Resorting to Type

Do you remember when you first saw someone using a handsfree mobile phone? You thought that person, walking down the street talking out loud to themselves while gesticulating wildly, was a complete looper, didn't you? They needed locking up, you thought.

Well, now a company in Silicon Valley is offering executives another opportunity to make themselves look truly ridiculous with its new virtual keyboard for PDAs, smart phones, and tablet PCs.

Soon we'll have to accept that the wild-fingered looneys that look like they are playing the "air piano" are probably using a device that incorporates the Canesta Inc. keyboard perception chipset, and that they are actually typing. Of course, some of these people will be playing the "air piano," and they are the ones you need to steer clear of. So what's with all the mid-air finger waggling? Well, these right-up-to-the-minute folk will be typing on a keyboard made of thin air that has been projected onto a surface by beams of light from their device (see Canesta Plays Air Keyboard). And it's more likely they will be typing onto a flat surface rather than into thin air. But not because it can't be done, say the Canesta folk: It's just hard to get that shift action right when there's nothing to press against.

The premise behind all this is that the best thing for data entry is a full-sized keyboard -- hardly the most portable of accessories. Canesta reckons its virtual keyboard will allow executives to get PC-like tasks done without having to remember any extra accessories or patiently manipulate a stylus. At present the keyboard has to be within 10 cm from the device to ensure that power usage is kept to a minimum, but eventually the typist could be meters away from their device.

How does it work, we hear you yell? Well, the Canesta chipset consists of an invisible light source, a pattern projector for the keyboard, and a sensor chip. Once the keyboard has been projected, the user's finger movement can be tracked in three dimensions and keystroke information is fed to the device’s processor.

The chipset is expected to wholesale for $35 apiece. According to James Spare, vice president of product marketing, there are already a "handful" [ed. note: How many of these blighters can you get in one hand?] of global major OEM names (makers of mobile phones, PDAs, and tablet PCs) that plan to integrate the technology into their devices. However, we won't be seeing any of these devices for about nine months or so.

In the meantime, get practicing by typing above your keyboard without touching it, and see how little you can get done in a whole day!

— Elizabeth "Whizz" Biddlecombe, special to Unstrung
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