Pressing a button is more challenging than appears

March 20, 2018

Pressing a button appears effortless and one easily dismisses how challenging it is. Researchers at Aalto University, Finland, and KAIST, South Korea, created detailed simulations of button-pressing with the goal of producing human-like presses.

"This research was triggered by admiration of our remarkable capability to adapt button-pressing", tells Professor Antti Oulasvirta at Aalto University. "We push a button on a remote controller differently than a piano key. The press of a skilled user is surprisingly elegant when looked at terms of timing, reliability, and energy use. We successfully press buttons without ever knowing the inner workings of a button. It is essentially a black box to our motor system. On the other hand, we also fail to activate buttons, and some buttons are known to be worse than others."

Previous research has shown that touchbuttons are worse than push-buttons, but there has not been adequate theoretical explanation.

"In the past, there has been very little attention to buttons, although we use them all the time" says Dr. Sunjun Kim. The new theory and simulations can be used to design better buttons.

"One exciting implication of the theory is that activating the button at the moment when the sensation is strongest will help users better rhythm their keypresses."

To test this hypothesis, the researchers created a new method for changing the way buttons are activated. The technique is called Impact Activation. Instead of activating the button at first contact, it activates it when the button cap or finger hits the floor with maximum impact.

The technique was 94% more precise in rapid tapping than the regular activation method for a push-button (Cherry MX switch) and 37% than a regular touchscreen button using a capacitive touch sensor. The technique can be easily deployed in touchscreens. However, regular physical keyboards do not offer the required sensing capability, although special products exist (e.g., the Wooting keyboard) on which it can be implemented.

The technique could help gamers and musicians in tasks that require speed and rhythm.

100 milliseconds

The simulations shed new light on what happens during a button press. One problem the brain must overcome is that muscles do not activate as perfectly as we will, but every press is slightly different. Moreover, a button press is very fast, occurring within 100 milliseconds, and is too fast for correcting movement. The key to understanding button-pressing is therefore to understand how the brain adapts based on the limited sensations that are the residue of the brief press event.

The researchers argue that the key capability of the brain is a probabilistic model: The brain learns a model that allows it to predict a suitable motor command for a button. If a press fails, it can pick a very good alternative and try it out. "Without this ability, we would have to learn to use every button like it was new," tells Professor Byungjoo Lee from KAIST. After successfully activating the button, the brain can tune the motor command to be more precise, use less energy and to avoid stress or pain. "These factors together, with practice, produce the fast, minimum-effort, elegant touch people are able to perform."

The brain uses probabilistic models also to extract information optimally from the sensations that arise when the finger moves and its tip touches the button. It "enriches" the ephemeral sensations optimally based on prior experience to estimate the time the button was impacted. For example, tactile sensation from the tip of the finger a better predictor for button activation than proprioception (angle position) and visual feedback.

Best performance is achieved when all sensations are considered together. To adapt, the brain must fuse their information using prior experiences. Professor Lee explains: "We believe that the brain picks up these skills over repeated button pressings that start already as a child. What appears easy for us now has been acquired over years."

The researchers also used the simulation to explain differences among physical and touchscreen-based button types. Both physical and touch buttons provide clear tactile signals from the impact of the tip with the button floor. However, with the physical button this signal is more pronounced and longer.

"Where the two button types also differ is the starting height of the finger, and this makes a difference," explains Prof. Lee. "When we pull up the finger from the touchscreen, it will end up at different height every time. Its down-press cannot be as accurately controlled in time as with a push-button where the finger can rest on top of the key cap."

Three scientific articles, "Neuromechanics of a Button Press", "Impact activation improves rapid button pressing", and "Moving target selection: A cue integration model", will be presented at the CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems in Montréal, Canada, in April 2018.
-end-
VIDEO: Pressing a button is more challenging than appears https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WiYeXZYqHAk

More information:

Project web pages
Prof. Antti Oulasvirta, Aalto University
Tel. +358 50 3841561
Email antti.oulasvirta@aalto.fi

Prof. Byungjoo Lee, KAIST
Email byungjoo.lee@kaist.ac.kr

Dr. Sunjun Kim, Aalto University
Email sunjun.kim@aalto.fi

Aalto University

Related Brain Articles from Brightsurf:

Glioblastoma nanomedicine crosses into brain in mice, eradicates recurring brain cancer
A new synthetic protein nanoparticle capable of slipping past the nearly impermeable blood-brain barrier in mice could deliver cancer-killing drugs directly to malignant brain tumors, new research from the University of Michigan shows.

Children with asymptomatic brain bleeds as newborns show normal brain development at age 2
A study by UNC researchers finds that neurodevelopmental scores and gray matter volumes at age two years did not differ between children who had MRI-confirmed asymptomatic subdural hemorrhages when they were neonates, compared to children with no history of subdural hemorrhage.

New model of human brain 'conversations' could inform research on brain disease, cognition
A team of Indiana University neuroscientists has built a new model of human brain networks that sheds light on how the brain functions.

Human brain size gene triggers bigger brain in monkeys
Dresden and Japanese researchers show that a human-specific gene causes a larger neocortex in the common marmoset, a non-human primate.

Unique insight into development of the human brain: Model of the early embryonic brain
Stem cell researchers from the University of Copenhagen have designed a model of an early embryonic brain.

An optical brain-to-brain interface supports information exchange for locomotion control
Chinese researchers established an optical BtBI that supports rapid information transmission for precise locomotion control, thus providing a proof-of-principle demonstration of fast BtBI for real-time behavioral control.

Transplanting human nerve cells into a mouse brain reveals how they wire into brain circuits
A team of researchers led by Pierre Vanderhaeghen and Vincent Bonin (VIB-KU Leuven, Université libre de Bruxelles and NERF) showed how human nerve cells can develop at their own pace, and form highly precise connections with the surrounding mouse brain cells.

Brain scans reveal how the human brain compensates when one hemisphere is removed
Researchers studying six adults who had one of their brain hemispheres removed during childhood to reduce epileptic seizures found that the remaining half of the brain formed unusually strong connections between different functional brain networks, which potentially help the body to function as if the brain were intact.

Alcohol byproduct contributes to brain chemistry changes in specific brain regions
Study of mouse models provides clear implications for new targets to treat alcohol use disorder and fetal alcohol syndrome.

Scientists predict the areas of the brain to stimulate transitions between different brain states
Using a computer model of the brain, Gustavo Deco, director of the Center for Brain and Cognition, and Josephine Cruzat, a member of his team, together with a group of international collaborators, have developed an innovative method published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Sept.

Read More: Brain News and Brain Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.