The Journey to Advanced Human-Computer Interaction Technologies By Rockeish McKenzie Abstract

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The Journey to Advanced Human-Computer Interaction Technologies

By Rockeish McKenzie


Since the first computers were innovated, engineers have always strived to improve the ways in which we interact with these innovations. Introducing the Graphic User Interface, GUI, briefly quenched the initial desire for better human-computer interactions. During the period of conception of the GUI, the mouse and keyboard were sufficient devices and quite fascinating, but could be improved. Throughout the decades after the first computer, engineers developed certain technologies, including the infrared technology that allowed computers to detect a person’s touch, whether it is person’s finger or some other detectable stimuli touching the screen. Touch technologies increased gradually throughout the following years and erupted in 2007. The reign of this class of technology continues today. Engineering improvements in computers such as speed, power, and capability has allowed the birth of even more advanced technologies such as 3D modeling programs and tools. The usage of 3D modeling programs and tools allows for better ways to interact with computers. Motion-sensing technology may be the direction which will provide a higher level of interactivity, creating a more natural and efficient way to interact with ones computer.


With computer speed becoming less of an issue today, many engineers are now turning their focus on improving the way we interact with computers, eliminating the hassles or pain-points making our lives easier. As a result, there are many new and emerging game-changing technologies which help us to better interact with the computer. This article will look at the first GUI technologies, move on through current technologies such as the touch-screen, and finally peek at exciting future technologies already in development, such as advanced motion-sensing technologies.


In an effort to better appreciate were we are now, let us look at snapshots of the first devices enabling human-computer interaction, starting with Lisa, a long ago introduced Apple computer. “Lisa [Local integrated software architecture] forges a new relationship between users and computers. Allowing people to work in a more natural way without having to adopt rigid computer conventions or special languages,” declared Apple Computer Inc. on January 19, 1983. Lisa revolutionized the world of computers, being the first to offer a GUI. [1] Before Lisa, users had to type coded languages when interacting with the computer. Lisa’s GUI allowed users to interact with their computers through graphics, icons, indicators, etc. Skyrocketing hype and anticipation for Lisa was probably due to the ease of use it offered compared technology of that time; but, there is always room for improvement in any technology, always a pain-point, always a way to engineer something more powerful. In only two years, Apple Inc. stopped making Lisa and focused on the Macintosh in hopes of engineering a more powerful computer. [2] The theme of engineering and reengineering computer technologies to make our lives easier was visible in the time of Lisa and still visible now.

The Drive to Engineer Today

We have come a long way since the days of Lisa. Nowadays our technologies are much more advanced due to the countless amounts of technological improvements that have made it possible for a much easier human-computer interactions.

In addition to the vast improvements the mouse and keyboard have undergone, there are a number of other current and emerging technologies. These current and emerging technologies allow for more powerful modes of communicating with the personal computer. In 1981, Xerox sold the first computer with a mouse, the 8010 Star Information System for $16, 595! The 8010 Star Information System was seen as the next big thing when it hit the market. People were amazed by the level of interactivity it allowed. [3, 4] Below in figure 1 is an image of the 8010 Star Information System.


Fig. 1:

Looking back from the year 2013, one might see the Star Information System new as only a simple computer with a mouse, and that person’s point of view would be understandable. This point of view probably stems from the fact that our society has engineered all sorts of new technologies which have impacted the way we use the computer, in particular, how we input information.

The modes thought which we input information is always being improved as a result of new technological innovations. One of these major innovations is the Radio Frequency (RF) technology, which is a method that allows two devices to communicate wirelessly by transmitting and receiving unique signals. A large number of modern keyboards and mouse utilizes this technology providing more freedom to its users. [5] RF technology eliminates the need for wired connection to the computer. And even more, some computers don’t use the mouse or keyboard. Through the use of a touchpad on most laptops, the users are able to interact with the computer without being burdened by the hassles of a mouse. Directly below is a top view of a typical the touchpad.


Fig. 2:

The touchpad uses both continuous and discrete input signal technology to sense the user’s fingers or multiple fingers’ position and pressure. Users can accurately control the cursor seen on the screen via touching the flat pad surface, having all the functions of the mouse and more at their fingertips. This technology was initially engineered approximately two decades ago! [6] Although some prefer the mouse over touchpad, the touchpad technology has definitely made its mark on many. Of course the theme of engineering and reengineering kicked in, as always. In the past few years, a new technology has been engineered to make our lives even better providing us with more conveniences in terms of how we interact with computers. This clever technology has shattered the way we use our devices from cell phones to the computer: Touch-screen technology.

The Touch-screen Technology


The basic ideas behind touch-screens have been around for quite a while, but it was not until the year 2007 that the use of this technology exploded. In fact, the first use of touch-screen technology was seen in 1972 when a system named PLATO IV, an educational computer system, featured a 16×16 grid infrared touch panel for answering questions. [7]

In order to detect a person’s touch, mounted around the panel were infrared sensors which essentially created a grid of light beams across the screen not visible to the human eye; when the screen is touched, the beams are blocked or disrupted and the sensors tell the machine the location of the touch based on blocked beams. [8] The engineering of this technology made it easier for students to interact with computer systems and learn more. See figure 3 for a visual explanation of how it works.


Fig. 3: Visual Explanation Of Infrared Technology,

Since the first actualization of the touch-screen technology, many groups became curious about the idea, urging engineers to consider the possibilities and make them happen. The touch-screen technology, though not as advanced as it is now, was not limited to one sector by the turn of the century. By the early 2000s there were was little adaptation of the technology. In 2001 for example, the MERL DiamondTouch, a multi-user screen table that allowed for small group collaboration could be seen throughout the business sector. It made it much easier for more efficient business and collaboration. [9] Still, in the early 2000s, the potentials of touch-screen technology were not yet fully realized.

A Rise to Popularity

It was not until 2007 when Apple Incorporated integrated the touch-screen technology into its iPhone that the technology became very popular. Its release enlightened engineers to search for ways in which this technology could fix the many pain-points of the world, and not too long after, touch-screen technology exploded everywhere. [10] Today we see touch-screen technology in ATMs, Kindles, commercial buildings, schools, PDAs, Smart Phones, Cars, Cameras, Global Positioning Systems(GPSs), Tablet Computers, video games, desktops, laptops.

How It Works

Depending on the device requirements and application, the technology used for detecting touch or other stimuli may vary, with the most common ones being resistive, capacitive, acoustic, infrared, dispersive signal, and optical technologies. Though these methods vary, common to them all is a touch responsive surface using current and voltage principles to communicate to the device being used. The communication involves telling the camera, GPS, PDAs, computers, etc, what’s going on screen, in terms of position(s) being touch, etc prompting the device to react.

Here is a brief clarification of the above methods: Resistive screens use electrical resistors to detect touch, capacitive screens uses changes in electric charge at specific points to detect touch, acoustic screens detect ultrasonic wave absorption due to finger interference, Infrared detects finger position based on blocked beams (as seen in explanation of the PLATO IV above), dispersive signal technology uses special touch sensitive glass, and finally optical screens depends on interference of finger or stimuli and can be more advanced than infrared technology. [10, 11, 12] Having all these methods allows engineers to innovate some very useful functions.

More than Just Touch

On the computer for example, we are able to do much more than just touch the screen. We are able to touch multiple points of a website, photo, document, or anything on the screen and resize it or manipulate it in any reasonable way. Touch-screens can now detect duration of touch or even pressure of touch in order to make the computer interactions more natural. It does not end here. There will always be pain-points and new solutions. Because touching a screen could be a little annoying and irritating to some fingers, engineers have made it possible for users to now do a “floating touch” through the capacitive method mentioned above. [13] With this new innovation, users are able to basically hover their fingers close to the screen without touching, eliminating the unintended manifestations of touching: smearing the screen, irritating ones fingers, etc. The touch-screen technology has erupted throughout our society and continues to be improved. Additionally, quite a few new technologies being engineered for better human-computer interactions.

The Future of Human-Computer


Computers can now handle large amount of data and processing, which leads to using very sophisticated tools. Many companies and business for example, have left their archaic methods of solving problems to now relying more on computer softwares, quite a few involving 3D modeling. 3D modeling is currently used for entertainment, gaming, architecture, publishing, advertising and marketing, or even geology and sciences, just to name a few. [14] 3D modeling is being used in virtually all sectors, and with its frequent use, comes pain-points. Imagine using a mouse and key board to manipulate 3D objects on your screen. This process can be very tedious. The touch-screen technologies allows for better usability and efficiency, but the user is able to at most hover over the screen with limited power to get the desired results naturally and efficiently. Currently the most promising solutions have been found through the use of motion-sensing technology, and this technology has been around for a while.

We see motion-sensing technology in home security systems, radars used by the policeman, throughout the past decades. More recently we see this technology being incorporated by engineers in video games [15], cells phones [16], and many other devices.

The robustness of the today’s computer has also made possible the incorporation of motion-sensing technology. One emerging group that we see bringing motion-sensing techniques to human-computer interaction is Leap Motion. [17] Mentioned above is the need for our interactions with computers to be more natural. This desire for more natural interactions is being pursued with by Leap Motion who has engineered a motion-sensing device which allows users to interact with the desktop through gestures in front the screen. With this technology, the user’s fingers or other stimuli are detected within 1 meter (3 feet) from the screen. [17] There are other companies working on perfecting using motion-sensing technology for human-computer interactions. AirStrike, a French-Japanese company, is also working to perfect using one’s finger to control the computer screen more naturally. [18] In both cases sensor(s) detect the stimuli and its actions, and then sends the information to some software so the computer can react. This is the basic operation behind motion-sensing technologies for human-computer interactions. Below is a glimpse of motion-sensing technology at work in human-computer interactions:




Engineered with astounding capabilities, computers with motion-sensing technology interpret where a user’s fingers are and what they are communicating. Motion-sensing interpretations allow the computer to react naturally and create a more real, efficient, and powerful experience.


Judging from the numerous innovations seen throughout the past decades, it is difficult to predict where we are headed. However, there needs to be no worries, because we live in a world of doers and thinkers, of engineers. We have engineered our way from the seemingly pain-point filled days of Apple’s Lisa to now being able to use our hands in midair to naturally and somewhat realistically develop and manipulate 3D models. Engineers have brought us a long way in terms of how we interact with our computers, and from connecting the dots of the innovations in the past, one can see that we have a bright future ahead.

Works Cited

1. “Apple introduces 'lisa,' new computer for office.”, Jan 20, 1983 [Sep 12, 2013]

2. “Apple to stop making lisa computer line.” May 01, 1985 [Sep 12, 2013]

3. L. Greenemeier. “The Origin of the Computer Mouse” Dec 4, 2009 [Sep 13, 2013]

4. “The Xerox Star 8010 “Dandelion.”” [Sep 13, 2013]

5. M. Brian and C. Carmack. “How Computer Mice Work.” [Sep 13, 2013]

6. “Touchpad input.”, 1995 [Sep 13, 2013]

7. S. Smith and B. Sherwood. (1976, Apr). “Educational Uses of the PLATO Computer System.” American Association for the Advancement of Science. Vol. 192, No. 4237, pp. 344-352 Available: URL:

8. D. Woolley. “PLATO: The Emergence of Online Community”, 1994 [Sep 13, 2013]

9. “DiamondTouch.”, [Sep 14, 2013]

10. M. Bellis. “Who Invented Touch-screen Technology”, [Sep 14, 2013]

11. “Optical Touch: How if differs from other technologies.”, [Sep 14, 2013]

12. “How do touch-screen monitors know where you’re touching?”, [Sep 14, 2013]

13. “Floating touch.”, [Sep 15, 2013]

14. “6 Industries that Use 3D Modeling Software.”, [Sep 15, 2013]

15. “Could Computer Action Games Rely Entirely on Motion-sensing Technology?”, [Sep 15, 2013]

16. “How do I use Air Gestures to control my Samsung Galaxy S4”, Apr 26, 2013 [Sep 15, 2013]

17. “LEAP.”, [Sep 15, 2013]

18. “AirStrike.”, [Sep 15, 2013]

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