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Fingertip mouse fits on a ring

Israeli start-up MicroPointing is making a touchpad so small (one square millimeter), it could fit on a ring and be embedded in all manner of devices large and small.

A touchpad so small it could fit on a ring.
This touchpad is only one square millimeter, small enough to fit on a ring. Video screenshot by Eric Smalley/CNET

The Green Lantern's Power Ring it ain't, but a ring containing MicroPointing's touchpad is something Q might give 007. With a sensor control area of one square millimeter, the touchpad can easily be embedded in a ring.

Israeli start-up MicroPointing plans to offer the touchpad for embedding in all manner of devices large and small, including smartphones, Netbooks, remote controls, game controls, cameras, steering wheels--anywhere you might want to let your finger do some scrolling.

The touchpad could be on handsets starting in the fourth quarter of next year, according to Avi Rosenzweig, MicroPointing's vice president of business development.

The MicroPointing touchpad works by detecting the force your fingertip produces as it drags across the tiny device's three sensors, according to the company's patent application. The sensors are mounted on tiny posts spaced a few tenths of a millimeter apart--less than the size of a ridge on your fingertip.

The sensors pick up sideways force as your fingertip moves parallel to the touchpad's surface. The company's secret sauce is an algorithm that can pull detailed data from just three sensors, Rosenzweig said.

The company is betting that the fat-finger problem that can hinder the ease of touch-screen use will drive the market to separate mouse controls from touch screens. And they're counting on makers of ever-shrinking devices to look for tiny components. The touchpad's size means it could be mounted on an edge or corner of a handheld device, saving the front surface for screen area.

graphic showing tiny touchpad on a smartphone
The MicroPointing touchpad, the tiny blue dot in the center of this graphic (look closely!), would take up little real estate on a smartphone. Video screenshot by Eric Smalley/CNET

The tiny touchpad also makes it possible for companies to put more than one mouse controller on a device. For example, a smartphone maker could put one on either end of its product so you could use your phone as a two-handed game controller.

This could herald a trend toward fingertip controls. Last year, ST Microelectronics came out with a fingertip mouse that works like an upside down optical mouse.

I can imagine using a MicroPointing-equipped ring with my smartphone and a head-mounted display. I'd be able to browse the Web as I walk down the street with my phone in my pocket.