IBM Mouse Helps People With Shaky Hands

By Roland Piquepaille

A friend of mine who worked for free to help senior citizens to use computers once told me that the biggest hurdle was not technical -- people can learn during all their lives -- but physical. Many old people have trembling hands which prevent them to use a mouse to point and click on a small icon on a computer screen or a link on a browser page. Now, according to this article from ExtremeTech, IBM has unveiled a mouse adapter which treats these tremors as "noise" by filtering out the unintentional movements of the hand caused by a tremor. This new mouse will also help the ten million people which are affected by this genetic disorder every year, and who aren't necessarily old. This adapter will be sold for about $100. Read more...

Let's start with some pictures.

A picture of the new mouse adapter Here is Hugh Pearson of Montrose Secam holding one of these mouse adapters(Credit: IBM Research). Here is a link to a high-quality version of the same image (1,960 x 3,008 pixels, 4.5 MB).
Another picture of the new mouse adapter And there is another picture of this adapter sitting next to a computer mouse (Credit: Montrose Secam).

Here is how it works.

The new mouse treats the hand tremors as noise, and uses algorithms based on image-stabilization systems used in digital cameras.
[As you can see on the above pictures,] the mouse includes a physical dial to control the sensitivity of the mouse, as well as how quickly the user needs to double-click. Normally, these functions are handled by software controls -- which require a mouse to adjust.

As I wrote above, this inability to precisely use a computer mouse doesn't affect only the elderly.

Although tremors are usually associated with the elderly, a type of tremor called Essential Tremor is actually a genetic disorder that affects 10 million people per year, according to the International Essential Tremor Foundation (IETF).

This mouse adapter will be distributed by Montrose Secam, a British electronics company. You can buy it now for £67.50, 119.00 euros or $107.00, depending on where you live.

For more information, you can read these two articles from the Mercury News, "Algorithm box smoothes hand tremors on mouse," and from the San Francisco Chronicle, "Helping hand for those with shaky hands."

Finally, you might want to read this IBM press release, "Mouse adapter gives computer access to millions of hand tremor sufferers," which offers additional details and links.

Sources: ExtremeTech Staff, March 14, 2005; Therese Poletti, Mercury News, March 14, 2005; Benjamin Pimentel, San Francisco Chronicle, March 14, 2005; and various websites

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