If you've ever tried to transfer your touch-typing skills onto a touchscreen tablet's virtual keyboard, you'll know what an impossible task that can be. Apart from the fact that there's no tactile guide to tell you where keys are in relation to each other, placing all of your fingers onto the screen almost always causes accidental activation of unwanted keys. Researchers from the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS) claim to have overcome such issues with the development of a QWERTY keyboard interface that should allow touch typists to tap away without needing visual prompts.
Touch typing on a physical keyboard is more than just having a mental map of key location, it's also about getting some sort of tactile feedback from pressed keys, and about getting a sense of where keys are relative to others. While LiquidKeyboard can't do much about the physical typing sensation, it splits the QWERTY keys into allocatable groups and assigns sets to individual fingers – the upshot being that when the software detects four fingers being placed onto the surface of the display, it creates a fluid keyboard underneath the fingers.
When a finger is moved, the assigned group of virtual keys moves with it. The system is said to be capable of automatically adapting to a user's hand physiology (such as different hand sizes and finger positioning), and also responds to pressure. Keys are rotated based on wrist position and the system is said to offer the same sort of key familiarity allowed by a physical keyboard, but, according to Sax, "tries to create an input method that is adapted to the platform rather than recycling an old paradigm from the physical world."
The researchers from the Engineering and Information Technology department at UTS are currently working on refining the prototype.
I think that this has obvious potential for touch-typers like me, who find themselves craving a physical keyboard when typing on tablet devices. However, it could also open up new and interesting usage possibilities for note-takers in the business and student world, designers and modelers and, of course, gamers.
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