Virtual keyboards for real

More in my occasional series on keyboards. French academic spin-off Sensitive Object is planning to develop an acoustics-based technology solution to the multiple and/or traveling keyboard problem.

You first plug a microphone into your computer’s sound card, then draw an outline of your keyboard or stick a self-adhesive paper keyboard on your work table. You program the computer by tapping each key on the table top, while the computer learns to associates that specific sound with that key, using an acoustic technique involving “Time Reversal Lamb Waves”. Once the computer’s mastered your tap ‘n key behavior, you have a real tactile interface. Any surface that reverberates to a tap will do. For more on all this, check out this article in today’s Le Monde.

If it pans out, this technology would enable anyone to design their own keyboard for any language or sign system, natural or constructed, musical, phonetic, alphabetic or polyglyphic, without having to instantiate it in expensive hardware. For sheer ease of use, our standard layouts will always make for easier memorization. Yet if we all end up carrying our own infocom device (messaging/PA/filebase etc) around, programmed to sniff out a handy screen when needed, we’ll never again need to adapt our typing habits to a new physical keyboard.

That said, you’d first have to overcome the gestural drawbacks of using a solid typing surface. For example, our familiar hardware keyboards afford the comfort of spring-back keys, and provide clear 3 dimensional delineation between each key. They also feature a signal light for caps and number lock.

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Andrew Joscelyne
European, a language technology industry watcher since Electric Word was first published, sometime journalist, consultant, market analyst and animateur of projects. Interested in technologies for augmenting human intellectual endeavour, multilingual méssage, the history of language machines, the future of translation, and the life of the digital mindset.

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