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Apple may extend multi-touch to computer mice

Apple Inc. has filed for a patent describing a computer mouse having a touch-sensitive shell capable of accepting multi-touch finger gestures, similar to the surface of the company's iPhone handset.

"The invention relates to a configurable mouse with an extended sensing surface, which provides the mouse a customizable, programmable or adaptable way of generating inputs," Apple wrote in the filing.

A "position detection mechanism" would detect the movement of the mouse along a surface, while "a multipoint touch detection mechanism" would simultaneously gather feedback from one or more objects that are contacting or in close proximity to a substantially large portion of the grippable mouse shell. "The mouse additionally includes a controller for processing signals generated by the position detection mechanism and multipoint touch detection mechanism," Apple explained.

The controller would include methods for obtaining images of a hand as it interacts with any portion of an arbitrarily shaped mouse housing. It would also obtain touch patterns for each image, extract control information from the resulting touch patterns, and control some aspect of a host device based on the control information.

As the filing explains in more detail: an "optical imaging system" could include "an illumination source for illuminating the 3D shaped top shell, an image sensor arrangement for imaging the 3D shaped top shell when the 3D shaped top shell is illuminated, and a wide angle lens assembly that allows the substantially large portion of the 3D shaped top shell to be imaged by the image sensor arrangement."

Apple said the illumination source would include one or more light sources, while the image sensor arrangement would also include one or more image sensors. "The mouse additionally includes a controller operatively coupled to the mouse tracking unit and optical imaging system, and configured to control the operations of the mouse tracking unit and the optical imaging system," the company wrote. "The controller includes a mouse tracking module associated with the mouse tracking unit and an optical sensing module associated with the optical imaging system."

Another embodiment of the invention calls for methods of imaging the entire or substantially large portion of a 3D shaped top shell of a mouse. This method would include mapping the 3D image to flat space, and segmenting the flat space image into one or more features — each of which represents a discrete touch on the surface of the top shell.

"The method additionally includes calculating contact patch parameters for each of the features," Apple wrote. "Moreover, the method includes sending the contact patch parameters to the host device so that actions can be performed base on the contact patch parameters."

Multi Touch Mouse

In yet another embodiment of the same invention, the mouse could include a housing forming a grippable surface and a sliding surface, the filing states. This mouse would also include a mouse tracking unit built into the sliding surface, and an input mechanism built into the grippable surface that itself includes a touch sensitive protruding member that is supported by a force feedback unit that is attached to the housing.

"The force feedback unit produces force feedback at the touch sensitive protruding member in response to inputs generated at the touch sensitive surface," Apple explained.

The March 13, 2006 filing is credited to Apple employees Christoph Krah and Steve Hotelling.