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Spinoffs from video games: A touchpad that works

technofile  by al fasoldt

Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology

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Spinoffs from video games: A touchpad that works 

By Al Fasoldt

Copyright © 1993, The Syracuse Newspapers

What good are video games? They're fun, but do they have any redeeming social value? Do they have any spinoffs, as the space program does?

I'm not sure about the social values, but I do know one video-game company that's sure to have PC manufacturers lining up at the door. It's Triax of Albany, N.Y., which has invented a new kind of joystick for Nintendos and similar video-game systems.

The Triax joystick, which sells for about $20 in the regular Nintendo version, has no moving parts. Instead of a push-and-pull stick, as on many video-game controllers, the Triax Turbo Touch 360 has a small, round pad. To make an object on the screen move left, for example, you touch the left edge of the pad.

Triax added another feature. Unlike most control pads and joysticks, the Turbo Touch has a true diagonal movement in addition to the left, right, up and down directions of the standard controller.

But it was the touchpad itself that caught my attention. Such a design is clearly superior to a moving stick - if it works. I asked my wife, a Nintendo fan, to try it out.

Her reaction: A nice try, Triax. She had a little trouble getting used to the way the controller works, but otherwise it worked well. The only real problem - one that the average 7-year-old won't have - came when she kept hitting her fingernails on the lip that runs around the pad. The touchpad is recessed to keep it from being accidentally fingered, but the lip may be a little too high.

With a little development work, the Triax design could be coaxed into a delightful replacement for something a lot more useful than a video-game joystick. It could become the computer mouse of the 90s.

A computer mouse is the hand-held device that you move around on your desk to point at objects on the screen. Its biggest drawback is that it moves - and_if your desk is like mine, you probably have no more than a micro-inch of real_estate to move a mouse around in.

The standard way of getting around this problem, more or less, is to turn the mouse upside down and make it into a trackball. This is a lousy idea, because it forces you to turn your thumb into a sort of roller-crazed, spin-the-ball taskmaster.

The idea of a round touchpad as a replacement for a mouse has actually been tried already on a notebook-size computer, but the computer I tried it on hasn't been released yet. There may be others, too, but they haven't made any headway.

With video-game sales booming, a version of the Turbo Touch for PCs could get a real boost. For more information, call Triax at 518 489-3563.

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