NewsFactor Sci::Tech
Tech Innovation & Discovery


Snaky Tape May Enliven Computer Interactions

By Mike Martin
NewsFactor Network
April 21, 2003
http://sci.newsfactor.com/perl/story/21314.html

"The development of smart spaces depends upon the availability of clever embedded technology of all sorts and will endow our environment with 'liveness' in the sense that the environment will be aware of who and what is in its shared physical spaces."
In the marketplace for computer tools, the snake may devour the mouse if a crafty new invention lives up to its unusual promise.

Twisting, bending, pushing and pulling a flexible, snakelike tool called the "ShapeTape," University of Toronto computer science professor Ravin Balakrishnan and his team claim they can computer-generate two- and three-dimensional images without ever moving a mouse or tapping a keyboard.


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Shaping the Future

"Our work represents a completely different way of interacting with computers," Balakrishnan told NewsFactor. "It moves away from the 'one-size-fits-all' keyboard-and-mouse paradigm to more specialized tools for specialized tasks."

Embedded with fiber-optic sensors, the ShapeTape is a long rubber ribbon with a spring steel core. In tandem with a foot pedal, the ShapeTape guides specialized software that allows users to create virtual shapes on a computer screen. Held in both hands, the tape can be twisted and bent to change image sizes and shapes.

"We're able to do things in the virtual world while maintaining a connection to the physical world," Balakrishnan said.

Making Spirits Bright

"The functionality of the ShapeTape is part of a much larger development that is taking place -- the deployment of intelligent devices in the physical world around us to create so-called 'smart spaces,'" said UCLA computer science professor Leonard Kleinrock.

In this case, the smart space lies in the user's hands, and the ShapeTape is an "intelligent device embedded in the physical world and connected to the Internet," said Kleinrock, one of the world's foremost experts on Internet technology.

"The development of smart spaces depends upon the availability of clever embedded technology of all sorts and will endow our environment with 'liveness' in the sense that the environment will be aware of who and what is in its shared physical spaces," Kleinrock explained. "The ShapeTape can play a part in this interaction between cyberspace and the outside world by permitting familiar actions in physical space to be interpreted and processed in cyberspace."

Commercial Applications

Graphic and industrial designers, for instance, could increase the intelligence of their spaces by using the ShapeTape to design and refine technical drawings of such products as computers and cars, Balakrishnan said.

"Commercialization, however, is at least several years away," he told NewsFactor. Presently, "a Canadian company, Measurand, makes the device, and the software, currently a research application, is from our lab."

Research about the ShapeTape appears in the Association of Computing Machinery's Computer-Human Interaction Letters, Volume 5, Issue 1.


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