For some time now I have been trying to locate a picture of Spacetec’s Spaceball. Due to the fact that I could not remember the name, it took me a while, but today I managed to find this picture:
This was invented by John Hilton, and was originally launched by Spacetec in 1991. We had one in our department at BT Laboratories, and it was used to demonstrate the latest virtual reality software.
To understand this device, it is more a joystick than a mouse. The reason why it is so good for navigating virtual realities is that when you hold it, as going left, right, front and back as you can on a 2D mouse on a desk, you can also gently pull up and push down. You also have pitch, yaw and roll giving three more degrees of motion (see 2D vs. 6D input devices for more information).
Much of why I have been remembering the Spacemouse is because in the early 90s virtual reality was all the range in innovation departments and with futurologists. I myself as part of BT’s Research department used to visit schools and show all this latest gadgetry in order to excite teenagers about careers in technology and IT.
Of course what did happen was the introduction of accelerometers into smart phones, and this unleashed a whole new user experience and application possibilities. I remember being shown a prototype I think around 2001 while at Digital Bridges, where we were developing the first Java mobile games, and we were blown away with the possibilities. But sometimes it’s great to take a look back and look at some of the innovations that did not really ever make it into the mainstream.
Oh, and if you have ever wondered how your smart phone knows which was is up, here’s the video: