Friday, August 27, 2010
Unotron, a company headquartered in Newport, has brought to market a washable computer keyboard and mouse combination that are virtually indistinguishable from their non-washable counterparts.
As company spokesperson Dale Purcocks explains, standard spill-proof keyboards make things difficult for typists. He goes on to say that the new washable keyboards compete favorably with normal ones.
As for the mouse, it turns out that the area around the scroll wheel is the most vulnerable to spills. Since the wheel is expected to turn a shaft which, in turn, activates an encoder, the task of waterproofing it quickly becomes difficult. Engineers usually use an O-ring to seal a shaft. However, this solution is problematic for a computer mouse because of the requirement that sensitivity be put first and foremost among all the design considerations.
Unotron's solution to the sensitivity conundrum is to do away with the shaft entirely. Instead, magnets embedded into the mouse wheel activate a second, internal wheel which is also studded with magnets. Although the internal wheel is sequestered behind a waterproof barrier, the magnetic field ensures adequate sensitivity and responsiveness. And if the unthinkable happens and the mouse is doused with liquid, the scroll wheel is easily removable for a quick clean up.
To do away with the tracking problems that often plague normal computer mice in dirty environments, Unotron removed the mouse ball and replaced it with a foolproof optical tracking system that ensures good performance at a reasonable price.
On normal keyboards, the shafts connecting the keys to the actuators are unsealed. This leaves them vulnerable to spills.
But on Unotron's waterproof keyboards, each shaft is individually sealed with a semi-hemispherical layer of elastomer which not only waterproofs the entire assembly, but provides the pleasing keyboard "feel" that typists rely on for speed and accuracy during touch-typing.
When the keyboard is in need of a cleaning, wash water freely cleanses the actuator shafts and the rest of the area under the keys themselves. But Mr. Purcocks assures us that it's a simple matter to remove the excess moisture. Either upend the keyboard and shake out the water, or just type on it aggressively to "splash" the water away.
Like the waterproof keys on the washable keyboard, the mouse buttons are sealed in a similar, washable manner.
The keyboard and the mouse are both rated IP66, and the wash temperature should be a maximum of 80°C to avoid damaging the plastic. Mr. Purcocks jokes that the washable input devices are "not diswasher-proof".
In environments where sterility is a concern, it's acceptable to completely immerse the hardware in Milton sterilizing fluid. A short, 30-second immersion will kill staph aureus or the flesh-eating MRSA. Workers in any environment where frequent washing is needed to reduce the incidence of infection -- such as medical facilities or schools -- will benefit from Unotron's new washable keyboard and mouse.