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Input Devices Microsoft Hardware

Contest Winners Show Potential For Pressure-Sensitive Keyboard 129

Posted by timothy
from the more-input-is-good dept.
Chris Harrison writes "About a month ago, Microsoft sent out prototype pressure sensitive keyboards to 40 international teams. They had four weeks to hack and cobble together some cool ideas. The innovation contest that centered around the keyboards released the winners last night (after a voting period Monday night at the ACM UIST conference). Some pretty neat ideas, ranging from pressure-sensitive password entry (Safelock), magnetic pens for cursor control (Hidden Forces), and even cool climbing (Rock Climbing) and land-deformation games (BallMeR)."
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Contest Winners Show Potential For Pressure-Sensitive Keyboard

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  • by John Hasler (414242) on Thursday October 08, 2009 @05:03PM (#29686621) Homepage

    Every keyboard I've ever used did something when I pressed on it. Except the broken ones.

  • .....while were on the subject of pressure sensitivity...
  • Will be going away anytime this lifetime.

    You aren't going to be able to make analog/variable button keyboards for $5.
    Normal buttons will be here for a long long time.
    • As long as you don't ask for too much accuracy, linearity, or stability it is quite easy to do. I just can't think of any good reason to do it.

    • by Firehed (942385)

      You can bet your ass that the people working with the first $5M, 10MB hard drives said the same thing about storage, and now I can buy a terabyte for under a hundred bucks. Similar trends exist for pretty much every computer component. If there's a need for insanely cheap pressure-sensitive keyboards, someone will find a way to make it happen.

  • by Fry-kun (619632) on Thursday October 08, 2009 @05:11PM (#29686707)

    What if something happens to the legitimate user's hand? Injury, for instance. Or, even simpler - typing with one hand because of holding a coffee mug in another.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 08, 2009 @05:37PM (#29686937)

      Or, even simpler - typing with one hand because of holding a coffee mug in another.

      *cough* Yeah, because they're holding a coffee mug. That's the ticket. One hand because of coffee mug. *cough*

    • by zippthorne (748122) on Thursday October 08, 2009 @05:53PM (#29687073) Journal

      Yeah, but now everyone knows your password is 'stewardesses'

    • What if something happens to the legitimate user's hand? Injury, for instance. Or, even simpler - typing with one hand because of holding a coffee mug in another.

      Is that what the kids are calling it these days? Must be something weird in the water if they're that shape.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by tverbeek (457094)

      A password also tied to key pressure has got to be one of the most out-of-touch-with-reality ideas I've read all day. (And I've been editing Wikipedia.) As if ordinary users didn't have a difficult enough time dealing with foggy memories, poor finger coordination, and the inability to see what characters they've already typed! Implement this, and I will be spending all of my time helping users get logged in to our computers, rather than 1/3 of it.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by izomiac (815208)
        Several years ago I used a system that used keystroke timing to verify passwords. It worked fine, and was decently accurate, with maybe 5% false negatives and I didn't see any false positives (my experience, so no clue how it worked for other people). Using biometric info from typing can be annoying (you need to sit the same way every time when you type), but it works acceptably well and from the user's perspective it's all stored in motor memory so there's no way to "forget" it, short of hand trauma.
        • by Haeleth (414428)

          The thing is, it's misguided and pointless.

          It's fundamentally tackling the wrong problem. The passwords that are most at risk of being compromised are passwords to remote computers and web sites. The password you type into a desktop computer is the least likely ever to be attacked; and if it ever is attacked, the attack is likely to be a brute-force attack on the password database at rest, not some guy sitting down at your keyboard and typing stuff in at random like in the movies.

          The only attack scenario

  • BallMer (Score:3, Funny)

    by LtGordon (1421725) on Thursday October 08, 2009 @05:16PM (#29686771)
    A land deformation game named BallMer? I see we've moved from chair-throwing straight to the fat jokes.
  • Finally! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Rah'Dick (976472) on Thursday October 08, 2009 @05:20PM (#29686803)
    Finally a keyboard that recognizes when I slam my fist into it! Make that a keybinding for "stop whatever the fuck you're doing and respond already".
    • Re:Finally! (Score:5, Interesting)

      by somersault (912633) on Thursday October 08, 2009 @05:42PM (#29686973) Homepage Journal

      The most useful initial application for me would be to simulate a shift keypress when you press a little harder than everyday typing pressure.

      Could be amusing for automatically writing in caps when you get ANGRY, and handy for running in oldskool FPS games that don't support the full analog range of the buttons - which could be easily supported right now in any game that already supports analog games controllers.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by mhajicek (1582795)
        I'm thinking of motion control in games, where pressing harder means going faster or hitting harder. I might sprain my fingers playing L4D though...
        • by snuf23 (182335)

          That example is actually shown in the demonstration video. Pressure controls run speed and jump height.

      • by vertinox (846076)

        Could be amusing for automatically writing in caps when you get ANGRY, and handy for running in oldskool FPS games that don't support the full analog range of the buttons - which could be easily supported right now in any game that already supports analog games controllers.

        I'm thinking a game like Assasins Creed or Thief where you tap the key lightly and get a quick slash versus where you hit it hard and it does a powerful stab.

    • by socz (1057222)
      hahaha killall other user or your processes and just do the f'in command! hahaha i love that great idea... should have submitted it!
  • The goal of BallMer is "to kick the ball into the opponents goal by deforming the ground itself"?! My hands are shaking as I consider the joke potential here. Level playing field? The propensity of the real Ballmer to deform the earth as he does his ecstatic "I LOVE THIS COMPANY!" dance? I just can't believe it doesn't involve chairs.

    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Well, if you RTFA, it turns out that you insert chairs into the playing field by pressing down on various areas of the keyboard, which is mapped into the game world. These chairs then repel the developer. The challenge is to position the chairs so that the developers are directed towards the Googles at either end of the playing field.

  • Very Impressed (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Chelmet (1273754) on Thursday October 08, 2009 @05:39PM (#29686955)
    I like this, and see pressure sensitive keyboards being predominant in the not too distant future, based primarily upon the supplemental embedded video at the bottom of the linked page. All of the proposed uses, from deleting word at a time, to recognising typos, to movement in games, I can't see any argument against. Its just a genuinely innovative device. A lot of the competition entries are rather useless as they stand, but go a long way to show the potential of the platform. One problem I've always had with PC gaming is not being able to play driving games properly without a controller, as on/off left/right is useless. I suppose this would solve that problem, as I'd now have an analogue keyboard. As to the typing/password recognition, of course it would have teething problems en route to full user acceptance, but all of the criticism levelled so far is easily surmountable. Someone loses a hand, or their typing changes - easy! As per online banking and whatnot, the user can answer a few predefined questions (independent of typing style) and reset the memory. A brute force attack could be prevented by limiting the number of attempts. Okay, so a couple of problems would always be present, such as typing with a coffee in hand or logging in to your girlfriends facebook, but overall I am thrilled by the idea, enough to make my second /. post ever, and am very much looking forward to owning one, providing they don't come with optimus maximus pricetags.
    • by socz (1057222)
      One thing that might be a problem would be auto complete for user/password. Would there be a way to work around this? Is this an add-on for firefox or a software workaround with the keyboard? Yeah sounds promising though!
    • Unless they put this into an IBM Model M... DO NOT WANT.
    • by FSWKU (551325)

      providing they don't come with optimus maximus pricetags

      I assure you, this [artlebedev.com] will cost MORE than the maximus.

    • Music and games already have their own specific input devices specialised for the specific task at hand.

      I suggest that there might be a good reason for that.

      YASLFAP.

  • Better name (Score:3, Funny)

    by ciderVisor (1318765) on Thursday October 08, 2009 @05:43PM (#29686977)

    They should have called the rock climbing game Ballmer Peak [xkcd.com].

  • by BJ_Covert_Action (1499847) on Thursday October 08, 2009 @05:47PM (#29687013) Homepage Journal
    The first application mentioned, the one that assigns user-specific keys/passwords based on typing habits seems like a very impressive and inventive new method of security. Nonetheless, my primary concern would be that it would lock people out of their computers/applications when they have had a little much to drink. On the bright side, I suppose it could cut down on some of the poorer quality Youtube comments and twitter posts...then again, maybe not...
    • by mhajicek (1582795)
      I'm sure if you're setting it up on your own machine you could adjust the tolerance. If company IT is setting it up, it's up to them to determine the tolerance, and maybe they don't want you logging in if you're not up to snuff.
      • by tverbeek (457094)

        Whoever developed the pressure-sensitive password idea should be required to sit at the Help Desk and reset people's passwords when they can't get logged in using it.

    • MCP: Hello, Ed. Thanks for coming back early.
      DILLINGER: No problem, Master-C. If you've seen one Consumer Electronics Show... What's up?
      MCP: It's our friend, the boy detective. He's nosing around again.
      DILLINGER: Flynn?
      MCP: Yes. It felt like Flynn.
    • by jda104 (1652769) on Thursday October 08, 2009 @06:06PM (#29687197) Homepage

      Nonetheless, my primary concern would be that it would lock people out of their computers/applications when they have had a little much to drink.

      We had a >95% True Positive rate (with a >99% True Negative. I can dig up the ROC curve if you really care...). Basically, the idea is to find and measure typing attributes that are keyboard/mood/alchohol level-agnostic. We're still working on getting funding for testing the algorithm after a few drinks, though.

      • by owlstead (636356)

        Hey, this is Slashdot, I'm sure I speak for everybody when I say that there might be a few of us that care. Yes, please, lets have that curve (then at least weI'll have some curve this evening)!

      • You'll also need volunteers to participate in that study.

        If you bring the beer^H^H^H^Hresearch alcohol, then I'd be happy to volunteer my time :)

      • Thanks for the response =)

        No ROC is necessary, I was just curious if you guys took that into account or not, seems like you did. Good luck on the funding ;)
  • Bit pitfall ahead (Score:2, Insightful)

    by BoppreH (1520463)
    I like the idea, but if they remove the *click* physical feedback, someone's going to die.
    • by jda104 (1652769)

      I like the idea, but if they remove the *click* physical feedback, someone's going to die.

      The keyboard still has the rubber domes, just like all the others.

    • by JDeane (1402533)
      I was thinking the same thing... lol I had something of an idea though, maybe not as elegant but might work for people who like come click on the keys. What if it worked like a normal keyboard but after the key hit "bottom" you could push just a little harder and it would go a little further turning into a pressure sensitive key? I am sure the mechanics of such a device would be hard to build and also not cheap and probably break after a while but the idea sounds cool to me :)
      • by Barny (103770)

        Wait, so like normal pressure sensitive keyboards would have a pressure rating of 0-10, your proposing one that... Goes to 11?

        When other players are running as fast as they can, you could just kick it up another gear, take it to 11!

      • by jda104 (1652769)
        Actually, that's how this keyboard works. They have the rubber dome, just like MOST other keyboards, with a carbon contact on the bottom. This allows varying degrees of current to flow through when the key is entirely depressed (but none before the dome has buckled). As more of the surface of the carbon plate comes in contact with the underlying sensors, the pressure value goes up.
  • If I connect this to my Nintendo can I win at SuperSmash Bro?
  • Remember a decade or two ago when ergonomic keyboards were going to save our lives and bring about world peace? That really panned out, didn't it?

    Or remember before that when the Dvorak layout was being pushed as a better way to type? Clearly since we don't need to worry about typewriter hammers anymore we are ready to move away from QWERTY, right?

    Some of us may recall a laptop manufacturer who claimed to have invented a keyboard that could use the kinetic energy of typing to help charge the battery - anyone have one?
    • by owlstead (636356)

      Some of us may recall a laptop manufacturer who claimed to have invented a keyboard that could use the kinetic energy of typing to help charge the battery - anyone have one?

      What manufacturer was that? ACME?

    • by lordlod (458156)

      Or remember before that when the Dvorak layout was being pushed as a better way to type?

      Dvorak was and still is a better layout to QWERTY to type with.

      The fact that it hasn't become commercially successful doesn't make the concept incorrect.

      • by Acer500 (846698)

        Or remember before that when the Dvorak layout was being pushed as a better way to type?

        Dvorak was and still is a better layout to QWERTY to type with.

        As long as you primarily type in English, you mean. That got me thinking... it would be nice to have keyboards with the keys showing the current keyboard layout (but probably too expensive for too little gain for mass production I guess). And I'll have to look up the optimal layout for my language.

  • by 4D6963 (933028) on Thursday October 08, 2009 @06:12PM (#29687239)

    Not to piss on their parade, but none of those ideas seem like anything that will ever in one way or another be used by anyone. Even the password thing. Why? Because although it seems like a good idea, people like to think of computers as simple dumb machines. And they need to stay this way, so we can predict how they will respond to our actions. No one's going to want to be locked out of their account because their computer doesn't like the way they're typing today (maybe they hurt their left wrist, or maybe they'd rather copy-paste their password in).

    That's pretty typical of the "behold the technology of tomorrow!"-type of concept that never happens cause no one actually wants it, like voice recognition-everything, videophones, video mail or typing e-mails from your living room on your TV set. The problem is that all that's come out of this contest destined to proving the potential of this new keyboard thingie isn't the solution to any problem, or any sort of desirable improvement on anything, which seems to invalidate the merits of the keyboard technology in question. In other words, so what's this thing good for?

    • the whole password thing makes me think of something i saw here a long time ago.

      step 3: Damn it, it doesn't work.
    • I see a far greater problem than this especially with the password app. Suppose they start putting these keyboards on laptops and other devices, or different models of the keyboard are made. Say you need to type your password and you have a different keyboard then the one you usually use...or even the keyboard starts to wear out... What then? Certainly this technology isn't ready for anything but desktop apps, as there would be no way to tap into how the person typed the password into a web app. I don

      • by sowth (748135) *

        like when I broke my right hand middle finger a couple months ago...

        Didn't I tell you to stop flipping off muscle-bound freaks?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by tverbeek (457094)

      The best boss I ever had (hi, Carl!) had a question he would ask about any proposed new tech: "What is the problem for which this is the solution?"

    • videophones, video mail

      Yes, because absolutely [wikipedia.org] nobody [wikipedia.org] could [wikipedia.org] see [wikipedia.org] the [wikipedia.org] interest [wikipedia.org].

      • by 4D6963 (933028)

        When's the last time you gave your mom a videocall? Also that's something I find very interesting about webcams, you would have thought that it would be used for like a video phone, when in reality most people use it to do a "look at me while I'm doing random stuff at my computer" type of thing. You can't deny that that whole videophone thing really didn't go as expected 20 years ago.

        • I don't know about my mother since she tends to be rather schizo about tech (can handle dos and pre-gui unix fine, turns into computer stupidities material when a gui gets involved like the windows machines she has to use at work), and she lives three doors down, but I've done it on a regular basis for the last few weeks with my boyfriend because I happen to be part of the niche who does think that stuff is useful - I agree it hasn't taken the world by storm, but it does fulfill an existing need, just not o

          • by 4D6963 (933028)
            Yep, pretty much my point actually. We thought everyone would want to have that, but turns out we don't. That's those funny things about technological progress and the way we foresee it, we get it wrong, because either the technological advances we predicted never happened and something revolutionising appears instead (without anyone seeing it coming), or the technology does happen but turns out the people of the future don't care about the same stuff as we thought they would.
        • We use it at work all the time, but it's not really a "home" technology yet.

    • by Mattsson (105422)

      In other words, so what's this thing good for?

      The most obvious usage is for working with music on a laptop.
      It would be nice to have this technology while away from home, like sitting in an airport and wanting to kill some time.
      Today I have to lug around a NanoKey [korg.com] in order to have a pressure-sensitive keyboard when I don't have access to my midi-keyboard.
      It's roughly the size of a laptop keyboard, uses the same kind of button mechanics but adds pressure sensitivity.

      • by 4D6963 (933028)

        The best usage is playing piano on a laptop keyboard? You mean, those things that have like 1 millimetre of travel and that have a really awful layout for playing music? lol :D

        • by Mattsson (105422)

          The best usage is playing piano on a laptop keyboard? You mean, those things that have like 1 millimetre of travel and that have a really awful layout for playing music? lol :D

          Most of the time when I'm somewhere with my laptop, I don't bring my rather large and heavy MIDI keyboard.
          I'm not saying that it would be good, I'm saying that it would be better than nothing and I also didn't say that it was the "best" usage, only an obvious one.
          I'm sure there are more suitable uses.

    • I type e-mails in my living room on my digital projector ... but only sometimes because I don't like to burn out the bulb for trivial stuff that I could do on my LCD monitor. Does that count?
      • by 4D6963 (933028)

        I type e-mails from my cell phone, through VNC, onto my Mac, on Facebook. I think that among us (on /.) you'll find everything. I'm sure you can find someone who types e-mail on a C64, through SSH to a remote FreeBSD machine by telneting onto an SMTP server.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    PS2 controllers had this functionality for years, but to my memory only really Metal Gear Solid made full use of it. Maybe this keyboard is more attuned or something, but I'm skeptical that people will make use of the technology.

    • by lothos (10657)

      Grand Theft Auto and other games made use of it, as well.

    • by dsavi (1540343)
      They seriously did? Another reason to dump these newfangled USB keyboards. All I can think of is how useful a pressure-sensitive mouse would be in graphics. It would be a cheap alternative to a tablet, if you had a really steady hand.
  • Typing up email replies with boxing gloves on.

    Although you don't really need the tech to hit the delete key!

  • In this video [youtube.com] a game control approach is shown. They should instead use the direction keys' sensitivity values to determine derive a ratio between to keys, and use it to determine the direction. So if I push up twice as hard as I am pushing left, (up=2 left=1) then I will go at tan(angle) = 2/1, or in other words, closer to the up direction. You could have seperate keys for speed. Also, has the idea for a pressure sensitive mouse been made?
  • The future (Score:4, Funny)

    by ceoyoyo (59147) on Thursday October 08, 2009 @08:51PM (#29688307)

    Ah, so the future of pressure sensitive keyboards is gimmicks. Good to know.

  • by NovaHorizon (1300173) on Thursday October 08, 2009 @08:52PM (#29688313)

    I can't wait till I see a password policy that says "Please remember passwords are case sensitive, and must be accurate to .02 newtons per key"

  • Rhythm-based passwords which is also velocity-sensitive. Nice, password complexity determined by how good of a percussionist you are!

    • Rhythm-based passwords which is also velocity-sensitive. Nice, password complexity determined by how good of a percussionist you are!

      like.. Motorola phones have the rhythm sensitive service programming password. You have no idea how hard it is to get people to enter a password on their phone with rhythm...

  • Surprised (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    I'm surprised none of the proposals include use as a musical controller. Maybe because its not a velocity detector, but pressure sensitivity under each key? Man this is kind of a stupid idea. Typical M$. Seems like people run the company with a logitech remote. It seems obvious to me that after the initial key depression, knowing the speed during depression is more useful than the pressure after contact. I mean in interfacing this is like a dual function trigger. A single trigger that can produce 2 e

  • This keyboards might be a good implementation, but seriously, is there anyone here who didn't think about this before? I had this idea since I was 12(that was in 1996), after learning that there is a thing called analog joystick.

  • by Simonetta (207550) on Friday October 09, 2009 @10:48AM (#29694025)

    The most obvious ap for a pressure sensitive keyboard is for music and MIDI input. Because the standard PC/PS2 keyboard encodes both key-press and key-release as separate events (distinct scan-code sequences sent from the kbd to the PC), the PS2 makes a good *CHEAP* MIDI tone module input device.

        Each key is mapped to a MIDI note or a MIDI parameter. Key press sounds the note and key release turns the note off. Any $1 microcontroller can be programmed to act as an interface. It's not a 'real' piano-type keyboard, but it doesn't cost $120 either.

        The major disadvantages of using a PS2 keyboard as a MIDI input are three:
        - Not every combination of keypresses produces corresponding polyphonic chords. Every manufacturers PS2 keyboard has 'dead' combinations of keys due to the internal row/column matrix.
        - The keys are too small and are not linear. Nevertheless, accordion players learn to get around this problem.
        - There is no MIDI velocity. There is no way to affect the sound's volume or tonality by varying how hard the PS2 keys are pressed. MIDI piano keyboards measure the time between a key's leaving the top position and its reaching the bottom of its movement. This becomes the Note Velocity value and is a programmable parameter of the note's sound, usually volume.

        A pressure-sensitive keyboard would solve problems 1 and 3 above. It would be most welcome in the DIY MIDI community, IF it were both CHEAP and easy-to-program. By cheap, I mean less than $20 US and easy-to-program means that additional pressure parameter follow the same hardware quasi-SPI electronic waveforms as the current PS2 format and not be dependent on internal Windows APIs for its implementation. And, I almost forgot, the new keyboard must be absolutely low-powered. If it consumed more than 2-3 milliamps, then it would be worthless. Current HPs and Dell PS2 keyboards consume between 1 and 2 milliamps at +5 volts, while the 1995-2000 era Microsoft split-keyboard actually consumed about 80 milliamps or more. Which made them worthless for battery-powered off-PC applications.

        If a pressure-sensitive keyboard isn't both cheap, low-powered, and easy-to-program, then it is just another stupid useless expensive toy keyboard destined to be stacked up in the back of Weird Stuff Warehouse six months after its grand release.

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