also become smaller and more compact than ever, innovative technology must be developed to navigate through different screens.

Minput, a device that hopes to solve the problem of space and visibility in small devices and screens, is being developed by Chris Harrison and Scott Hudson, who are both part of Carnegie Mellon’s Human-Computer Interaction Institute. Harrison has already been featured in The Tartan for his work with Skinput, which turns the arm into a touchpad.

When sliding Minput over a surface, sensors on the bottom can register movement to control various software on the device. In this respect, Minput is a mouse with the computer screen attached, and it can be manipulated without having the user’s fingers block the screen.

Harrison has uploaded a video online describing various capabilities of Minput, which has already been developed as a proof-of-concept device. Minput is named because it is an input technique for miniature input devices. These devices are too small to have buttons or for touchscreen capability to be practical.

Minput allows mouse control and optical tracking to be applied to small mobile devices. Currently, the technology is being developed using a 1.5-inch LCD screen, according to a www.cnet.com article. The LCD screen was taken from a wristwatch that originally allowed users to watch television or movies. On the side opposite the screen, two optical sensors from a SlimG4 mouse were attached. The entire assembly was connected to a computer, which processes data from the optical sensors.

According to a demonstration in Harrison’s video, Minput could be operated anywhere a user could possibly use the device, including on a table, on the leg of one’s pants, and on a user’s palm. Because there are two sensors on the device, a variety of motion can be detected, including twisting the device on a table. According to www.chrisharrison.com, the optical devices use negligible tracking power. According to the video, Minput supports three “input modalities,” or ways the user can manipulate the device. Gestural input modality involves motions like flicks and twists and was demonstrated using photo-browsing software. Flicking the device in a certain direction changes the image, while twisting changes the number of images on the screen, like a zooming function. These inputs can be changed to perform many functions on different programs. The variety of motions allows programs on the devices to change certain settings without having to navigate complex menus. For example, turning the device like a knob can be used to adjust volume of music, while sliding the device left and right may change song tracks.

A second input modality makes Minput a virtual window — by sliding the device around, a high-resolution photograph can be examined. The picture seems to stay in the same place while the device moves, so it is as if the user is seeing the picture through a window. This can also be applied when viewing text documents or web pages. While not implemented yet, links may be clicked by tapping the device. The final input modality is cursor control, meaning Minput can act like a mouse, allowing the user to play a simple game. In the future, researchers hope this type of input modality will be applied to viewing web pages and other tasks that normally require a mouse on conventional screens.

While only in the development phase, Minput has the potential to change handheld devices. With a simple, intuitive design, it addresses issues concerning space and functionality of small devices.