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Home > iSGTW - 2 June 2010 > Image of the Week - It's a bird, it's a plane, it's a . . . mouse?

Image of the Week - It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s a . . . mouse? A tracker ball?

Another version of the technology. Note one of the finger holes in the bowling ball above. Image courtesy CERN Bulletin


Way back in 1972, before the advent of a lot of computing hardware & software that we now take for granted, CERN electronics engineer Bent Stumpe needed some way to control an electronic pointer on a computer screen.

So, he purchased a bowling ball and put it in a box along with several other, smaller balls, some electronics and other devices, thus creating what was essentially an upside-down mouse, or tracker ball.

The device worked by transmitting the X-Y movements of the ball to two bearings (one for each direction), which then transmitted them to incremental encoders. The encoders and the rest of the electronics then sent a stream of digital signals to the computer, telling it the direction and speed of the movement.

It continued to be used in what is now CERN’s Computing Center for the next 20 years.

Stumpe said there were some unusual logistical challenges to building his device. The bowling ball manufacturer — based in the USA — only wanted to sell him a minimum of a dozen, so a crateful of bowling balls was duly imported to Europe.

“This led to discussions with the purchasing office, which required an explanation for such an unusual material request,” Stumpe said.

More on this early pointing device can be found in the latest edition of the CERN Bulletin.


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