Let there be light: the ‘invisible’ keyboard

Finger cramps from typing into mobile phones or PDAs could be a thing of the past following the launch of a full-sized keyboard made out of light.

San Jose-based Canesta last week said it had developed the world's first fully integrated
projection keyboard for mobile and wireless devices. The technology enables a keyboard to be projected onto a flat surface using a beam of light, which can then be typed on.

Such a development could spell the end for the styluses and thumb keypads that are usually used for the laborious process of inputting into machines such as mobile phones and personal organisers. It could also mean that the full potential of wireless devices would be properly unleashed.

"Mobile and wireless devices have untethered business professionals from their offices, yet so much about mobile technology remains the legacy of desktop computing," said Chris Shipley, executive producer of the DEMOmobile conference, where the keyboard was launched. "For example, for real data input, substantive correspondence, the use of analytical tools, or tasks requiring a high degree of interactivity, nothing has surpassed a traditional, full-sized keyboard."

The Integrated Canesta Keyboard T works thanks to the company's three-chip chipset. According to Canesta, the set consists of an invisible light source, a pattern projector for the keyboard, and a sensor chip. The latter chip enables the machine to "see" by tracking nearby objects in three dimensions in real time.

This sensor, which is not much larger than a pea, tracks a user's finger movements as he or she types on the projected image of a keyboard, and translates them into "keystrokes" on specific projected keys, and processes the movements into a stream of serial keystroke data similar to that output by a physical keyboard.

The pattern projector uses an internal laser to project the image of a full-sized keyboard on a nearby flat surface. The keyboard is the familiar QWERTY English keyboard, but can also be customised to any non-English or even non-Roman character set. Canesta said that users will need an uncluttered, stable table-top on which to project the keyboard, but that it won't yet work on an airplane tray if the flight is turbulent.

The light source invisibly illuminates the user's fingers, as they type on the projected surface.

The company also said that the product should be integrated into mobile devices by the first half of next year.

Two years in development, the virtual keyboard is the brainchild of Canesta co-founder, Cyrus Bamji, who has five degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology covering physics, maths, electrical engineering and computer science.

He established the company with Nazim Kareemi in 1999 and since then it has received over USD20 million in funding. Investors in Canesta, which has filed for or has been granted more than 30 patents, include Carlyle Venture Partners, Apax Partners and JPMorgan Partners.

Canesta is also currently investigating ways in which its electronic perception technology can be used in areas such as video games, the military, and medicine.

© ENN.