Powercursor is a software toolkit in Flash for designing interfaces you can touch. Tactile sensations like stickiness, roughness, pressure, volume or mass can be experienced in a graphical user interface without resorting to special force feedback devices. Powercursor is a toolkit that enables designers to add a sense of feel to their interfaces without difficult programming. The software engine consists of a set of force field objects that can be added to any Flash project: Holes, Hills, Slopes, Roughs, Walls, Whirls, and more. Those object can be directly hauled into a Flash project. Beside that it’s possible to submit touching behaviours into existing Flash movieclips. Combining these force objects one can create all types of tactile effects and experiences, resulting in richer and more intuitive interfaces. Furthermore, the toolkit offers a variety of debug objects, like the powergrid object, which visualises which power is at what spot. Powercursor uses a technique called 'optically simulated haptic feedback' to evoke the tactile experience.
You need a computer running Flash 7 or higher. The Quick Start Guide explains how you can create your Powercursor enabled Flash project in three simple steps.
The Powercursor software was created to enable interaction designers to create richer tactile interfaces without elaborate programming. Our aim is to provide interaction designers with a means to easily design and experiment with optically simulated haptic feedback. The affordances of this new technique are yet to be researched. One of our motives of creating the toolkit was to enable designers to experiment with the technique and find out what works and what works not. Through the creation, distribution and use of this toolkit, we aim to contribute to a richer and more physical paradigm of graphical user interfaces.
Powercursor enables interaction designers to add a sense of feel to their Flash interfaces without difficult programming. The software engine consists of a set of tactile objects that can be added to any Flash project: Holes, Hills, Slopes, Roughs, Walls, Whirls, etc. that designers can use to create richer and more tactile interfaces. If you are an interaction designer and like us, you are bored with the flatness of the visual screen and you have ideas on how to create richer tactile interfaces or want to apply existing ideas in your interfaces, powercursor might be the thing for you to work with.
Yes, glad you ask. Examples of powercursor behaviors can be found in the Examples section of this site.
An overview of the force object, behaviors and engine & debug elements is provided in the documentation: powercursor components.
Yes, the toolkit is distributed in a library (powercursor.swf) that can be dynamically linked to your flash project. Upload powercursor.swf in the same directory as your flash project file and everything should work fine online. The powercursor toolkit is distributed under a Creative Commons License.
No, only basic knowledge of flash is required. Powercursor is developped to enable interaction designers to create interfaces you can touch without difficult programming. Powercursor objects, like holes, hills, walls, gutters, slicks, etc. can simply be dragged on stage an will give force feedback at runtime. Powercursor behaviors can be dragged in existing Flash movieclips to turn them into force objects. While skilled programmers might dive deeper into the toolkits API to control the powercursor objects on a code level, the toolkit was specifically created to accomodate non-programmers.
Powercursor can be used in to create various slopes as well as dynamic slopes, textures and material properties, which can provide the user with feedback while navigating through the screen.While thinking about what we could learn from touch interaction in everyday life, the aspect of navigation emerges as a central area. Knowing where you are, where you came from, where you could go. If applied carefully, powercursor can be used to create a dialog between the user and the system, e.g. by guiding the user towards preferred positions or discouraging to go to unadvised locations. This could be applied in simple pointing tasks, but possibly also in more complex dialogs like for instance a installation wizzard which guides the user through a series of choices. Another use of the technique could be to convey properties of textures, materials or 3D objects to the user. The possible application domain ranges from widgets in the operating system, to (3D) modeling, to mixed initiative interfaces, to games.
Of course, one can easily imagine these kind of ‘persuasive’ interaction active cursor styles could be bothersome as well; think, for instance, of a web banner that catches the cursor and forces the user to click on an advertisement. The powercursor technique is to be used with care. Interface designers and researchers need to experiment more with the technique in order to explore the affordances of the created objects and find out what works and what does not. It is for this reason that we created the powercursor toolkit.
The perception of haptic feedback, usually generated by force feedback devices, can be simulated by active cursor displacements. Tiny displacements on the cursor position relative to the intended force are applied to evoke a percept of haptic feedback, while using a normal mouse not enabled with mechanical force feedback. Optically simulated haptic feedback exploits the domination of the visual over the haptic modality. Like mechanical force feedback devices, active cursor displacements can guide the user towards preferred positions or communicate properties of the interface to the user. Due to these cursor displacements a hole becomes an easily accessible part of the screen, whereas a bump area is hard to access.
Due to sequrity issues it not allowed to displace the system cursor from a flash application over the web. As a workaround, powercursor replaces the cursor image wit a mock up cursor that can be manipulated from a website. This is not ideal, but currently the only way to demonstrate the toolkit over the web. At some points this workaround leads to glitches, for instance when mockup cursor is synchronized with the system cursor when it moves off stage. Of course, when developped further, future applications of powercursor might work on a system cursor level. But first, an expressive language of satisfactory and tolerable active cursor behaviors needs to be developed.
Powercursor is an initiative of artist/scientist Koert van Mensvoort, who some years earlier invented the technique to optically simulate haptic feedback. Powercursor is co-produced by the University of Technology Eindhoven and All Media Foundation. More info about the Powercursor team can be found in the Colofon.
Our research began out of frustration with the limited physicallity of the desktop interface. In our everyday physical world touching is a very prominent sense organ. One feels whether a door is open or closed and who picks up a box knows whether its empty or stuffed. A pat on the shoulder, a little push in the back. How else is this with the interface of a computer? The objects on screen have no mass or texture, they’re not literally behind the glass of your monitor. Although the weightlessness of the graphical interface has significant benefits, touching things is as well important in communication and interactions. Before the prevalent use of computers, almost all human tasks involved the use of exquisite sensory-motor skills. By and large computer interfaces have not taken advantage of these deep-seated human capabilities. The touch feedback that did exist in older analog technologies through mechanical mechanisms such as knobs, switches and dials have for the most part been replaced by digital electronics and visual displays. Although the weightlessness of the graphical interface has significant benefits, touching things is as well important in communication and interactions.
Since the invention of the mouse and the direct manipulation interface interfaces, desktop metaphor computer interfaces based on windows, icons, menus and pointing (so called WIMP interfaces) have become the dominant paradigm in human-computer interaction. Whether used while typing a letter, handling a spreadsheet, playing a game, doing 3D modeling or watching videos. Whether it is a PC, Mac, Linux, Desktop, Laptop or what do you have. Millions of people spend a significant part of their lives behind a computer with a WIMP interface. Any small improvement in this omnipresent computing paradigm can effectively be considered a huge improvement in interface design. With powercursor we aim to contribute to a richter paradigm of graphical user interfaces.
In a recent study (Mensvoort et al. 2007, to be published) we experimentally investigated the perception of optically simulated bump and hole structures in comparison with similar structures generated with a mechanical force feedback mouse. Results show that people can recognize optically simulated bump and hole structures generated through active cursor displacements and that the active cursor technique can influence the perception of mechanically simulated bumps and holes. Depending on the simulated strength of the force, optically simulated haptic feedback, active cursor displacements, can take precedence over mechanically simulated haptic feedback generated by the force feedback mouse and also the other way around. When optically simulated and mechanically simulated haptic feedback counteract each other, however, the weight attributed to each source of haptic information differs from user to user. Furthermore, we have tested the usability of optically simulated haptic feedback experimentally by measuring effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction of its users in a Fitts’ type target-acquisition task and comparing the results with the usability of mechanically simulated force feedback and normal feedback. Results show that optically simulated haptic feedback outperforms mechanically simulated haptic feedback and normal feedback, especially in the case of small targets.
Although these are promising results, before optically simulated haptic feedback can be fully applied in more complex interaction styles, an expressive language of satisfactory and tolerable active cursor behaviours needs to be developed. Interface designers and researchers need to experiment more with the technique in order to explore the affordances of the created objects and find out what works and what does not. Since the active cursor technique is not easy to implement, we have developed the powercursor toolset that enables designers to use optically simulated haptic feedback in their interfaces and experiment with the affordances of the technique.
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