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Combimouse is both keyboard and mouse

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April 30, 2013

A working prototype of the Combimouse keyboard/mouse system

A working prototype of the Combimouse keyboard/mouse system

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While splitting a keyboard into two distinct zones may well make for more comfortable typing, especially for touch typists like myself, you still need to reach out to the side to grab your mouse and confirm onscreen actions. The Combimouse addresses this by having the right arm of the divided keyboard also serve as an optical mouse.

The consuming passion of Ari Zagnoev, the first patent relating to the Combimouse design was filed back in 1999. Numerous prototypes have since been built, including one that underwent evaluation by Wichita State University in 2003. Though the latter yielded "very promising" results, it wasn't in a fit state for commercial development.

The designer has been refining and testing his concept ever since, while patiently waiting for the technology that will allow the production of a consumer-ready version to be made available (including advances in thin wall plastics and mold flow analysis software, lighter keyboard technology, improvements in battery life and less power-hungry electronics). Now, Zagnoev and his team (Simon Herron, who is tasked with business development and accounts, and software engineer Roger Larcome) are preparing to enter the final stages in development before the product is released into the marketplace.

The Combinouse prototype being used to control a first-person shooter

In addition to accommodating its share of the QWERTY keys, the left portion of the Combimouse is also home to the 12 F keys and some multimedia control buttons. This module will run on two AA-sized batteries, which should be good for over a year of normal usage. The early prototype images on the company's website also show a scroll wheel underneath the space bar, but this has not made it to the final design.

The rather odd-shaped keyboard/mouse combination to the right features a touch sensor to the side of the grip that activates the mouse functionality when a pinky is detected, moving a cursor around the screen much as you would expect a mouse to do. Specific keys are assigned two or three mouse click button behavior. The latest layout design for the right module shows a click scrolling function activated by one of two keys, with mouse movement determining the scroll direction.

The design team has also indicated that surface-activated scroll is an option currently being considered, perhaps opening up certain keys to similar touch control as, say, Apple's Magic Mouse or Logitech's T620 or T400. A thumb scroll wheel has also been thrown into the pot, but is unlikely to be implemented.

Moving the little finger away from the sensor restores the unit to keyboard mode. The device doesn't move while typing, although actual details of how this is achieved are not being released at this time. The designers are aiming for three months of normal use on one AAA-sized battery.

Combimouse communicates over a 2.4 GHz wireless connection with a USB dongle plugged into a Mac, PC or Linux machine, but future production units may operate via Bluetooth. By default, the combined I/O peripheral will power on in keyboard mode.

Images of the latest working prototype have been intentionally blurred by the designers, since it's a crude mockup and as such is not a good advertisement for the final product. When more polished prototypes have been produced, a photo shoot will doubtless be arranged to show them off.

To that end, the company has launched on Indiegogo to get two of these units built and made ready for independent evaluation. Curtin University will be tasked with putting the prototypes through their paces, under the direction of Professor Leon Straker of the Health Sciences faculty.

The latest prototype design replaces the palm-filling bulge of an earlier mouse/keyboard p...

A second campaign will be launched to help bring the final pre-production prototype to market, but backers of either campaign will be offered the chance to buy the very first Combimouse units off the production line at a discount price.

A pledge of just US$10 will knock $11 off the cost of the final product. Bumping that pledge up to $80 should be enough to cover the whole of the final purchase price, based on current estimates of a retail cost in the region of $100 (although no manufacturing estimates have yet been provided).

The latest prototype design replaces the palm-filling bulge of the mouse/keyboard unit with a gentle incline, sees its weight reduced to 74 g (2.6 oz), which includes 26 g (0.9 oz) of weights for optimum weight distribution and center of gravity, and cuts the overall height of the keys to 14 mm (with 3 mm of travel) to make typing easier. At present, there are no plans to release a Southpaw version of the Combimouse.

The funding campaign closes on May 20. If the first round target of $20,000 isn't reached, priority will be given to covering the cost of the Curtin evaluation.

The Indiegogo pitch video is shown below.

Sources: Combimouse, Indiegogo

About the Author
Paul Ridden While Paul is loath to reveal his age, he will admit to cutting his IT teeth on a TRS-80 (although he won't say which version). An obsessive fascination with computer technology blossomed from hobby into career before the desire for sunnier climes saw him wave a fond farewell to his native Blighty in favor of Bordeaux, France. He's now a dedicated newshound pursuing the latest bleeding edge tech for Gizmag.   All articles by Paul Ridden
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8 Comments

This looks like a non-solution to several problems.

"At present, there are no plans to release a Southpaw version of the Combimouse."

The Matron keyboard from the UK has the option of a built in trackball which can be operated by either hand.

The Combimouse keyboard still uses the traditional QWERTY layout, a key distribution which has proven to be extremely inefficient, and slows the operator down by forcing the hands to hurdle from top to bottom row, such that it requires both thumbs to work the space bar, whereas the Maltron has the option of using the Malt layout, which needs only one thumb to hit the space bar. The Malt distribution also reduces the the number of keystrokes where the hands move away from the home key positions. Because of this there is a greatly reduced necessity for "hovering" the hands over the keys, which virtually eliminates strain on the upper arms and shoulders, that contributes to fatigue and stress in the upper limbs.

Joe Blake
30th April, 2013 @ 05:45 pm PDT

There has been a lot of discussion and feedback about making the Combimouse keys user configurable. We will be supplying a software utility that will allow the user to do that.

Follow the discussion at: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/combimouse-combination-keyboard-and-mouse/x/498445?c=comments

Combimouse
1st May, 2013 @ 01:02 am PDT

This sounds like a great advance, so it will be good even with poor detailing, but the customers are likely to be the best committee for programming the keys. Anyone who knows what a therblig is should have no trouble finding things to improve, but it is harder to imagine all the ways people work. Currently, my right hand frequently moves between the mouse and one of the enter keys. Why don't I have one on the left, or on the mouse?

One function I'd love to see is a key that changes any character into what it would have been if it hadn't been capitalized, or vice-versa. That goes double for embedded keypad models. How about a rocker switch or joystick in the wrist rest for alt and control, etc? Foot controls, essential in cars, are seldom used otherwise, but they would be a lot more convenient if they just detected foot motions with a camera. It could even be a security feature, requiring familiar shoes or a password.

Bob Stuart
1st May, 2013 @ 07:21 am PDT

As one who has used trackballs for the past 25 years, I would like to see a similar device incorporating a rotating ball controlling a cursor and thus avoid raising and lowering the mouse.

I have also used devices with keyboards including multiple levels of shift, light pens and foot pedals which made things quite a bit easier.

How does this device handle a combination of ctrl, alt, cmd like one would encounter on a Mac?

Cpat
1st May, 2013 @ 10:02 am PDT

The Maltron keyboard sells for $825, takes weeks to learn, has no published data on actual efficiency, and conflicts with essentially every other device for English input, being QWERTY. Joe Blake claims (in a previous gizmag article) to be able to transcribe 'real-time' - using a shorthand version. he also stated that at 6 weeks he was up to 15 WPM. that is much different than typing a full transcription, real time. professional stenographers can transcribe (not type) over 200 wpm, a professional typist can sustain 50-80 wpm, and the average audio book reading rate is about 150 wpm. I have typed for nearly 40 years, almost daily, at 30-40 WPM with no CTS or other injuries. i use a raised desk upon which i rest my forearms and wrists, and i don't angle my keyboard. yes anecdotal, 1 data point. the combimouse and the maltron keyboards should publish real user data in statistically significant quantities to indicate to potential buyers the actual efficiency of the keyboards. injury data would take time to accumulate but would also be of interest.

bret-h
1st May, 2013 @ 05:05 pm PDT

@bret-h

What is the difference between transcribing and typing? Is there a point you are trying to make? The shorthand you mentioned doesn't need a Maltron keyboard. It will also work on QWERTY, Colemak or Dvorak. It's a completely separate issue.

The data about the number of keystrokes which require the hands to leave the home key position is on the Maltron UK website, and has been there since the website was created. It lists the number of different words which can be keyed without moving the hands, comparing QWERTY and Maltron. It doesn't need any "statistically significant" research data. It is a plain, simple observed fact. The same methodology can be applied to any keyboard layout, real or imagined, without needing to be competent in the operation of one layout or another.

Conflict with QWERTY is inevitable, since it is a different layout.

What is the relevance of price? It's a question of quality and longevity. $825 amortised over 20 years is about $41 a year. 25 years is how long my first Maltron has lasted. It has merely been superseded by the introduction of new technology such as USB plugs to replace the original DIN plug.

Joe Blake
2nd May, 2013 @ 01:15 am PDT

Moving the keyboard might be disorienting. I think it would, at least initially, throw off the accuracy of both mousing and typing. Maybe one could get used to that.

But I think a combined trackpad might work better. The nice thing about a well-positioned trackpad on a laptop is that you don't have to fumble for it -- you know exactly where it is at all times. That might work on a split keyboard, too.

ralph.dratman
2nd May, 2013 @ 10:02 am PDT

I want a split key keyboard with an 8 inch wide track pad in the middle , so you could lay a page of paper on it when copying something, and then put a scanner across the top of the track pad.

On the Combimouse keyboard, how about making both sides like the right side part so that you could use ether hand for mouse work, I use ether hand and some time a two mouses hooked up when playing games so when one hand gets tired I use the other.

jocco
16th May, 2013 @ 03:06 pm PDT
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