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Multi-Touch Keyboard Technology 246

Posted by timothy
from the no-click-typing dept.
PhoenxHwk writes "University of Delaware's webpage is running a story on the new Multi-Touch Keyboard by Fingerworks. This was on Slashdot once before, but the product is no longer vapor! Fingerworks's products are gesture-based keyboard-and-mouse "surfaces" that require zero force to work with - they are hailed as a product to both combat RSI and make working more efficient."
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Multi-Touch Keyboard Technology

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  • How does that work? It seems to me that any type of hardware sensor needs to experience some change of state (i.e., the application of a non-zero force) to function. The only possible way to achieve a zero force input device on Earth is to enclose the keyboard and mouse surface within an artificial vacuum chamber. My feeling is that this would be prohibitively expensive, but perhaps they've found a cheaper way to do this, in which case the effects on the manufacturing, lubrication, and transportation industries are going to be enormous. Anyone have more details?
    • Re:zero force? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by PhoenxHwk (254106)
      It senses capacitance from the fingers getting infinitely close to the surface.
      • by goldenfield (64924) on Thursday October 03, 2002 @04:33PM (#4383281) Journal
        Maybe instead of zero force, they USE the Force. They've got thousands of Midocholorians trapped in the pad...

        *waves hand* You will open Mozilla to Slashdot...

        • They've got thousands of Midocholorians trapped in the pad...

          Slavery was banned in the 19th century, smash your keyboards now and free those little things!
        • >Maybe instead of zero force, they USE the Force. They've got thousands of Midocholorians trapped in the pad...

          that would at least partially explain the multi-hundred dollar price tag.

      • Re:zero force? (Score:3, Interesting)

        by kaladorn (514293)
        FYI:

        Early touchpad technologies were capacitive. Some laptops used to have capacitive touchpads on them, which made them crap for police use in places where you actually get a winter and might be wearing gloves. So they developed some sort of resistive keypad which, althought probably not zero force, is close enough to it and you can use it with gloves on.
    • Some laptop touchpads seem to work independent of the force applied. You can push as hard as you want with a pen, etc and nothing happens. A fairly light brush of the finger and the mouse moves. I'd assume it's based on energized contact, heat sensing, or something else that differs between human skin and inanimate objects poking the touchpad
    • Re:zero force? (Score:2, Informative)

      by PainKilleR-CE (597083)
      From the UD article:
      Elias explained the touch pad acts like a video camera, recording the objects touching its surface. An embedded microprocessor then applies an algorithmic process to convert those touches into commands understood by the computer.
    • Re:zero force? (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      To split this hair properly: the device is zero force as in "zero _additional_ force". I.e. other than the force needed to move your finger by itself, through whatever medium you happen to be in (had better be air, though ;-), the device needs no additional force. Or one that is so incredibly small you'ld never be able to measure it.

      Strictly speaking, even a capacitive sensor would need *some* force, because entering the finger into the electric field must change its configuration to be detectable, and thus require some force, either on the way in or out. But if that force is two orders of magnitude smaller than that needed to overcome biological friction of your finger joints, that's "zero" for all practical means and purposes.
  • by dildatron (611498) on Thursday October 03, 2002 @04:22PM (#4383187)
    All I want is one key [courtoffside.com].
  • Neat (Score:2, Informative)

    by tezzery (549213)
    Sounds like an interesting product/technology. I can't imagine gaming with one of these though.
  • by Dthoma (593797)
    "Fingerworks's products are gesture-based keyboard-and-mouse "surfaces" that require zero force to work with"

    Require zero force to work with? Is that even physically possible?

    • Yep, definitely possible. It uses capacitance to figure out when your fingers get close - down to a micron or two (if I recall).
    • >Require zero force to work with? Is that even physically possible?

      Sure, why not?

      Don't breathe for one second, letter a. Two seconds, letter b. 5 minutes, CTRL-ALT-DEL.
    • Re:Er... (Score:2, Funny)

      by travdaddy (527149)
      Require zero force to work with? Is that even physically possible?

      Sure!
      I use zero force at my job already.
    • Re:Er... (Score:2, Interesting)

      by The_Morgan (89220)
      Yes. Its definitly possible, and in my case preferred. I crushed my wrist many moons ago and typing on a normal keyboard for extended times really hurts.

      I have the touchstream LP and its very easy on that wrist. No pressure/force is needed by the fingers which in turn keeps the stress down my wrist. (you can only guess what other activities are prohibited by this "handicap")

      I wouldn't recommend this thing for anybody impatient, even after 6 months with it I still can't touchtype very fast. It also makes some standard key combos (alt-f4) a bit difficult. And forget gaming with it - the repeat rate isn't high enough to allow it. The mouse emulation isn't good enough for it either.
  • great product (Score:5, Informative)

    by kLaNk (82409) on Thursday October 03, 2002 @04:24PM (#4383205)
    I have had one of these for several months now, it is really nice.

    The biggest problem that I have faced with it is getting used to typing with no force feedback (since there are no moving parts). Furthermore, it is hard to keep your fingers in the correct locations, since, with the exception of two little raised dots, there are no physical boundries between the keys.

    One of the best thigns about this keyboard though is how the entire touchpad of the keyboard can be used as a mouse. Remeber the article just recentally here about mouse gestures? Just imagine really using gesture with your hands, it is awesome.

    Again, there is a tough learning curve, but then once you get past it, it is an awesome product, well worth the money.
    • by rplacd (123904)
      I confess, while reading a long document/web site/whatever, I unconsciously play with my keyboard's nipples.
      That won't work with this keyboard...
    • Re:great product (Score:5, Interesting)

      by jtdubs (61885) on Thursday October 03, 2002 @05:00PM (#4383488)
      Now, I'm just talking here, but...

      Why do you need the keyboard fixed in place on this thing? Why do you need keys with boundaries?

      It seems as though this thing could just make the keyboard be wherever the hands feel like being. Wherever you put your hands on the pad, that's where the keyboard is.

      If you have the hands resting in the touch-type position, regardless of position on the pad, and the left index-finger is depressed, type an 'F'.

      If an area is tapped that is just a bit above and to the left of the left middle finger, type an 'E'.

      Just put your hands down and do the motion of typing, no need to line anything up.

      Or, is this how it already works? Or, is this a bad idea and I'm just a fool?

      Justin Dubs
      • Re:great product (Score:3, Interesting)

        by aaarrrgggh (9205)
        Sounds good; could also adapt fairly easily to finger length-- "home keys" need not be in a straight row. Could get a little confusing though without actually being able to tell where the keyboard would accept different letters at any given time...
      • Re:great product (Score:2, Interesting)

        by citanon (579906)
        Yeah, but I don't think the key board knows which finger is which, unless you start wearing a corresponding electronic tag on each finger or something.
        • Nah nah nah, you just spend a little time training the machine, like you would with a speech-recognition program. After a while, it figures out how far you're reaching for the 'Q' from your home-row fingers, etc.
    • by naasking (94116) <naasking @ g m a il.com> on Thursday October 03, 2002 @05:10PM (#4383547) Homepage
      One of the best thigns about this keyboard [...] Remeber the article just recentally here about mouse [...] Furthermore, it is hard to keep your fingers in the correct locations, since, with the exception of two little raised dots, there are no physical boundries between the keys.

      Hmmm... yes, I see the problem...

      Laugh people, it's a joke. :-)

    • "with the exception of two little raised dots, there are no physical boundries between the keys."

      A lot of things can be programmed using little raised dots ;)
  • slashdotted (Score:3, Troll)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 03, 2002 @04:24PM (#4383206)
    Enjoy. Sept. 27, 2002--University of Delaware researchers have developed a revolutionary computer interface technology that promises to put the bite on the
    traditional mouse and mechanical keyboard. 3We have developed a technology that goes well beyond the mouse and mechanical keyboard,2 John Elias, UD
    professor of electrical and computer engineering, said. Elias and Wayne Westerman, UD visiting assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering,
    have been working on the new interface for about five years and are now marketing their iGesture product through a company called FingerWorks. In a
    surprise move, the two scientists began shoving the new keyboard up each others' asses simulatneously, while using the new keyboard technology to stimulate
    the colon and the G spot, respectively. The project started as a doctoral thesis by Westerman, who was then a UD graduate student working with Elias. The
    FingerWorks name fits because the technology uses a touch pad and a range of finger motions to communicate commands and keys to the computer. To
    open a file, you rotate your hand as if opening a jar; to zoom or de-zoom, you expand or contract your hand. Elias said the communication power of their
    system is 3thousands of times greater2 than that of a mouse, which uses just a single moving point as the main input. Using this new technology, two human
    hands provide 10 points of contact, with a wide range of motion for each, thus providing thousands of different patterns, each of which can mean something
    different to the computer. While much about the computer has changed over the last three decades-greater power, faster speeds, more memory-what has not
    changed is the user interface. 3For what it was invented for, the mouse does a good job,2 Elias said. 3People accept the mouse and the mechanical keyboard
    because that1s the way it is. But there are limitations in terms of information flow. There is so much power in the computer, and so much power in the human,
    but the present situation results in a communications bottleneck between the two.2 Elias and Westerman have a better idea. 3I believe we are on the verge of
    changing the way people interact with computers,2 Elias said. 3Imagine trying to communicate with another human being using just a mouse and a keyboard.
    It works, but it is slow and tedious. 3This is not just a little step in improving the mouse, this is the first step in a new way of communicating with the
    computer through gestures and the movements of your hands. This is, after all, one of the ways humans interact.2 Elias said he could envision in the next 10
    years 3a very complex gestural language between man and machine.2 The system is a multi-touch, zero force technology, Elias said, meaning the gestures and
    movements use all the fingers in a light and subtle manner. Because of that, the system has a second major advantage over the mouse and mechanical
    keyboard because it can greatly reduce stress injuries such as tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndrome attributed to traditional computer work. The company
    markets both stand-alone touch pads and touch pads built into nonmechanical keyboards. In the keyboards, the keys overlap the touch pad so the operator
    does not have to move his hands when switching between typing and using the mouse. Rather, everything can be done in a smoother flow of hand motions.
    Elias explained the touch pad acts like a video camera, recording the objects touching its surface. An embedded microprocessor then applies an algorithmic
    process to convert those touches into commands understood by the computer. 3To observers watching somebody use multi-touch, it looks a little like magic,2
    Elias said, illustrating his point on a computer in Evans Hall. 3People see lots of things happening on the computer screen but very little hand motion is
    observed.2 He said the system has been designed so the gestures used make sense for the operation being performed. For instance, you cut text with a pinch
    and paste it with a flick. Eventually, he said, the computer password could be a gesture known only to the user. Elias said people often think that speech
    recognition systems will become the ultimate user interface. 3Voice commands are good for many things but terrible for other things,2 Elias said, adding he
    believes there are inherent problems with a speech-only interface. 3If you want to test this claim, you can do so with a perfect speech recognition
    system-another human being,2 Elias said. 3Put somebody in front of your computer and try to do your work by issuing voice commands to him. You1ll
    quickly find that many common tasks are difficult to do using speech, even though your OEcomputer interface1 understands you perfectly.2 Using hand and
    finger motion to input commands is, for many tasks, much more effective than trying to explain what you want to do in words, he said. The system is being
    used at several work stations in Evans Hall and the reaction is largely favorable. It is something of a challenge for some workers, Elias said, because it is like
    learning a new language. Susan Foster, UD vice president of information technologies, said she is impressed with the interface and plans to adopt it for use at
    several computer sites around campus. 3The device is the result of new thinking about the OEbandwidth1 that constrains the physical interaction between
    operator and computer,2 Foster said. 3It capitalizes on human gestures, which are easy to understand and execute. Once learned, like other motor skills, they
    are readily retained. The assistive qualities of the device also make it quite useful for those with limitations on upper extremity use.2 The plug-and-play device,
    which requires no special software, should be of particular interest to programmers, graphic designers and editors, Foster said, and she is recommending they
    consider making use of a new technology that was 3born and bred at UD and under continuing development here.2 The University of Delaware is an equity
    partner in FingerWorks. For more on FingerWorks, see the web site at [www.fingerworks.com]. Photos by Eric Crossan
  • C'mon guys, I never get a chance to read the sites before you all crash them!

    Maybe someone should warn these sites so that they can off load some of the traffic to emergency servers.

  • "any" key? (Score:2, Funny)

    by misterhaan (613272)
    now what will everyone do when faced with "press any key to continue..."?

    'any' key? it doesn't even have an 'enter' key!
  • by Fjord (99230) on Thursday October 03, 2002 @04:26PM (#4383222) Homepage Journal
    I'm glad to see they are continuing their policies [slashdot.org] on advertisements here on /.

    You would think a slashvertiser would strengthen their site before getting a link to their front page put up, though.
    • I agree that there is a fine line between advertising and journalism, but I don't see a problem with this being on /.. It is supposed to be news that the tech community may be interested in. This doesn't mean that each individual is interested, but as a whole the community might be.

      Seeing as how carpal tunnel is becoming an increasingly larger issue, I know I am at least interested in what future keyboards may look like, and I consider it somewhat interested.

      If one continues your arguement, then you would say that magazines like Popular Science and Popular Mechanics are all advertisements for new products. That is simply not true. When I read these periodicals, I like to see what may be in the future, and how much they will cost. Advertisements are just trying to sell you a product, new thing slike this are just being written about because they are interesting to some people, and are a "new idea".
  • Gestures? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Bonker (243350) on Thursday October 03, 2002 @04:26PM (#4383225)
    Well, *that* didn't take long to Slashdot.

    Still, here's a little snippet from the page I was reading before it died:

    The iGesture Pad gives you unprecedented control of graphical objects using gestures while providing you with the same functionality of the mouse. The iGesture Pad is thin enough to pack along with your notebook computer and it is a perfect mouse or track ball replacement for your desktop system. It works equally well with either hand.

    They way they show this thing being used, you spend as much time making sign-language-like gestures to perform computer commands as you do pointing and dragging your finger around.

    On one hand, I think this would be a cool idea, but on the other I wonder how much more or less stress having to effectively communicate in a sign language would be than using a mouse to accomplish the same tasks.
    • As always google cache [216.239.53.100] rocks.

      Thalia
    • The other question one might ask is how much manual dexterity do I need to be able to make the alleged thousands of gestures without them being confusing. On the keyboard, I have some force feedback and I'm pretty good with the backspace key. With zero resistance and an ability to accidentally do mouse-gestures with my keyboarding hands, I can see some accuracy issues.

      Frankly, I work often 12 hours a day at a keyboard, and I use a mouse. Since I shifted to a high res optical mouse (small movements required) and since I use all the buttons but don't have a death grip and since I use an old MS-Pro ergo keyboard with a raised bottom end (unlike most keyboards), I've had little or no pain in elbows, wrists, or tendons... unlike the bad old days on the QWERTY/top-elevated keyboards and roll-around mice.

      When this new technology matures, and if I feel like re-training, it might be interesting, but I can already do a lot with what I have with little discomfort.

      But we should be making it available to kids/etc coming up... they don't have a retraining issue and if it avoids some people headed down the nasty RSI path... that's good.

      Minor plug: Living with RSI [akasa.bc.ca]
  • /. vapor (Score:4, Funny)

    by mattsucks (541950) on Thursday October 03, 2002 @04:26PM (#4383228) Homepage
    ... but the product is no longer vapor!
    Too bad the U. of Delaware's web server is ....
  • Speech Recognition (Score:3, Insightful)

    by tycage (96002) <tycage@aol.com> on Thursday October 03, 2002 @04:26PM (#4383230) Homepage
    'Elias said people often think that speech recognition systems will become the ultimate user interface. "Voice commands are good for many things but terrible for other things," Elias said, adding he believes there are inherent problems with a speech-only interface.

    "If you want to test this claim, you can do so with a perfect speech recognition system-another human being," Elias said. "Put somebody in front of your computer and try to do your work by issuing voice commands to him. You'll quickly find that many common tasks are difficult to do using speech, even though your 'computer interface' understands you perfectly."'


    It's there a flaw in the argument here?

    This is trying to use a UI designed to use a keyboard and a mouse by using speech instead. Wouldn't a system that was intended to use speech recognition be designed around that idea? I'd think that would cause it to have a completly different interface.

    What he describes is like trying to navigate a mouse driven interface with a keyboard when it hasn't been designed to use a keyboard at all. Or maybe a better example, it's like trying to type a letter using your mouse to click on a onscreen keyboard. It's just not how the UI was designed to be driven.

    --Ty
    • Yes, you are right to some degree. But I think you will still find what they said is true.
      Since the output of most computers are visual, the is makes more sence for the input to be visualy based to.

      Plus there has been an artical on /. saying that bascily, when you're speaking, you don't think as well....We all know about cellphone drivers (yes, there are people who claim not to be affected. But they are still are, just less than most).

      Anyway. Do you really want to be talking out loud all the time? I know I wouldn't. Especialy since I do a lot of photoshop work (another point to, voice will still be much slower at a lot of things).

    • Don't forget that (virtually?) all human languages are not context free, meaning that they cannot be parsed by a Turing machine without some outside assistance. In his example, this fact is obscured by issuing voice commands to a human, who can interpret their meaning and context, before interacting with the computer.

      So yes, it's true that the example assumes that no one would develop an improved voice interface, but the much larger issue is that having a conversation-style interaction with your computer would require far more computation than its worth, and even then would take years to refine.

      In all, I think it's a fair example of what could be done with existing technology, but that might change in a few years.

      "Remember, the future is unknown, and we must always approach the unknown with fear and hatred." -SomethingAwful.com
  • Google Cache [216.239.51.100]
  • by gosand (234100) on Thursday October 03, 2002 @04:28PM (#4383238)

    UD researchers develop revolutionary computer interface technology

    Sept. 27, 2002--University of Delaware researchers have developed a revolutionary computer interface technology that promises to put the bite on the traditional mouse and mechanical keyboard.

    "We have developed a technology that goes well beyond the mouse and mechanical keyboard," John Elias, UD professor of electrical and computer engineering, said.

    Elias and Wayne Westerman, UD visiting assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, have been working on the new interface for about five years and are now marketing their iGesture product through a company called FingerWorks.

    The project started as a doctoral thesis by Westerman, who was then a UD graduate student working with Elias.

    The FingerWorks name fits because the technology uses a touch pad and a range of finger motions to communicate commands and keys to the computer. To open a file, you rotate your hand as if opening a jar; to zoom or de-zoom, you expand or contract your hand.

    Elias said the communication power of their system is "thousands of times greater" than that of a mouse, which uses just a single moving point as the main input. Using this new technology, two human hands provide 10 points of contact, with a wide range of motion for each, thus providing thousands of different patterns, each of which can mean something different to the computer.

    While much about the computer has changed over the last three decades-greater power, faster speeds, more memory-what has not changed is the user interface.

    "For what it was invented for, the mouse does a good job," Elias said. "People accept the mouse and the mechanical keyboard because that's the way it is. But there are limitations in terms of information flow. There is so much power in the computer, and so much power in the human, but the present situation results in a communications bottleneck between the two."

    Elias and Westerman have a better idea. "I believe we are on the verge of changing the way people interact with computers," Elias said. "Imagine trying to communicate with another human being using just a mouse and a keyboard. It works, but it is slow and tedious.

    "This is not just a little step in improving the mouse, this is the first step in a new way of communicating with the computer through gestures and the movements of your hands. This is, after all, one of the ways humans interact."

    Elias said he could envision in the next 10 years "a very complex gestural language between man and machine."

    The system is a multi-touch, zero force technology, Elias said, meaning the gestures and movements use all the fingers in a light and subtle manner.

    Because of that, the system has a second major advantage over the mouse and mechanical keyboard because it can greatly reduce stress injuries such as tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndrome attributed to traditional computer work.

    The company markets both stand-alone touch pads and touch pads built into
    nonmechanical keyboards. In the keyboards, the keys overlap the touch pad so the operator does not have to move his hands when switching between typing and using the mouse. Rather, everything can be done in a smoother flow of hand motions.

    Elias explained the touch pad acts like a video camera, recording the objects touching its surface. An embedded microprocessor then applies an algorithmic process to convert those touches into commands understood by the computer.

    "To observers watching somebody use multi-touch, it looks a little like magic,"
    Elias said, illustrating his point on a computer in Evans Hall. "People see lots of things happening on the computer screen but very little hand motion is observed."

    He said the system has been designed so the gestures used make sense for the operation being performed. For instance, you cut text with a pinch and paste it with a flick.

    Eventually, he said, the computer password could be a gesture known only to the user.

    Elias said people often think that speech recognition systems will become the ultimate user interface. "Voice commands are good for many things but terrible for other things," Elias said, adding he believes there are inherent problems with a speech-only interface.

    "If you want to test this claim, you can do so with a perfect speech recognition system-another human being," Elias said. "Put somebody in front of your computer and try to do your work by issuing voice commands to him. You'll quickly find that many common tasks are difficult to do using speech, even though your 'computer interface' understands you perfectly."

    Using hand and finger motion to input commands is, for many tasks, much more effective than trying to explain what you want to do in words, he said.

    The system is being used at several work stations in Evans Hall and the reaction is largely favorable. It is something of a challenge for some workers, Elias said, because it is like learning a new language.

    Susan Foster, UD vice president of information technologies, said she is impressed with the interface and plans to adopt it for use at several computer sites around campus.

    "The device is the result of new thinking about the 'bandwidth' that constrains the physical interaction between operator and computer," Foster said. "It capitalizes on human gestures, which are easy to understand and execute. Once learned, like other motor skills, they are readily retained. The assistive qualities of the device also make it quite useful for those with limitations on upper extremity use."

    The plug-and-play device, which requires no special software, should be of particular interest to programmers, graphic designers and editors, Foster said, and she is recommending they consider making use of a new technology that was "born and bred at UD and under continuing development here."

    The University of Delaware is an equity partner in FingerWorks.

    For more on FingerWorks, see the web site at [www.fingerworks.com].
  • gestures (Score:3, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 03, 2002 @04:28PM (#4383244)
    To open a file, you rotate your hand as if opening a jar; to zoom or de-zoom, you expand or contract your hand.

    Some interesting gesture possibilities for looking at pr0n come to mind.

    • You'd better watch out. A stray movement could trigger a shutdown call or e-mail your currently open multi-media stream to your girlfriend, etc.
  • by nizo (81281) on Thursday October 03, 2002 @04:30PM (#4383265) Homepage Journal
    Eventually, he said, the computer password could be a gesture known only to the user.


    Finally, my favorite one-fingered gesture can be used to choose windows from my GRUB menu.

    • Re:This is great! (Score:3, Insightful)

      by JaredOfEuropa (526365)
      Heh... don't use it as a password though, it'll be a "weak" one!

      Seriously, at least when I type my password, other people have a hard time seeing what I type. If I sit there gesturing at the computer though...
      • Seriously, at least when I type my password, other people have a hard time seeing what I type. If I sit there gesturing at the computer though...

        How do you come to that conclution? Typing your password on a keyboard is a gesture. An obvious one at that.
        If you can type fast, they you can gesture fast to. With a keyboard there is also a limited number of 'gestures' that one could perform.

  • I can think of one gesture I use all the time while using my computer...it's not really a command, but it does tend to simplify things.
  • by gosand (234100) on Thursday October 03, 2002 @04:33PM (#4383280)
    To open a file, you rotate your hand as if opening a jar; to zoom or de-zoom, you expand or contract your hand.

    This would be great for browsers...

    making a fist and moving the hand in an up-and-down motion will go to www.persiankitty.com

    extending only the middle finger on the left hand will go to www.riaa.com

    extending only the middle finger on the right hand will go to www.mpaa.com

    extending both middle fingers will send you to www.microsoft.com

  • isn't this a dream come true? now you can play star trek and have your computer react at your movements when you just smoothly touch the keyboard... wow :)

    ALso, I can only imagine IF such keyboard becomes wide spread, how many beautiful UI would be designed in the free software community.. it's just a matter of adding new "meta" things to the "mouse" movements...
    (I want to kill -9 applications by closing my fist like the Emperor in Star Wars - the Return of the Jedi.. "we will kill them...")

    why in the free software..? because I'm quite sure that a UI for a closed-source OS will take much longer time to spread - or just much more money.

    cool.
  • Price? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by zoombat (513570) on Thursday October 03, 2002 @04:34PM (#4383287)
    Nifty idea, but I can't seem to find a price for it.. might just be the /. effect, but all the google cache pages I've found just say "price $" without an amount.

    Anyone know the price of these things?
  • by Rude Turnip (49495) <valuation@nOSpAm.gmail.com> on Thursday October 03, 2002 @04:35PM (#4383301)
    "This is not just a little step in improving the mouse, this is the first step in a new way of communicating with the computer through gestures and the movements of your hands. This is, after all, one of the ways humans interact."

    This thing is going to be *HUGE* in Italy.

  • Will this interface support punching the monitor?
  • While new UI devices are always fun, I seriously doubt how scalable and how expressive these are going to be. For someone who makes moderate use of shell programming facilities, I really see no good alternative to typing out "for i in `cat $i`;do...done". I see no universally intuitive way of expressing this action using any mouse or hand gestures. Also, how easy is it to "program" gestures? Can I make macros/functions (with arguments?????) to do things I do often? In general, I'm very skeptical of new UIs claiming to increase productivity manifold because they are "closer to the way we think". I think it is very important for any new UI to specify the particular context (or group of users) for which it is meant.
    • This is a classical issue with this sort of tech.

      I myself, however, used to use a chord style keyboard, and found that a specific chord worked well for some things (int, char, while, HTML etc) it was painfully slow for the things like &this and *pThat. People (other than us) seem to think that a keyboard should adapt to fit English.

      Programmers would probably prefer a keyboard done in a slightly different language :)

      Now where the heck is my if{ key...

      -WS

  • Anyone remember seeing that laser keyboard a while back? A little device drew out keyboard on your desk in red light, and where you broke the beam was how it determined what key you had hit, really cool idea. Don't know if I could get to used to it thought without the clickity-clickity.
    • Clarify: Where is the laser situated? If it's projecting from above, then wouldn't you break beams for the lower keys when moving your hand towards the upper keys?

      Any URL's, pictures?
      • Here's [slashdot.org] the slashdot story. Unfortunately, the Yahoo story's gone.

        Iirc, the device was situated on the desk/table, a few inches away from the user's fingers, with the source of the beam raised slightly above table level and shining down at an angle. And, also iirc, it worked with some sort of sonar method, detecting the thumps of your fingers on the surface you had it on. The idea was that this light-projecter would be small enough fit in one's pocket, making it a great way to plug a full-size keyboard into a handheld when on the road.
  • by RealAlaskan (576404) on Thursday October 03, 2002 @04:37PM (#4383322) Homepage Journal
    Their gesture-based system is nothing like a keyboard, but I'm still comparing it to my old IBM model M, which has the wonderful, mechanical, click which I can both feel and hear. That feedback works wonders for me; I can type faster on this than on the modern, squishy, low-force keyboards.

    The system is intended to replace the keyboard AND the mouse. I like the sound of that part. If you try to use a mouse, you waste a lot of typing time moving back and forth from the keyboard to the mouse. This would really help out there. Of course, keyboard shortcuts accomplish the same thing. They say:

    ... the communication power of their system is "thousands of times greater" than that of a mouse, which uses just a single moving point as the main input. Using this new technology, two human hands provide 10 points of contact, with a wide range of motion for each, thus providing thousands of different patterns, each of which can mean something different to the computer.
    That all sounds a lot like emacs and its key-chords.

    They say that it will reduce repetitive stress problems, but I wonder. Is tapping your fingers on a pad, or twisting your wrist, really that different than typing? If you have to do the same operations over and over, aren't you going to eventually get stressed?

  • Hmmmmm (Score:3, Funny)

    by Hamster Of Death (413544) on Thursday October 03, 2002 @04:38PM (#4383333)
    I can see the porn industry jumping to adopt THIS technology!
  • Minority Report (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Cyno01 (573917) <Cyno01@hotmail.com> on Thursday October 03, 2002 @04:44PM (#4383371) Homepage
    Is it just me or does this seem kind of like the interface for the pre-crime computer in Minority Report, only without those half glove thingies.
  • by certron (57841)
    While I'm sure others have mentioned some novel uses, how about a 'killer app' for this technology? Why not finger painting? The only problem I see is that I don't know exactly where the processing is done... Does the device itself turn pinch/flick into cut/paste or does the device do a little processing and have the computer figure out what the gesture was? (I'm thinking that most of the processing goes on inside the device itself, since it says at the end of the article that it is plug-and-play and requires no special software. Perhaps it is just a keyboard/mouse to the computer?)

    This is still pretty cool, just imagine playing something like the Best. Fighting Game. Ever. (Soul Calibur, IMO) using gestures instead of 'cycle-quarter left, x+y'. You could have hand-fu instead of finger-foo. hehe... Maybe I should trademark hand-fu. ... or not.

    What about other hand-tracking technologies? When gestures are mentioned, I think of the PowerGlove (or DataGlove, depending) and then I think of the Nintendo U-Force controller-thing. http://www.nesplayer.com/database/accessories/ufor ce.htm

    Who knows, it could be cool. (Maybe I should read the previous article, too.)
  • by L. VeGas (580015) on Thursday October 03, 2002 @04:47PM (#4383391) Homepage Journal
    University of Delaware's webpage

    I'm glad to see this wonderful source of information being featured on /. I wish you could also promote my other primary information source,
    Bakersfield Community College Gazette.
  • by MrEd (60684) <tonedog.hailmail@net> on Thursday October 03, 2002 @04:48PM (#4383402)
    This is getting closer and closer to that ideal user interface - something that's so complicated that you just wave your hand in its' general direction and hope that it does what you want.


    I like my interfaces old-school. Dials and knobs, please.

  • I have one of these. (Score:5, Informative)

    by pjcreath (513472) on Thursday October 03, 2002 @04:50PM (#4383418)
    I have their Stealth programmer's QWERTY keyboard. It's nice. I got it when my mousing hand was starting get some lovely RSI symptoms.

    The gestures make web browsing very pleasant. The gestures they picked for common operations are quite intuitive, and you end up not even having to think about how you're gesturing. It's quite similar to the lack of thought required to hit your favorite hotkey sequence, but it feels a little more natural.

    It's also quite nice not having to move my hands at all to switch from typing to mousing. Even without gestures, this features is very helpful, especially if you type with your keyboard on your lap.

    But now to the bad part (and the reason why the gestures are essential): it's all a flat surface. There's almost no tactile feedback. There are little bumps on the home row so you can find your place, but that's it. It's extraordinarily easy to get disoriented if you don't watch your hands.

    As far as the folks at FingerWorks are aware, people have only gotten up to 60-70 wpm on their keyboards. (Last I checked I had gotten up to 55.) I cruise at 120 on a mechanical keyboard, so for intense typing, I still fall back to my standard keyboard. But for most of the non-coding time in front of the computer, the Stealth is great.

    To give you an idea of some of the gestures (and how on earth this thing works):

    - A single finger tap is a keypress
    - Two adjacent fingers down + dragging moves the mouse
    - Two adjacent fingers tapping is a mouse click
    - All five fingers down simultaneously is rest position -- this is how you can reorient your hands on home row without typing gobbledygook

    Those are the biggies. You can read the full list of their gestures on their web site. I'd link to it, but it appears to be /.ed.

    I do have to say that the folks at FingerWorks are incredibly responsive. I complained that their sensitivity to double-keys was too low (it regularly ignored my second "f" on something like "off"), they sent me a firmware update within a day which fixed it.

    So they're definitely tweaking things and very helpful.

    Oh, and did I mention that it supports Linux, Mac OS, and Windows? And it has gestures for emacs actions and other common Linux activities.
    • that why i like the ms natural keyboard, i can tell right where my hands are. What i would like is a flat keyboard like this one, blank. Position my fingers on it at a comfortable point, close my eyes, and start typing a typing test. the machine looks and sees where I put my fingers for each letter, rather then me having to reprogram the movements. Put on sitcker whatnot for the markers afterwards. Instant perfect touch typing, taylored to my individual style.
    • It's also quite nice not having to move my hands at all to switch from typing to mousing. Even without gestures, this features is very helpful, especially if you type with your keyboard on your lap.

      You get the same with an IBM Trackpoint keyboard [ibm.com], and the IBM keyboard have really nice tactile feedback.

      (Note that the pointing stick on Toshiba and some other keyboards works nowhere near as well--IBM really put a lot of work into Trackpoint.)

    • All five fingers down simultaneously is rest position -- this is how you can reorient your hands on home row without typing gobbledygook.

      So what if you don't use home row in the first place? I don't (my hands tend to rest in a bit of an arc above the home row keys); in fact, I think home row is one of the leading contributors to RSI--how can you possibly hold your hands in such an unnatural position day in and day out? I sure can't.

      • I believe that I only ever really type with about six fingers : left index, left thumb only for Control and Alt, right index, right middle, right ring only for Enter and Shift, right thumb on Space.

        Left middle will get used for typing Alt-F4, right ring gets used for typing Shift-number combos, left pinky does hit Control for Control-Alt-Delete, and I do use ALL of my fingers (except for right pinky), when I play Quake III.

        I do not hunt and peck. I know exactly where all of the keys are (I don't look at the keyboard, except for maybe Shift-Number combos), and I get tremendously high scores on typing tests - I'm in the very high range on speed, and I'm quite good on accuracy - especially when coding. (Unfortunately, I'm a horrible speller.)

        I guess that's what happens when you learn to type on a mini keyboard like the TRS-80 MC-12 Micro Color Computer. You don't have the "real" tacticile feedback that a keyboard is supposed to give you - it's more like trying to type on a TI-85 calculator, but the keys were at least in the proper locations - not alphabetical. *shudder* Cursed for life. I'll be typing this way for ever.

        I've tried to learn to touch type, with my fingers in the proper locations, but my left hand really, honestly does better getting to roam all over the keyboard, and pecking away with my left index finer.

        I made an experiment of myself, trying to go from "four-finger typing" to proper touch typing on Dvorak. I had some success, but I really, really didn't like the Dvorak layout for coding. It was fine for English, but bad for typing code - at least for me.

        By the way, if I type on ANYTHING but a Microsoft Natural Keyboard Pro, I get really pissed, really quick.
  • Good idea, but I wonder about folks with disabilities.

    Take a look at the usual GUI: for example, it's very difficult for a blind person to use Windoze.

    The article talks about 10 points of contact (i.e. fingers) instead of just 1 (the mouse). What of people who don't have normal hands? If this catches on, would not most interfaces suddenly need their users to be able-bodied?
    • by Casca (4032)
      Would you prefer all innovations are geared for the lowest common denominator?

      I want an interface that is designed to be the most efficient/powerful for use, with all of my relevant senses taken into consideration.

      If someone else needs an interface with the restriction that the sense of sight cannot be a factor, then make one for him/her that is the most efficient/powerful with those restrictions accounted for.

      I don't think the two will be the same, and I don't see why one should suffer with a lesser interface based on limitations he/she doesn't have.
      • I don't think the two will be the same, and I don't see why one should suffer with a lesser interface based on limitations he/she doesn't have.

        As it happens, the closing plenary by Gregg Vanderheiden at the ACM CHI 2001 conference nicely debunked this commonly held viewpoint. In so many cases, devices can be made *more* useful to the fully-abled as well as accessible to segments of the disabled. Here's a page with audio links, slides, and a transcript of one of Dr. Vanderheiden's talks on the accessibility subject.

        Access to (all) Electronic Products by Everyone [wisc.edu]

        IMO, Vanderheiden's closing plenary completely blew away the opening plenary by Bill Gates. Gates likes to present a public image of himself as a technology visionary. These two talks were a fantastic case study on how self-marketing cannot compete with actual substance when vyying for the visionary title.
        • I have to disagree with both you and Mr.Vanderheiden in this context. Some circumstances and some implementations may be equally useful when designed to allow for people with various limitations to use. In this case we are talking about a user interface design for a computer. There is no way you could create a computer that I could use equally efficiently without the use of sight for all of the tasks that I need to perform.

          There is a reason that fighter pilots use sight/sound/touch. We might be able to ease the restrictions on who can be a pilot if the controls were designed by Vanderheiden, but I wouldn't count on them lasting long in the crosshairs of the enemy.

    • This is something that I immediately though of to be honest. I'm pretty "normal", but I have a slightly weak tendon in one of my little fingers (after breaking it at school when I was a kid) which means I am unable to totally straighten it. Normally in day-to-day life this wouldn't make a difference, but if hardware started coming out that assumes that you have a perfect standard body with perfect standard fingers then I'd be unable to use it.

      It's already bad enough that it put me off learning to touch-type, simple because I couldn't stretch that finger out to the top row... Not that I don't achive a reasonable typing speed with my "random" finger positions anyway... :)

      -- Pete.

    • by ceejayoz (567949)
      Do you also suggest that we make all keyboards work for people who've had both hands amputated? Designing for the lowest common denominator is silly - someone with disabilities can use another method, but the rest of us should be free to use this one.
  • by g4dget (579145) on Thursday October 03, 2002 @05:17PM (#4383590)
    Most movements involve the opposition of two muscles--the position of the limb is determined by the balance of forces between them. Furthermore, up to a certain point, the faster and the more precisely you want to move, the more force you need.

    If you work against a mechanical resistance, one of the two muscles actually has to do less work because the necessary opposition is alredy being supplied by the mechanism. Mechanical resistance also provides tactile feedback.

    If there is no resistance, you have to provide it yourself. And if you tap away on a hard surface, it's even worse: the force gets delivered all in one strike, as opposed to gradually, as it is with well-designed keyboard. Touch pads, for all their sleek design, are probably the worst among the common mouse replacements.

    For all these reasons, keyboard, pianos, buttons, and other devices have a certain degree of resistance deliberately designed into them. I suspect that a zero-force input device will not help with RSI and may actually aggravate it. But whatever effect it may have for RSI, I doubt a zero-force input device is going to be comfortable and efficient.

    • Another point: Since the surface doesn't "give" like a traditional keyboard does, you might start to see cases of RSI from repeated pressure on the tips of the fingers. Sort of like what is seen in people that work in factories that have to push small parts in with their thumbs or fingers. You can actually start to lose feeling in the end of your fingers or have serious pain.
  • http://www.meetthegeeks.org/ourreview/fingerworksi gesture/
  • That zero-force prevents RSI. There is also no evidence that large-force is a cause of RSI.
  • by Coplan (13643) on Thursday October 03, 2002 @05:46PM (#4383750) Homepage Journal
    I would like to see Elias' research and thesis. Does anyone know how I might be able to get a hold of that? I showed this article to my father, an Occupational Therapist, and he's most interested in the research behind it all.

    After a long conversation with my father, I've come to the realization that Repetitive Stress Syndrom (Carpel Tunnel Syndrom is sorta a misnomer) isn't exactly what I thought it was. After understanding it a little better and sharing thoughts with my father, I'm not so sure that Elias' FingerWorks would really reduce RPS. While the stress is a change from the standard mouse/keyboard issue, you're still going to be repeating movements over and over again. It would be expected that such RPS would still result.

    IN theory, there's very little research behind all these funky shaped mice these days. It's more of a marketing scheme than anything else. Yes, it might be more comfortable, but it really doesn't help the issue all that terribly much. The split keyboards, however, do help quite a bit. But imagine trying to use those damn things.

    • Do yourself a huge favor. Go buy a split keyboard that feels "right" to you. Give it two weeks. You'll never go back.

      God, I hate Microsoft. But their "natural" keyboards and oversized ergonomic mice are a godsend.
      • Sadly, my job requires me to use AutoCAD. I do a lot of one-handed typing of commands. Split keyboards are nice, and I might get one for home. But at work, It's just not workable. I tried the Happy Hacker half sized keyboards, but it's very difficult to use in CAD.
  • My main workstation uses an IBM Model M keyboard, It says "Copyright (C) IBM 1984" on the back.

    This keyboard is the opposite of the keyboard in the article. It has buckling metal springs, and makes a very loud CLICK (more appropriately, BANG) whenever you hit a key. If you put enough pressure on a key, it goes down all the way to the bottom, but the key won't move at all until you've put enough pressure on it. This means you always know whether or not you've hit a key, whereas this is not possible with plastic-type keyboards.

    Do this: type a paragraph into a text editor, without looking at the screen and without looking at your keyboard (you can backspace, ^W, etc. if you make a mistake, but you can look at neither the monitor nor the keyboard). See how many mistakes you make. I make ZERO mistakes on my Model M, since I know exactly which keys I've hit (eg, proper feedback). I often have great fun by staring blankly at people when I'm firing off an email (using vi, which is perfect for terrifying the non-unix types).

    The Model M improves my typing speed substantially. People cower in fear when I'm typing in the same room as they are, as it sounds like an assault rifle (I type very fast).

    Never had carpal tunnel, and I've been doing this most of my life (8 or more hours a day of C coding and unix administration for the past few years). Don't know what my secret is, other than that I move my arms around (keyboard in lap, under desk on keyboard tray, on top of desk, behind my head like Jimi Hendrix, etc.).

    I love my Model M. Only keyboard which gives it any competition is the Sun Type 5, but I no longer work with Suns very often.

    :wq (BANG BANG BANG BANG)

  • I've found someplace [keyalt.com]that sells these things: $329

    They also have a picture and a non-slashdotted web page.

    Uh... well, it was anyhow.
  • by CommieLib (468883) on Thursday October 03, 2002 @06:29PM (#4383937) Homepage
    Eventually, he said, the computer password could be a gesture known only to the user.

    I'm a classical pianist, and if I could make my password the first four bars of Rhapsody in Blue, I would feel pretty secure with my computer.
  • I just want one so that when I'm browsing the web it looks more like I'm working some incredible incantation.
  • Changing surface?? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by terranlune (530630)
    This presents a really interesting concept.. if the surface of the keyboard could change based on whatever activity you happened to be doing. For typing and other "normal" tasks it could display a standard keyboard, but for the "finger painting" suggestion above the "hotspots" of the keyboard could change to a color palette and brush sizes. Or games could have specific interfaces tailored to that game. The possibilities are endless.
  • Headboard (Score:2, Funny)

    by Tablizer (95088)
    I always wished that a face-based or head-based interface on the keyboard would become popular, because then the boss could not tell the difference between sleeping and typing.
  • Damn, how cool is it to see your old professor have a hand in inventing something? Maybe I'll have to swing by the old computer lab on my next visit...
  • obKinesis (Score:2, Interesting)

    by pez (54)
    The Kinesis keyboard has done nothing less than save my career. While starting a company in 1995 the long work days took a toll on my hands. After seeing doctor after doctor and specialist after specialist the best advice they could offer was "type less." Thank you very much, but I had deadlines to meet.

    Everything changed when I splurged $300 for the Kinesis Contour keyboard. There are four major differences between this keyboard and the others out there, and together they make typing feel to me like I'm running down hill.

    1. Separated "key wells" (you have to see the picture [kinesis-ergo.com] to understand) which allow a much more natural hand position.

    2. Keys are lined up directly above each other (i.e. the T key is directly north of the G key, not up-to-the-left). This makes your fingers extend out and back, not out and back and side to side.

    3. The key wells are curved, which brings the keys on the upper and lower parts of the keybard closer to your fingertips. This is probably the single largest factor contributing to the "running down hill" feeling.

    4. Thumbs. Your thumbs are the two strongest digits on your hands. I don't know about you, but the way I used to type I would only use one of my thumbs, and only for one key (the space bar). My left thumb sat dormant. What a waste! Additionally, two of my most actively used fingers were my pinkeys due to the RET, Backspace and Control keys. Guess which fingers are your weakest? On the Kinesis, the thumbs get the most commonly used keys. I've got a couple of buttons re-mapped (due mostly to Emacs usage patterns) so the four major thumb buttons are Control, Alt, Return and Space. I couldn't live any other way.

    Give it a try. You won't regret it.

    Kinesis home page [kinesis-ergo.com]

    -Pez

  • I know there are several posts here proclaiming the virtues of old IBM Ms and their springy keys...

    I would pay a series sum of money for a USB "natural"-type split keyboard with those old-school spring keys.
  • And can be programmed for more. Whats too bad however is that it costs a lot, and I'm fairly uncertain whether I would actually like to type on the darn thing.

A LISP programmer knows the value of everything, but the cost of nothing. -- Alan Perlis

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