Our hats go off to Sam King aka Samu aka SunFish7, inventor of the JediPad, the most original rethinking of a handheld computer interface since the Wiimote. It's got seven pressure sensitive ThinkPad-style trackpoints plus internal gyros, so you can move the cursor by waving but change the speed and accuracy of the movement as needed, by pressing down on a trackpoint. There's a more intuitive circular pop-up menu system to go along with it for faster navigation. Sam's even built a crazy orange gyro hat for additional motion tracking (or else some high-tech form of "big pimpin'"). We collected a video and some more pics, plus the full JediPad backstory from our e-mail interview with Sam:
The whole enchilada:
Giz: What inspired you to build the JediPad?
Sam: After university I started coding freelance but had to stop because of bad RSI (repetitive strain injury). This really annoyed me because I had to give up the computer. For while it made life very difficult because a lot of very simple day-to-day things like holding cutlery, writing, etc. had become very painful. I had a lot of time to think about how incredibly stupid the design of the keyboard is. I looked at ways of making it better like putting the keys in sensible places, splitting the keyboard so the tendons pass through the carpal tunnel in a straight line, using the thumbs sensibly, chording, context sensitive keys.
Then I turned the concept upside down. What shape should some device be? Some shape that complements the shape of our hands. So I just made a shape by squeezing some Plasticine. And where to put buttons? It is quite obvious which spots are easy to put pressure on. Also our thumbs have two degrees of freedom, so this makes them perfect for operating trackpoints. So then comes this idea of getting multiple functions at the same button by a directional press.
Giz: Why so many trackpoints?
Sam: Perhaps a half-dozen context-sensitive menus, one related to printing, one to editing, one to emailing, etc. How about zooming and painting? Picture this device wired into Photoshop or Illustrator. Zooming, rotating, selecting, cropping, color selection—each could be assigned its own button. I know I'd like to be able to control both horizontal and vertical scrolling while I'm in the middle of a left-click-drag operation and still need to navigate to the far side of the image. Perhaps this will be the tool to solve that problem. Or maybe 3D games will take advantage of this? Forget 2D input devices like joysticks and trackpads. How about controlling a fleet instead of a ship? Camera controls for shoot-'em-ups? Fast weapon selection and targeting?
Giz: Is the hat part of the JediPad?
Sam: No, it isn't a part of JediPad. The pad has its own gyroscopes. Our head is in a balancepoint on our shoulders. It works very well to track this movement with gyroscopes. It is possible to be very accurate indeed, especially combined with using TrackPoints to slowdown the cursor.
Giz: What's the deal with the JediPad name?
Sam: Dunno... It just seemed to fit. Use the Force! It is going to make an amazing gaming pad, I think. I will probably have to change the name if I ever get a batch run done—or LucasArts will whip my butt. Oh, and try doing a Google Image search of "Jedi Squirrels."
Giz: Thanks for that totally unexpected tip, plus all the background info!
Sam still has loads of work to do—among other things, he's got to map more of the trackpoints, add a scroll wheel and of course make it wireless—but it's a brilliant start. If you are some kind of a genius with extra time on your hands, he does need help with some stuff (electronics, Linux and Windows programming, web design, etc.) so pop by his wiki and lend a hand.
That'd be Sam, there: