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PowerBook As A New Kind Of Human Interface Device 276

An anonymous reader writes "As covered earlier on Slashdot, Amit Singh had shown how to access and use the motion sensor feature in the late model PowerBooks for innovative things, which created quite a buzz in the Mac community. In an ingenius new article, Singh has taken the idea all the way and released software which lets you use a PowerBook with a motion sensor as a general purpose input device which works with existing apps. IMHO the coolest use of this is for playing games: be sure to check out the video footage in the article. For instance, in a car racing game, you steer by tilting the PowerBook left and right, go faster by tilting it forward, brake by tilting it backwards! You can also scroll in apps. Google Map scrolling with my PowerBook feels like flying in an aiprlane over the terrain. I must say you have to try this in real life to appreciate the experience ... go to the Apple store or something if you don't have the hardware ;-) Before this my girlfriend (who uses a Dell notebook) has never called anything computer related "jawdropping"! Wouldn't it be nice to have a gaming motion sensor be standard issue in all future laptops?"
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PowerBook As A New Kind Of Human Interface Device

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  • More from Amit Singh (Score:5, Informative)

    by daveschroeder ( 516195 ) * on Monday March 21, 2005 @11:43AM (#11999306)
    What's even cooler about Amit Singh is that he's a he's a researcher [] at IBM Alamaden Research Center [], working on, among other things, secure communications and Linux on the desktop.

    And be sure to check out his other articles [], particularly What is Mac OS X? [] . They're all well written, comprehensive on their respective topics, and generally excellent.
  • by clinko ( 232501 ) on Monday March 21, 2005 @11:45AM (#11999337) Journal
    This article is fake. Note the following lie in bold:

    "Before this my girlfriend (who uses a Dell notebook) has never called anything computer related "jawdropping"! "
    • Re:Fake Article (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      you've gotten us again with your clever insight into SlashDot and nerd culture.
      Oh how I wish I could ignore any post referencing a "meme".
      • "you've gotten us again with your clever insight into SlashDot and nerd culture.
        Oh how I wish I could ignore any post referencing a "meme"

        Or posts that hit close to home?
    • "Before this my girlfriend (who uses a Dell notebook) has never called anything computer related "jawdropping"! "

      Maybe now she can call it "computer dropping", when somebody's hands slip as they're waving their Powerbook through three dimensions and a $2500 piece of equipment falls to the floor and gets ruined!

      Come on, they're called LAPtops for a reason.
      • Come on, they're called LAPtops for a reason.

        Except these days, manufacturers have taken to calling them notebook computers, mostly because the "must have more power" crowd keep par-boiling their privates.
        • I don't understand how people sit them on their privates to begin with. I find it hard to type on a notebook while sitting up when the notebook is too close to my body. The back is almost on my kneecaps and the front doesn't come close to my privates. Maybe it's just because I have long legs...
  • by LittleGuernica ( 736577 ) on Monday March 21, 2005 @11:46AM (#11999339) Homepage
    This Porn Site is Powerbook Enabled ..yes, I can see a lot of new ways of interaction

    and Apples new Powerbook tagline:
    "Shake it Like A Polaroid Picture"
    "Do the Powerbook Shuffle"

  • Thinkpads hmmmm (Score:3, Informative)

    by RebelWithoutAClue ( 578771 ) on Monday March 21, 2005 @11:46AM (#11999353) Homepage
    Thinkpads have this sensor too...
    • Re:Thinkpads hmmmm (Score:4, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 21, 2005 @01:17PM (#12000751)
      On Thinkpads the sensor is on the hard drive itself. The difference is that in PowerBooks it is on the motherboard, allowing it to be used with any hard drive and technically any hardware - e.g. Sudden Motion Sensing iPods...
  • by UnixRevolution ( 597440 ) on Monday March 21, 2005 @11:46AM (#11999354) Homepage Journal
    How much good all this tilting and stuff does the hard drive. I'd think it caused some undue wear and tear, if not a head crash. Plus, to be picking up the whole laptop for use as an interface device seems a bit risky. Especially a Powerbook (you're talking around 2 grand there, Slim.)

    • by SuperKendall ( 25149 ) * on Monday March 21, 2005 @11:52AM (#11999439)
      Depending on how you have your power settings, the HD is probably going to be asleep most of the time anyway. And the gentle motion you're talking about here is hardly going to be enough to phase a laptop drive - I've got a portable storage device that uses a laptop drive and had it sucessfully write a whole GB of data while I was walking quickly and had it in a pocket in my shorts.

      In short, don't worry about the HD... slippery fingers might be a bit more of a concern but just be careful to do this above your lap, not held high in the air like a trophy.
      • IIRC, in the first article (which I didn't re-read), he advised about parking the drive before we experiment.
      • This feature is in place to save the hardware, by using it the way this app wants us to it will end up costing hardware. Harddrives, drops and what not. I don't think Apple or any other Company had this in mind when they designed the thing.

        They could just as well take it away again and see a drop in failed hardware.
        • Does this software prevent the system from parking when dropped? If so, then there's a slight danger when using it. Otherwise it has no effect on hardware reliability. My god, do you lock your laptop in a vise when you use it to prevent the slightest motion? There's a reason it's called a "laptop", because you can use it on your lap!! We aren't talking about whirling the thing above your head like a rythmic gymnastics champion, after all - just slight tilting here and there!!

          "drop in failed hardware" i
    • "How much good all this tilting and stuff does the hard drive. I'd think it caused some undue wear and tear"

      The solution to this is to market a keyboard with the same capabilities. This keyboard could be plugged into the Powerbook, at which point it would disable the Powerbook's internal "shake controller". Then you could rag on the keyboard without worrying about shaking up the Powerbook. It makes it less portable, of course...

    • Generally I don't think hard drives care what angle they are operating at. The disk platters and heads have no more chance of contact when operating tilted then "right side up". The motion has to be pretty jarring to cause a head crash.
      • Well, you've never seen me play pinball.
      • I'm not so worried about the heads crashing as I am about spindle wear due to prolonged rotation at odd angles. I have a Tablet PC that gets a ton of use at 45 to 70 degree angles, and I have gone through several hard drives for it. They tend to get louder with various ticking and rattling sounds and eventually die. The same brand/capacity of drives seems to have no problem in my Thinkpad (which sits flat on the desk all day), only in the Tablet. Maybe it's just coincidence...

        Any other Tablet PC users hav
    • um.. isn't the whole reason for the sensor being there to be able to park the harddisk if going gets rough?

    • Wonder how much the motion sensor (and developing/debugging the interface) adds to the cost of said laptop.

      These applications are just hacks, and have no usefulness, really. I'm sure in due time someone will figure out how to use the motion sensor for input for the disabled, though.

    • by BobPaul ( 710574 ) *
      How much good all this tilting and stuff does the hard drive. I'd think it caused some undue wear and tear, if not a head crash

      Most Hard drives are rated for physical crashes in the hundreds of Gs of force. Tilting a laptop probably won't even cause 1G. Even dropping a laptop off a desk while it's in use won't nessicarily damage the drive, and I'd say most certainly won't damage the drive if the heads are locked (like if it's off). I'd be more concerned about the screen durring an accidental drop, but ti
  • A friend built an Atari 2600/400/etc compliant joystick device into a Tupperware container. It had mercury switches in it, and you controlled it just by tilting it. I never used it much.
  • by Nom du Keyboard ( 633989 ) on Monday March 21, 2005 @11:47AM (#11999366)
    And how much worse does this torque the bearings of the fast-spinning, gyroscopically-simulating hard drive?
  • by mypalmike ( 454265 ) on Monday March 21, 2005 @11:49AM (#11999386) Homepage
    Before this my girlfriend (who uses a Dell notebook) has never called anything computer related "jawdropping"!

    Umm, actually, she was just yawning.

  • by drunken dash ( 804404 ) on Monday March 21, 2005 @11:52AM (#11999434) Homepage
    I don't think this is a particularly good application for racing games, because if you watch the video, since you're actually tilting the notebook, the screen tilts with it. It's somewhat disorienting, and requires you to tilt your head repeatedly (as you turn) which will quite likly get annoying real fast.
    • IIRC from the previous article, a previously created app from the originator of these motion sensor hacks tilts the contents of the screen so that as the PB tilts the picture stays level to the viewer (i.e. - PB screen goes left and down, screen contents go right and up to compensate).
  • ...with those Atari games that can now be contained completely within the base of the thing. Now we turn an expensive laptop into a joystick. And I thought it was expensive to get a broken Gravis joystick replaced.

    Somewhere in the future as AI/Expert software spreads, "Will you stop freaking shaking me like that and get a gyro mouse already?! I'm getting nauseous and feel like I need to take a hex dump. I think I'm going to reformat..."
  • by xtal ( 49134 ) on Monday March 21, 2005 @11:53AM (#11999452)
    It's an accellerometer! There have been inertial mice based off these guys for as long as the sensors have been available.

    There's some projects out there to hack one of these into some earlier palmpilots directly onto the bus, a nifty hack. Oh, wait, starting to get that feeling.. tm l

    Sigh. I have a powerbook and like it, but new kind of HID? Please.

    Call me when they have a camera in there like the Sony vaio picturebook used to, and you can wave your arms at it and such. Then it might be a new interface device.
  • by biglig2 ( 89374 ) on Monday March 21, 2005 @11:53AM (#11999455) Homepage Journal
    Well, no.

    Don't get me wrong, this is a cool hack, but a 17" powerbook weighs over 3 kilograms.

    You know how your Xbox controller was a bit big? Well, it wasn't that big.
    • Yes with both you could bludgeon someone to death , however with the powerbook you could bludgeon in style whilst running OS X and with the sensor you would risk less HDD dammage whilst doing it
      • No, no, no. Wrong! You should use an old IBM clicketyclick keyboard for this! As you can run a truck over them (and have them still work), they've been a sysadmin's favourite way of getting rid of pesky users. "Do you see any weapon, police officer? There's only me and my keyb... eh computer!"
        • Ah memorys , i still have one (box full). You certainly could fire upon it with a Howizer and it would still type but i found its one major weakness , a double esspresso , so incase any crazed sysadmin comes into your office in a suit of IBM Keyboards , you know the only way to stop him is spill esspresso on him
    • by l4m3z0r ( 799504 )
      Don't get me wrong, this is a cool hack, but a 17" powerbook weighs over 3 kilograms.

      God forbid us feeble nerds be subjected to the lifting of a small amount of weight.

  • by Psykechan ( 255694 ) on Monday March 21, 2005 @11:54AM (#11999475)
    After (of course) parking the disk heads, I think that turning the laptop upside-down and giving it a good shaking should clear the screen.

    I mean, wouldn't that just be common sense?
  • Does that mean if you tip it upside down and shake vigorously the imagaes on the screen disappear??
  • I love the "gee whiz" aspect of the motion sensor as input, but I really don't feel this will ever be more than a toy.

    As it is, I hate lifting my hands off the keyboard. To think that I'd actually have to take my hands off the keyboard, lift my laptop, and hover it around is absurd.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I'm rather surprised no one has yet thought of applying this to a Pinball game. Tilt indeed. Could get rather rough with the bumping though.
  • by amichalo ( 132545 ) on Monday March 21, 2005 @11:59AM (#11999537)
    "Laptops are big...Mice are small...add a motion sensor to a blue-tooth mouse and you will drop my jaw."
  • nahh .. (Score:4, Funny)

    by ciupman ( 413849 ) <> on Monday March 21, 2005 @12:01PM (#11999553) Homepage
    ...anything that doesn't plug into the back of your neck just plain sucks!!
  • I don't get it (Score:3, Insightful)

    by DrugCheese ( 266151 ) on Monday March 21, 2005 @12:03PM (#11999587)
    I can't see this becoming anything more then a novelty. So instead of doing something easily and quickly with a mouse or a touchpad underneath your hand. You're gonna hold a 5-12 pound laptop in your hands. After 4 minutes of gaming you're arms will be tired.

  • Marble demo (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Have Blue ( 616 ) on Monday March 21, 2005 @12:04PM (#11999591) Homepage
    A better game for the "ball/tilting" genre might be Marble Blast Gold [], which is different from Neverball in that the image does *not* tilt in response to input. Considering that the Powerbook is being physically tilted already, it would look much more like real-world forces are acting on the marble.
  • Tilt maze (Score:2, Interesting)

    by oniboy ( 786449 )
    I guess the next big craze in laptop gamming will be a virtual maze game like the ones we had when we were kids that had a small metal ball inside & u had the tilt the maze to get the ball thought the maze & to the finish hole.
    Damn things have gotting expensive & complicated but havnt realy changed at all...!
  • by tgrigsby ( 164308 ) on Monday March 21, 2005 @12:06PM (#11999606) Homepage Journal
    For instance, in a car racing game, you steer by tilting the PowerBook left and right, go faster by tilting it forward, brake by tilting it backwards! ...Wouldn't it be nice to have a gaming motion sensor be standard issue in all future laptops?"

    I tried it with John Madden's NFL Football. I threw a Hail Mary pass; a perfect, aim-for-the-end-zone spiral. My Powerbook sailed out the window of my 10th floor San Francisco apartment and I haven't seen it since.

    I wonder if the pass was complete?

    • Yep, you scored !
      And btw thank you, my beloved anonymous powerbook thrower. It did hurt, but what a good surprise it was after the surgery when doc showed me what brought me at the hospital !
      I haven't cleaned the blood and brain parts sticked on it yet so i can make that "bloody powerbook" joke , so funny !
      Oh and those videos with horses are lots of fun but you should check out the women sections once in a while, dude.
  • Also See: (Score:5, Informative)

    by jeffehobbs ( 419930 ) on Monday March 21, 2005 @12:14PM (#11999713) Homepage

    This is really cool from a UI perspective, but not entirely new. A couple years ago people were doing interesting things with tilt sensors for Palm devices []. Also see: Nintendo's new WarioWare game [] for GameBoy advance, which has a rotational sensor built-in to the cartridge. Also, Sony has done research in this area [] as well.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Well then...*takes deep breath*


  • Several problems have already been mentioned, like using the whole laptop like this defies the original reason ot have a motion sensor - to protect the hard disk -; plus, it's a bit heavy too.

    Still, an input device like this would be cool, but I'd rather have it integrated in my (separate) keyboard or mouse.
  • music applications (Score:5, Interesting)

    by akuzi ( 583164 ) on Monday March 21, 2005 @12:18PM (#11999774)
    I can see the powerbook/ibook sensors becoming popular amoungst laptop music geeks as a controller for interactive performances. (making the computer more and more like an instrument that can be played live)
  • The Minolta 7 and 7D SLR cameras have a motion sensor so that the orientation of the LCD changes depending on whether the camera is held landscape or portrait.

    It also automatically turns on when you raise the camera to your eye.

  • by Wonderkid ( 541329 ) on Monday March 21, 2005 @12:20PM (#11999802) Homepage
    Although never seen on a laptop, we modified an Atari Jaguar controller in about 1995 with a motion sensor and used it to control their bundled video game. You tilted it to steer. It was just a prototype but we should have patented it looking back. With rergards to this brilliant Powerbook app, it would be nice to make it clear the screen/canvas in Photoshop and other graphics apps by shaking the machine, like Etch-A-Sketch!
  • Nifty toy? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Malluck ( 413074 )

    New innovation in the gaming market?
    Not really.

    Nintendo has made cartages [] for thier handheld systems that utilize tilt sensors. I'm sure other companies have them as well.

    If you want to be really critical, we've had tilt games forever. You know, those cheapy plastic maze games where you roll the little steel ball thur. That is all I've ever seen these sensors lend themseves to, just digital versions of these games. The killer app for this tech is still waiting to be found. I guess hard drive protecti
  • Nokia 3220 (Score:5, Interesting)

    by BarryNorton ( 778694 ) on Monday March 21, 2005 @12:24PM (#11999878)
    Hate to sound like a phone geek, but my new Nokia 3220 [] with this standard mod [] has this feature, supported by 'Java motion' for programming, and ships games that use it...
  • PowerWindows (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Doc Ruby ( 173196 ) on Monday March 21, 2005 @12:33PM (#12000013) Homepage Journal
    How about a revision of the controller SW that keeps the display "steady" by rotating it exactly opposite to the detected PowerBook motion? That would make the PowerBook seem to be a real "window" onto the virtual world within. The immediate, simple feedback would probably be so convincing that it would blow your mind. Which is what "thinking different" is all about.
    • There was a program that did that in the previous article about this guy's hackery. It worked on individual windows, so they would seem to "dangle" from a pivot in the center of the title bar.

      Unfortunately, judging from the demo movie, it wouldn't be *that* convincing- the window response lagged behind the motion by a fraction of a second, and the motion sensor can only handle angles less than 90 degrees.
  • by sootman ( 158191 ) on Monday March 21, 2005 @12:34PM (#12000030) Homepage Journal
    ...was at Siggraph in Orlando, FL in 1998. One booth had goggles (not sure what else to call them, kind of like these []) and a headband with a gyro-sensor-thingie. Even though it wasn't 3d/stereo (the only possible improvement), it was so awesome. They had a good FPS game running (I think either GLQuake or Quake II at the time) and it was the greatest thing in the world. Just as good as you can imagine--walk with the arrow keys on a keyboard, shoot with 'control', but you could look around with your head, rather than the mouse.

    It worked perfectly. Just what VR should be. Better than the those big, clunky, slow things at the mall; probably as good as what was imagined by Gibson. Better than what was shown in that crappy movie with Michael Douglas and Demi Moore, based on the equally crappy Crichton book. Perfect, perfect, perfect--very fast, no delay at all, nothing unnatural about it. Just turn your head, look up, and that's what you see. Exactly what you would expect.

    My question is this: it's six and a half years later. Gear like this should be a few hundred bucks now. Why isn't it everywhere? Sony quit making the glasstrons, and this place [] has gyros be they seem like they cost a lot more than they should. I don't know a gamer who wouldn't love a setup like this. Gamers have spent a zillion dollars on video cards and controllers in the last decade. Stuff like this seems like it would have a huge market, and capitalism--more than nature itself--abhors a vacuum.
  • Anyone remember the Microsoft SideWinder Freestyle Pro [] from 2000? Didn't work out too well. Turns out using a tilt sensor for gaming was just another gimmick that quickly disappeared.
  • New applications (Score:3, Insightful)

    by theolein ( 316044 ) on Monday March 21, 2005 @12:49PM (#12000261) Journal
    While I doubt that a notebook is an ideal platform for this type of gaming, mainly because the keyboard is difficult to hit while tilting the notebook (you need both hands), I can see that Amit Singh has already thought about either selling the idea, the software, or patenting it, since his licence is only for a 10 minute demo preview. Apple might be wanting to include this software, or possibly even games that use it, in future macs.

    Also, from the original submitter's story:
    Wouldn't it be nice to have a gaming motion sensor be standard issue in all future laptops?"

    I think that Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft have more to gain by making game controllers that use this technology. A lot of people, me included, don't like the tiny joysticks or pads on standard controllers. A controller using this technology would be much more natural. In fact, I'm postive that it will end up being used pretty soon.

    Apple, or Amit Singh would be crazy not to patent the idea.
  • From his first article:
    An important caveat is that if one were to use the AMS for anything that involves moving the machine, it would be undesirable to have the module keep parking and unparking the heads as the computer moves. While the AMS is being used for "other" purposes, its emergency head-parking feature should ideally be disabled.

    Somehow it seems the head prevention mechanism would be most desirable when you're picking your laptop up and swinging it around!

Karl's version of Parkinson's Law: Work expands to exceed the time alloted it.