Everything You Need to Know About Microsoft's BlueTrack Mouse Technology

Maximum PC Staff

The next-generation of Microsoft mice has arrived and – surprise! – this peripheral don’t feature any fancy lasers. The new Explorer mouse is the first that sports Microsoft’s new proprietary Bluetrack technology, something they’ve been hinting at on their website for the past few weeks. The big innovation is that a BlueTrack mouse will work on virtually any surface type, whether its granite, wood, or even carpet (glass and other reflective surfaces are this mouse’s kryptonite).  We got some hands-on time with this handsome wireless mouse and were impressed by its tracking accuracy, stylish design, and mesmerizing blue glow. We also spoke with Mark Depue, the Platform Engineer Manager at Microsoft’s Hardware Group, to find out exactly how BlueTrack works.

More details:

The Explorer runs on 2.4GHz wireless technolgoy, which has a range of 30 feet. It comes with a charging station, and is powered by one recharage AA battery (which provides three weeks of use).  The transceiver snaps into the mouse to offer extra portability as well. You'll be able to buy the mouse in November for an estimated retail price of $99.99.

Hit the next page for our technical interview

Q&A with Mark DePue, Platform Engineering Manager, Hardware Group

Q:    Can you summarize the feature highlights of the BlueTrack technology?
A: Microsoft Corp.’s new BlueTrack Technology — the world’s most advanced tracking technology — allows consumers to take their mouse anywhere and work with confidence on virtually any surface. It combines the width and power of optical technology with the precision of laser tracking to allow consumers to mouse on virtually any surface, from a granite kitchen countertop to the living room carpet.

Q:    What led to the development of BlueTrack? How long as it been in the works?
A: As one of the inventors of BlueTrack, I have to say that it was my wife who inspired me to make this technology a reality. As both a business professional and new mom to our son, I was watching her drag her notebook and mouse all over the house – trying to get work done while following our crawling boy around. From the carpet in his room, to the granite counters in our kitchen, to even the back deck – she was always complaining that her mouse couldn’t perform. I knew we could do better!

We have been working on the technology for the past 18 months.

Q:    How does it work? Why are BlueTrack mice able to work on any surface?
A: Microsoft BlueTrack Technology performs well due to several factors:

Microsoft-Designed CMOS Chip
The Explorer Mouse and Explorer Mini Mouse use a proprietary, Microsoft-designed complementary metal-oxide semiconductor (CMOS) chip with advanced algorithms and pixel architecture for more precise tracking. It is Microsoft’s fourth-generation application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) using CMOS technology.

Blue Specular Optics
Microsoft’s proprietary high-angle imaging optics generate more exact surface images — even of shiny surfaces such as granite and marble — instead of blurry, out-of-focus images, as can be produced by many of the leading laser mice. And blue light helps create high-resolution, high-contrast images for better navigation.

Four Times as Wide, More Diffuse Beam for Better Imaging and Tracking
The wider beam enables illumination of a larger surface area and allows more light to return to the sensor. This helps for tracking on irregular surfaces such as carpet, where smaller laser beams often get lost between the individual fibers. The BlueTrack Technology light source is optimized to provide illumination at the tracking surface that is more uniform than current laser or optical mice. This illumination is accomplished by using a new optical element, never before used in a mouse. The light source is encapsulated in a diffusing optic that smoothes out hot spots within the illumination profile. While the concept of diffused lighting is well known, the application of diffused light sources to mice is a Microsoft proprietary technology.

Incoherent Blue Light
Laser mice use coherent light that’s easily disrupted by dust and dirt, leading to poor tracking. The Explorer Mouse and Explorer Mini Mouse’s incoherent blue light doesn’t have the extreme sensitivity to dust, so the signal quality is maintained. This means your mouse will provide excellent performance even in a less than clean environment — you’ll get great precision performance in a dusty workshop or outdoors just as you do on an ideal clean surface.

Q:    What’s so special about the CMOS navigation chip in BlueTrack mice?
A: Unlike many mouse manufacturers who buy their chips off the shelf, Microsoft actually created this chip at our lab in Fort Collins, CO. By creating our own proprietary chip, we’re able to tweak it for our purposes, exactly how we want it. A lot of what goes into BlueTrack is part of a “secret sauce” of sorts that I can’t share publicly.

Q:    Why is a Blue LED light better than a red one or a laser? How does its DPI compare to other mice technologies?
A: Blue light allows the sensor to capture a high-contrast image of the surface. For example, the blue light beneficially interacts with fluorescent dyes in some surfaces to increase the amount of reflected light relative to an infrared laser beam. The physics is similar to that of the “blue light” used in crime-scene TV shows to examine surfaces for police investigations.

Explorer Mouse and Explorer Mini Mouse perform at 1000 dpi, which we find is the ideal speed for productivity mice.

Q:    Will all Microsoft mice eventually use BlueTrack technology?
A: We can’t comment on our specific plans, but we hope to continue bringing BlueTrack Technology to more of our products down the road.

Q:    Will BlueTrack stay a proprietary Microsoft technology, or will it be licensed for other mice manufacturers?
A: At this time BlueTrack Technology is available exclusively in Microsoft mice, but we’re always looking at the needs of consumers and may offer licensing opportunities in the future.

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