Posted by Rob Knies

Hrvoje Benko

Sometimes, things can go sideways. There are an infinite number of ways that a project can get derailed. We’re human. We understand this.

But every once in a while, it seems as if everything just stays on track, from start to finish. That’s the way Hrvoje Benko is feeling right now.

On Feb. 23, Engadget, a web magazine focusing on consumer electronics, published the results of its 2011 Engadget Awards, revealing technologies that won in 15 categories—including Xbox 360 as Game Console of the Year. In the process, the publication revealed that the 2011 Peripheral of the Year was the Microsoft Touch Mouse, born out of a research collaboration between Microsoft Research and Microsoft Hardware back in 2009.

“It is an incredible feeling that a product that we’ve worked so hard on is winning accolades in the press,” Benko said upon hearing about the award. “But what makes me even more proud is that this particular ‘best of the year’ list was voted on by readers and not just editors.”

Indeed, more than a quarter-million readers participated in the Engadget survey, and those were exactly the kind of customers Benko and team had in mind at the outset of the project that eventually became Touch Mouse.

“When you are working on a product,” he says, “you are putting your heart and soul into it to make it the very best thing you can make, but you never know how people are going to react to it in the marketplace. It is great to see it so well-received and used by many.”

That’s not to say that the award didn’t come as a bit of a surprise, even if, 13 months earlier, Engadget had named Touch Mouse the best peripheral as part of the publication’s coverage of the 2011 International Consumer Electronics Show.

“This was definitely unexpected!” exclaimed Benko, a researcher with the Natural Interaction Research group at Microsoft Research Redmond. “The Touch Mouse team worked so hard in making this product, which combines state-of-the-art technology with amazing design. I am super-happy to see it recognized as the best peripheral out there.”

The feeling is all the more sweet given the care his team gave to the project, the technology transfer to Microsoft Hardware, and the partnership with the product team to reach the marketplace.

“While I contributed on many technical details,” Benko said, “from low-level signal-processing code to defining the interaction vocabulary of gestures, I believe that my most significant contribution was to make sure that the entire team had a single, coherent vision throughout many stages of this project.”

And, he makes it clear, the customer was top of mind from the beginning.

“Our goal from very early on,” Benko concluded, “was to delight users with this mouse, to give them abilities that they hadn’t had before, and to make it almost effortless. For that to work, every aspect of this project had to be just right.”