The Instrumentation Keyboard

Instrumentation is designed to be used with a "chorded keyboard". This page is a further attempt to design a keyboard that is compact, wearable and rugged. These diagrams are really just preliminary sketches, so the keys and slots may not actually line up exactly and the dimensions may not be optimal for an actual hardware implementation.

Here is an exploded view of a right hand keyboard. The sides have been flattened out to show the matching slots and keys (for locking the right and left hand keyboards together), the strap connectors and the thumb buttons. Normally, the upper, lower and right sides (as shown below) would be permanently folded back to form a rigid box. Only the left side would unfold to create a full length keyboard. The slots are shown with dashed lines because they are on the inside (the other side in this view) of the deep sides.

A Right-hand Keyboard

Any resemblance to a concert grand piano is purely causal

An optional strap would secure the keyboard to the hand so that chording would not require any external support (like a qwerty keyboard does). The strap will connect at the four corners of the keypad as a thick 'X'. Hopefully this will provide reasonable stability.

I have not shown a power switch or the connectors for recharging, display, external memory, etc. This design is much too basic to worry about the placement of internal or external hardware. Physical mockups will be required to flesh out the most efficient and comfortable arrangement of any necessary additional connectors and controls.

I placed the buttons by using my own fingers as a guide. The actual keypads would probably have oval buttons to accommodate a wider range of finger lengths. The second thumb button would be used to provide a command mode for controlling functions outside the range of data entry (like making a phone call, or ejecting a memory chip).

This design specifies capacitive buttons because they have no moving parts. This would also minimize pressure on the locking hinges because no force would be required to activate the buttons. This design lacks the ability to provide vibrational haptic feedback, but that option could be offered on a larger, heaver, less robust and more expensive model.

The keypad would be unfolded for use and then re-folded for storage.  It might not be desirable to unfold the keypad until it was fully flat. A keypad that only unfolds to roughly ninety degrees would eliminate one hinge and could probably be made stronger, more compact and more stable. Also, bending the fingers allows the finger tips to align. This would mean that the buttons could be placed closer together and a single keyboard could accomidate a wider range of hand sizes and finger lengths.

I'm sure other improvements would become obvious if a three dimensional prototype was created. An empty plastic cassette tape box would be an adequate platform for experimentation, but I'm still working on the vocabulary, software and educational portions of the Instrumentation project, so I haven't progressed beyond drawing these inaccurate pictures.

Here are the folded right and left hand keyboards shown together. The dotted (outer) shallow sides are the hinges. 'Shallow' refers to the depth of the side rather that its width or length. This is clearer in the previous flattened view.

A Pair of Keyboards

The keypad numbers match the octants in the glyph below. The two sets of numbers are reversed (seven is on the bottom above and on top below) because I was holding my hand up to the screen when I drew the first keyboard view. In either case, seven is the pointer finger of your right hand.

Having two keyboards would increase the amount of memory, connector space (for external appliances) and processing power. For storage, the keyboards would be rotated so that the keys on the outside of the shallow sides would mate with the slots on the inside of the deep sides. The deep sides would completely cover the shallow sides and protect the thumb buttons and any connectors for external hardware. In this design the strap connectors remain extended when the keyboards are locked together, but there may be a better way of connecting the 'X' straps.

When closed, there would be a quarter inch gap between the keypad surfaces and a half inch gap beyond the ends of the keypad surfaces. These gaps would provide protection and storage space for cables and straps. The keyboards could be cordless (or use the wearer's body as a data conduit), but a cable would provide the most stable and secure communication with the greatest bandwidth.

Using the keyboard

The octants match the keys

The octant numbers on the glyph (above) match the keypad numbers on the keypad diagram (farther above). You can get a better idea of how a glyph works by playing with the game.

A glyph can entered as four or less 'chords'. A chord is played by pressing multiple buttons simultaneously. The typist would press all buttons that correspond to visible (i.e. black or blue) elements in a given glyph layer according to the numbers in the figures above. A chord need not be entered if that layer is not present. The chords could actually be entered in any order because the thumb combinations make them unique.
The "User Interface" section gives more examples of 'chording'.

This design does not address the glyph display hardware. A separate display could be a compact or full sized screen or a heads-up display using a pair of 'active goggles'. It might be possible to carry a small screen in the gap between the two closed keypads, but the gap would probably need to be widened and the screen would require some sort of support to be usable.

Caution: The following has more "blue sky" than usual

I believe that the ultimate expression of this design would eliminate the keys as a physical objects. As long as the finger tips can be tracked, normal input should not require touching anything. The system could be activated by an unusual movement (touch left thumb to left ring and right thumb to right pinky [twice], try it!).

The usual argument against this sort of thing is the lack of positive feedback. I am sure that this will increase the learning difficulty, but it will not make the skill impossible to learn. 

I think that the advantages of "Hands Free Keying" (HFK: It is not just an acronym.*) will outweigh the steeper learning curve for those capable of mastering it. Visual feedback via the glyph and aural feedback via the 'active' goggles should ease the learning slope (the system must have some physical presence even if it is just a chip in your brain).

The fingers wouldn't have any fixed positions, moving a finger towards the palm would represent one, moving away from the palm would represent zero and not moving a finger at all would repeat the previous value. Thumb movement will indicate which chord is being entered. The glyph for the term 'Instrumentation' (#FF FF FF FF is the name of this language) would be entered by clenching all eight fingers then clenching the right thumb then clenching the left thumb and finally clenching both thumbs (the thumbs never "enter a zero" so spurious 'keystrokes' shouldn't be a problem). 

Motion capture technology is common enough now that the hardware should not be too very difficult to obtain. The current "lack of sensitivity" would actually be desirable for most users because it would be more likely to ignore involuntary finger twitches when entering glyphs.

The location of the sensors could be a problem with a "line of sight" system such as a laser, but a RFID system (with passive RFID tags lacquered onto your finger nails) should be reasonably robust.

A schematic of a

"Not to scale"

Such a system would require two sensors. Each sensor would need to be able to detect an independent range value for each digit. A 3D location cannot be determined without three sensors, but I do not believe that this would be a problem because we would be tracking motion and not position.

If the sensors were mounted at the wrists, each sensor would monitor a single hand and the orientation of the palms would be irrelevant. If the sensors were mounted at the temples of a "Head Mounted Device" (goggles), the differential ranges of all ten digits would have to be compared to determine the orientations of the palms. The second method is less robust, but I believe that it is still possible.

This would eliminate the problem of answering a text when you are holding cups or other non-squirmy non-metallic things. As long as you can wiggle your thumb tips and finger tips meaningfully you can communicate and control your environment.

* It is also not a lot of other things, things such as 'real'.

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