The future is (almost) now
For all the high-tech razzle-dazzle they bring to the table, your keyboard and mouse might as well be relics from the days of UNIVAC punch cards and adding machines. Sure, the hardware on your desk may get the job done, but almost all of the PC peripherals we use today are mere iterations of familiar forms. They don't throw convention out the window and rewrite the rules of interface design entirely.
All that is about to change. In fact, mind-reeling reinterpretations of peripherals design are already afoot. Some of the examples in the following slides make sense as evolutionary steps forward. Others should surprise even the most active imaginations.
Shogun Bros. Chameleon X-1
It may not be a robot in disguise, but it sure does transform like one. With a quick flip of your wrist, the Chameleon X-1 mouse becomes a gaming controller.
The X-1 comes at a good time, as more and more PC gamers are looking to use console-style controllers. Some people, in fact, will buy Xbox 360 controllers without even owning the system. The Chameleon X-1 lets you do double-duty with a single hunk of hardware. The X-1 is currently shipping, and has been generally well-received, if the numerous customer reviews on Amazon are to be believed. We're looking forward to reviewing its next iteration.
Suma mouse prototype
Still using a mouse with two fingers? How quaint. This touch-sensitive mouse responds to every finger and hand gesture, allowing you to swipe, squeeze, and stroke your way to a wide variety of actions.
Why will you need it? Because the future will be full of 3D programs and games that are hindered by standard two-click, 2D mice. Cambridge Consultants' Suma mouse, meanwhile, zooms out on Google Maps with a squeeze of your hand, and turns 360 degrees with a simple spin gesture. Click and drag no more! The Suma is not quite ready for prime time, but the technology is getting there.
The Peregrine Glove
OK, now things are just getting out of hand. If a transformable and touch-sensitive mouse doesn't cut it for you, how about no mouse at all? The Peregrine Glove prototype removes mice from the equation entirely and instead uses 18 Touch Points and three Activator Pads to execute more than 30 user-programmable actions. It's being pitched as a gaming controller for now, but we can see it becoming a stepping stone to future interface controls. Just imagine: You snap your fingers, and an application launches. Or you clap two times, and your system shuts down. Hey, we're just riffing here.
If you're too lazy to move your hand, there's always the REX, a "Gaze Interaction" device that maps your eye movement to on-screen cursor positioning. In the photo to the left, the device itself is the little black bar at the bottom of the screen. It uses highly sensitive sensors to track where you're looking.
Controllers like the REX might eliminate the need to scroll while reading. When you reach the bottom of a page, the REX scrolls down for you. The device, which is set to ship later this year, attaches to any monitor and connects to your PC via USB. So get your eye drops ready for a limited edition slated to be available this fall.
What could be nicer to look at when using the REX than a screen made of air and a couple microns of water? Sounds refreshing.
The Displair is an interactive projection screen that responds to multitouch gestures. To see how it works, watch our own Philip Michaels slice some virtual fruit.
Traditional screens are functional and logical, but they just aren't cool anymore--at least not since Minority Report showed us a different way to interact with a graphical interface. The Displair is set to arrive in the second quarter of 2013 with a whopping $10,000 price tag.
Instead of connecting another device to your computer, why not just connect yourself to the world around you? The SixthSense uses a camera and projector to turn any surface into a multitouch interface. The system translates finger gestures into common actions, such as taking photos.
With technology like this, the physical world becomes your search engine. Pick up a book and check the reviews right on the cover, or read a recipe on a bottle of barbecue sauce.
The SixthSense is still a prototype, but the smarty-pants at MIT have released a "how-to" on creating your own version for about $350. The tech may not be perfect, but it's a peek at what's to come.
Luminae TransluSense Keyboard
Physical keys are so out. Pretty, light-emitting panes of curved glass are now where it's at.
The TransluSense uses cameras and infrared light to read the input and swipes from your hands. Instead of using a mouse, you use the keyboard's surface as a trackpad.
You can also place programmable, customizable skins over the top of the TransluSense so that it bears the layout you want: Turn it into the perfect PC gaming keyboard, for example, or one tailor-made for Excel.
Luminae is still working out some bugs, but, with luck, you'll be able to buy it in a year or two.
This is less of a peripheral and more of an all-in-one package--literally. Leave your mouse, keyboard, and monitor at home. The future of mini PCs has you covered.
While the MIseeTx's Intel Atom processor isn't very powerful, the packaging deserves a nod of approval. The system projects a virtual keyboard and mouse in front of you, as well as a screen on a surface up to 88 inches wide. Bring it along on your travels and use it as a futuristic media device with some computing capabilities.
The MIseeTX isn't yet available, and there's no word on pricing, but here's hoping it will stir up enough interest to see the light of day.
Intellect Motion's GameCube
Game developers strive to create immersive experiences, and any tool that helps them do that piques their interest--as well as ours. That's where the GameCube comes in (no, it's not Nintendo's little purple box).
In a market sorely lacking in virtual-reality gear (though that may be changing with the Oculus Rift), Intellect Motion is experimenting with the next best thing. Strap yourself into a bungee-type apparatus, grab the plastic gun, and move around to play.
Our own Alex Wawro worked up a sweat playing a first-person shooter with the GameCube. Intellect Motion says the contraption will appear in arcades soon. Arcades still exist?
Disney's Botanicus Interactus
The pièce de résistance of future peripherals may be your favorite house plant.
A product of Disney's research group, Botanicus Interactus is your gateway to "highly expressive interactive plants." You place an electrode in the plant's soil and then touch the plant in, one hopes, an appropriate manner, and your gestures appear on an external display. The technology tracks exactly where you handled the plant. Even weirder, each leaf or portion of stem can become a key for typing or a trigger for playing musical notes.
To see it in action, watch this video.