Phantom keyboard reduces data entry time

Sitting next to a man at a local coffee shop, you notice him intensely tapping on the top of his briefcase. You believe the man to be crazy, but he is using a new technology that allows him to type text into his wireless device through a transparent keyboard.

A new technology may provide a convenient solution for entering text on small wireless devices.

Canesta, an electronics manufacturer, has developed a chipset that allows manufacturers to integrate virtual projection keyboards into their cell phones, PDAs, pen tablet computers and other wireless devices.

The Canesta Keyboard Perception Chipset provides a way for users to type data into small mobile devices, using a virtual keyboard similar in size and layout to a standard keyboard.

The technology is labeled as the world’s first projection keyboard capable of being fully integrated into small portable devices.

Using perception technology, the keyboard permits electronic devices to identify and react to nearby objects and individuals in real time using embedded sensors and software.

A tiny laser pattern projector creates the image of a full-sized standard keyboard onto a flat surface, such as a desk or the side of a briefcase. A user can then type as they normally would onto the image. An infrared beam detects the position and motion of the user’s hands allowing the mobile device to translate the finger movements into the appropriate keystrokes or mouse actions.

Since the Canesta chipset works by optically tracking finger movements rather than detecting the physical strokes of a mechanical keyboard, the same virtual image can also be used to perform regular mouse functions.

The projection keyboard allows mobile and wireless devices to support entry-intensive applications such as e-mail composition and memo creation that previously were only practical with a standard keyboard.

Canesta designs and supplies the chipset to licensed manufacturers. These companies then determine their own product design, pricing and launch schedules.

Special keyboard layout software is also supplied, which allows manufacturers to design and test new keyboard layouts.

Manufacturers have the option of integrating the chipset directly into their devices or offering the chipset as an add-on accessory.

Those who choose to integrate the keyboard into their devices can use the default Canesta Keyboard layout or can create custom layouts to accommodate their unique product and customer needs.

The default projected keyboard pattern includes shortcut keys for popular applications.

Three tiny components–a sensor module, an infrared light source and a pattern projector–account for the keyboard’s function.

The sensor module operates by locating the user’s fingers in 3-D space and tracking the intended keystrokes. The infrared light source emits a beam of light to illuminate the user’s fingers so they can be seen by the sensor module. Finally, the pattern projector displays the image of the Canesta Keyboard using a wide-angle lens so that a large image can be projected from the relatively low elevations of most mobile devices.

With its large keys and familiar layout, the manufacturer claims the keyboard allows typing speeds in excess of 50 words-per-minute with error rates similar to that of a standard keyboard.

In addition, the Canesta pattern projector features adjustable brightness levels so that both manufacturers and end users can configure the device to best meet their individual requirements and preferences.

The keyboard works best in normal indoor lighting conditions, as performance suffers when used in direct sunlight.

An additional benefit of the Canesta chipset in that it allows manufacturers to integrate the keyboard directly into their devices without dramatically increasing the size or power consumption of the device.

Canesta also markets its keyboard to manufacturers of non-mobile devices including point-of-sale terminals, industrial and medical automation products and devices where workspace is limited.

Although the projection keyboard is currently the only commercial product to use electronic perception technology, Canesta is planning to integrate the same technology into video games, automobiles and security tools to allow these devices to identify and react to nearby objects and individuals in real time.

For example, the perception technology could allow a driver to use hand gestures to control the radio and air conditioning, or allow an intruder detection device to differentiate between an animal or human intruder to recognize illegal activity.

Manufacturers, such as Motorola, Nokia and Sony Ericsson, have integrated the keyboard chipset into their mobile or wireless devices and expect to have them available for consumers in time for Christmas.

Adding the technology into wireless devices will add about $100 at the current pricing scheme. If the technology catches on, this price should decrease depending on how large demand is for the product.