Today’s computer mouse may look a bit different compared to its first incarnation, but the basic design of this important input device hasn’t really changed over the decades. Unfortunately, that also means that the problems associated with this ancient design haven’t really gone away, especially those that lead to physical injuries over time. Recently there has been a lot of interest in making the mouse more ergonomic, but not everyone agrees that changing the shape is enough. For example, this design concept takes a very different approach to solving the problem of repetitive strain injury, or RSI, primarily by shifting the movement away from the arm and wrists and training your upper body instead.
Designer: Simon Hochleitner
The computer mouse and even the computer keyboard are very unnatural interfaces for our body. With the mouse in particular, the hand and arm to which it is attached are forced into an unnatural position, whether in motion or at rest. The movements associated with prolonged and repeated use of the mouse eventually lead to what is sometimes referred to as “mouse arm” and its associated injuries. You might think your arm is getting some exercise, but it’s really the wrong type of movement and resting position that is actually causing these injuries.
Ergonomic mice can only do so much as they simply shift the tension and strain to other parts of the hand and arm. Orthopedists and physical therapists may have a different idea of how to solve this problem and unsurprisingly it comes down to using correct movements and postures. However, what may surprise is how this can be achieved by simply changing the way we use the mouse.
National James Dyson Award winner Orbit is redesigning the mouse not by changing its shape, but by changing the way we move it across a flat surface. Instead of simply sliding over a mouse pad, Orbit has three resistance bands that hold the “mouse” in the middle. In order to move the mouse, you have to use some force to counteract the resistance, which in turn shifts the force to other muscle groups, particularly those responsible for posture. With this system, the body is forced not to bend and use those upper body muscles instead of relying on wrist and forearm muscles to move the mouse.
Orbit actually changes the design of the mouse by turning it into a joystick. However, unlike a typical joystick, you still have to move it across the surface, much like a mouse. The only difference is that the shape of the joystick keeps the arm in a more natural position to relieve stress. The touch-sensitive ring at the top acts as a mouse wheel, so you don’t have to change your hand’s position or stop moving just to use it. There’s also a “flat” version that’s more like a traditional mouse designed for gamers.
Whether it’s changing the shape of the mouse or adding some resistance, it’s heartening to see designers challenging the status quo when it comes to this input device. It may be some time before industry picks up on these ideas, but raising awareness of the issues with computer mice is an important first step in changing people’s perceptions.