The popularity and use of the computer mouse has changed throughout the years from its humble beginnings as a tool for scientists to now featuring in nearly every home and workspace globally. Despite a slight downward trend following the move to laptop keypads, prioritising ergonomics in the office (and home office of 2020) has seen the simple accessory make a big comeback with the ‘Computer Mice Market’ estimated to reach 1698 million USD by the end of 2026! This recent resurgence and healthy prediction also coincide with the mouses’ 50th birthday this week, and so, to celebrate this anniversary, here is a reminder of how it all started.

Okay – so it was not exactly invented 50 years ago to the day! However, the patent was officially issued on the 17th November 1970. Doug Engelbart, an American inventor, engineer and pioneer of the early computer and internet, created the mouse in a lab as an ‘x-Y Position indicator for a display system’ but gave it its endearing name due to its tail-like cable. The first mouse was simple, just a wooden block with a single button on top that would allow the user to move text on a screen. Despite still being so widely used today, the motivation for its creation was just as one element of the much bigger project, the NLS (“oN-Line System”), that he and colleagues at the Stanford Research Facility were building.

In 2020 the preferred design of mouse, and probably the one you use at home, is the optical mouse. Developed at the end of the 20th century, the optical mouse contains a tiny camera that takes over 1500 pictures every second, as well as an LED (the red light you see shining out the bottom). The mouse works by the light from LED reflecting from the surface that the mouse is placed on back to a ‘complementary metal-oxide semiconductor’ (CMOS for short) sensor. The CMOS sends every single image to a digital signal processor which analyses the images to detect patterns and then track how these patterns move. It uses this information to determine exactly how far the mouse has moved and translates this information into coordinates for the computer, then all the computer has to do it move the cursor on the screen image by image. This process takes place hundreds of times each second and so for the user the cursor simply flows across the screen!

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