Weekly 86 — Ten-key keyboard: A pitch 14 Mar 2016

(NOTE: This weekly was moved to a dedicated essay. Read here.)


In seventh grade my computer teacher made everyone learn how to type with cardboard boxes over our hands so we couldn’t look down at the keyboard. Thanks to this traumatic experience I could finally touch-type, including on random surfaces (armrests, sides of my legs, etc.) and “feel” when I make typos without having to look. I frequently daydream about actually typing at a computer this way, because there are times where sitting down in front of a keyboard or thumbing away at a phone keyboard isn’t the right environment you need to get the words out. Sometimes you want to get words out in a stream-of-consciousness style, not even seeing the words on a screen. Sometimes you want to write while in bed, riding in a car, on a couch half-watching TV, walking through a park with your hands in your pockets…


How to achieve this? There already are keyboard gloves and other solutions, but the problem is that these throw out the muscle memory computer users already have. My favorite solution is a ten-key “keyboard”, made of small pressure-sensitive pads for each finger that allow the user to type on any surface with predictive algorithms to guess the word typed (similar to old phones’ “Word” typing) based on the fingers used. The user could type “hello” like they would normally, which the program would read as “right index, left middle, right ring, right ring, right ring.” Other words might match this (like, “jello” or gibberish like “ucooo”), requiring something like a Bayesian network or full-on neural networks to predict the word based on the user’s own writing or a larger corpus of English writing.

hand small

If I seem like the laziest man in the world for proposing this, there are more practical purposes to this as well. Even if the aspect of pressure-sensitive pads is completely removed and the user types with their fingers locked on the ‘asdfjkl;’ keys, this can increase typing speed and reduce finger strain and hand movements, all without sacrificing existing muscle memory (go ahead, try typing without lifting your fingers from the home row. It’s fun.)

Someone could even reanalyze the provided corpus of English writing to their own finger-key mapping. (I like staying strict to Mavis Beacon-esque home row rules, but I don’t think I’ve ever used my middle finger for “c”, for example, and this would allow me to reconfigure for that). While this unfortunately accommodates Dvorak layout users, it offers easier typing for people who don’t have full flexibility in their hands (heavy arthritis/strain, missing digits, etc).

Post continued here: Weekly 87 — Ten-key keyboard: Analysis and obstacles