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New Keyboard Concepts

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June 4, 2004

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In an era of PDAs, smart phones, wearable computers and ongoing miniaturisation, the problem efficiently inputting data looms large - using a stylus pen can be cumbersome and speech recognition has not yet reached maturity in noisy environments. New products due for release this year could be the answer.

A number of innovative solutions are on the way however - Matias Corporation have developed the 'Half Keyboard' for fast one-handed typing and two versions of the 'virtual keyboard' have emerged from Senseboard Technologies AB in Sweden and VKB in Israel.

The Matias Half Keyboard is designed for touch-typing use with the left hand and has a spacebar that doubles as a shift key to give access to the 'missing' half of the keyboard. About the size of a scientific calculator, the Half Keyboard can be used on your lap, wrist or on a desk in conjunction with a stylus pen for faster editing and navigation, delivering input speeds up to 88% as fast as a standard keyboard.

The Senseboard employs another approach by disappearing altogether. It consists of two hand mounted pads that allow measure finger movements and identify the intended keystroke through an artificial neural network and transfer the information wirelessly to the computer using Bluetooth technology.

Like the Half Keyboard, the Senseboard system is based on the QWERTY touch-typing model, posing a problem for those of us who never learned to type. The VKB Virtual Keyboard overcomes this by utilizing an infrared-based detection method and a small projector to provide an optical display of the keys on any flat surface. The detector identifies which 'keys' are being used, allowing you to see what you are typing and also enabling virtual mouse functionality.

The Matias Half Keyboard is available online at www.halfkeyboard.com for US$99 and there's no word yet as to the availability or cost of the Senseboard or VKB devices, but rest assured there is relief on the way for those SMS induced aching thumbs.

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About the Author
Mike Hanlon Mike grew up thinking he would become a mathematician, accidentally started motorcycle racing, got a job writing road tests for a motorcycle magazine while at university, and became a writer. As a travelling photojournalist during his early career, his work was published in a dozen languages across 20+ countries. He went on to edit or manage over 50 print publications, with target audiences ranging from pensioners to plumbers, many different sports, many car and motorcycle magazines, with many more in the fields of communication - narrow subject magazines on topics such as advertising, marketing, visual communications, design, presentation and direct marketing. Then came the internet and Mike managed internet projects for Australia's largest multimedia company, Telstra.com.au (Australia's largest Telco), Seek.com.au (Australia's largest employment site), top100.com.au, hitwise.com, and a dozen other internet start-ups before founding Gizmag in 2002. Now he writes and thinks. All articles by Mike Hanlon
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1 Comment

Take a look at the CyKey (www.cykey.co.uk) - a one-handed \'chording\' keyboard that links directly via IR to PDAs or with a USB receiver to computers. I use mine with both a desktop and a laptop. I had one of the original Microwriters back in the 80\'s as a standalone word processor and moved on to the Agenda PDA that could link to a PC with a serial cable and allow input as well as data transfer. When the Microwriter business folded and my Agendas eventually died, I had to rely solely on normal keyboards and began to experience RSI. I overcame this with a Maltron 3D two-handed keyboard, which I continue to use (I have two as I my office system has expanded). Most of my work is CAD so my right hand is constantly on my trackball (Kensingon Expert K64325), the central numerical keypad of the Maltron means I can enter numbers easily with my left hand instead of having to reach right across a normal keyboard. When I began to work on a laptop, I could avoid the inadequacies of a touchpad or joystick by using another K64325 but the cramped keys and lack of a dedicated numerical pad was something of a nuisance and carting one of the Maltrons around with it was not really practical. I realised that a Microwriting keypad would be ideal and a web search revealed that one exists in the guise of the CyKey. I have set mine to be left-handed so that with my right hand on the trackball, left hand on the CyKey, I hardly have to touch the laptop at all. The Microwriting chords are very easily learned and though nowhere near as fast as proper touchtyping, I soon reached about the same speed as handwriting.

cadmaster
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