Canesta has announced the availability of a virtual keyboard system which uses an array of lights and sensors to project a full-size keyboard onto flat surfaces. The technology is aimed at handheld device manufacturers which want to provide keyboard input capabilities without impacting form-factor.
Canesta has developed an invisible IR light source, image projection unit and a sensor to record hand movements in 3D. When combined, these components result in a projected keyboard which can be overlayed on a flat surface and then used as a standard keyboard, relaying strokes to the handheld device. The chipset is relatively smaller, about the size of a pea, and can be easily integrated using standard serial keyboard interfaces. It can be rapidly customised to project keyboards in any format or language. The company, which has received about USD 20m in venture funding from a consortium of high profile investors, did not announce pricing or initial customers.
“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 DEMOmobile, the conference where Canesta has been demonstrating its technology. “For example, for real data input, such substantive correspondence, the use of analytical tools, or tasks requiring a high degree of interactivity, nothing has surpassed a traditional, full sized keyboard. With important, new wireless applications emerging, a projection keyboard and mouse, fully Integrated into a pocket-sized mobile device, means that mobile professionals will finally be able to use these devices as easily as they would a desktop computer, and perhaps leave their laptops at home.”
Canesta’s technology is significant. It eliminates form-factor constraints as a reason for excluding QWERTY keyboards from mobile devices. Current input solutions force a trade off between smaller device size and easier input. At one end of the scale you have handheld PCs with full-size QWERTY keyboards, at the other you have palm-sized PDAs with handwriting recognition and mobiles with nine-key systems.
There are two potential problems – the requirement for a flat surface and cultural considerations. Very few mobile device usage scenarios provide a flat surface for input. That said, users are only likely to want to input large volumes of text when in a fairly immobile state, which may help alleviate the problem. The cultural considerations, i.e. whether a user will connect with the concept of typing in thin-air, may prove more difficult to overcome.
However, the success of bulky keyboard attachments such as the Stowaway accessory for handhelds, suggests demand for such a solution. It will be interesting to see which OEMs express an interest in the technology.
Originally published by PMN Mobile Industry Intelligence, the subscription-based analysis and insight platform founded by Marek Pawlowski.