- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 9, 2003

When it came time for Susan Giles to teach her 3-year-old granddaughter how to use the computer, necessity became the grandmother of invention.

When the child became frustrated and began to lose interest in the process, Mrs. Giles realized part of the problem was that the standard computer mouse was too large for the girl's small hands. The idea of a pint-size peripheral, the Kidz Mouse (www.kidzmouse.com), was born.

"It was difficult to watch her because she wanted to use the computer but could not click, and this caused her to end up in tears," Mrs. Giles says from her San Mateo, Calif., home. "I realized that the standard mouse she was using was about 2½ times the size of her hand and that the process of clicking the button, with a rigid extended finger, was not a natural movement."

Quickly shifting gears from a career in finance, the new entrepreneur contacted an engineering firm to create a small device that was, above all else, toddler-proof.

"Children can destroy just about everything, so one of the things we have tried to do is create a product that will stand up to children, or many children, using it," Mrs. Giles says.

"Which meant that we had to think about things such as using a highly durable painting process, harder plastic, cords with extra strain relief, and making sure that the switches in the buttons were very long-lasting because children don't just click once or twice, even when they are supposed to."

The end result is a rounded helper for children as young as 18 months that is about two-thirds the size of a standard mouse. The interior circuit board was shrunk to fit in the smaller device.

While a standard mouse requires the user to be able to extend one finger and click on either the left or right button to achieve a desired response, the Kidz Mouse responds to any pressure on the buttons or the mouse head. This response mechanism means that the child can squeeze down on the mouse using all his or her fingers at once.

"Incorporating the squeezing motion was very important because to squeeze an object, such as a ball, is the normal hand function," Mrs. Giles says. "Being able to squeeze the mouse makes it a comfortable and natural movement for both the very young and the very old, who may have trouble with the rigid clicking movement."

Eventually, four versions of the mouse were tested in high-traffic places such as Disney's Epcot Center and by more than 250 students at preschools and elementary schools in Northern and Southern California, a process that took a little more than two years.

The final Kidz Mouse line, which incorporates colorful designs and a stronger cord with a strain-relief feature similar to the curled cord on a telephone, is not only eye-catching, but functional.

Mrs. Giles incorporated the names and personalities of her grandchildren into the designs, which include an adorable bug named MollyMouse, a bumblebee named Benjie Bee, a ladybug named CoolBug, a water bug named MarinaBug and, the latest Kidz Mouse release, the Colby T-Rex, an advanced-technology optical dinosaur mouse.

For children who want to express their own creativity, the firm even offers a "Design Your Own" that comes with a selection of sparkly stickers to create a unique species of mouse.

Future releases will include licensed characters from "Sesame Street" and Nickelodeon, including SpongeBob SquarePants, Blue from "Blues Clues" and Elmo. Kidz Mouse ($23.95 for roller-ball models, $31.95 for the optical mouse) works with PCs and Macintosh computers and is available at FAO Schwartz, CompUSA, Dell and IBM retail stores.

Write to Joseph Szadkowski, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC, 20002; or send e-mail ([email protected]).

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