Yet Another One-hand Keyboard

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orthogonal views of a curvy model curvy model in hand

What is this?

It's a pocket-sized, wearable keyboard supported and operated with one hand.  It produces all the usual characters with relatively few keys which are pressed in groups, i.e., chords.  Production models would include (at least) a miniature joystick or other mouse-like abilities.

What is it good for?

The user need not sit at a desk.  He can stand and walk around.  This makes it a good input device for portable computers, especially ones with head-up displays.  It's also good for presentations with large projection screens.  There are a lot of other uses as well, e. g., palmtops.

Why not just use voice for input?

Voice technology is expensive and not accurate enough for general text entry.  It's obtrusive, insecure, sensitive to noise and, of course, not private.  Besides all that, computers with voice as the primary input would be even more annoying than cell phones.

How fast can you type on the prototypes?

I have never been much of a typist but as slowly as I type it's still faster than I can usually think what to say.  Using the program "gtypist," with its default texts, I recently timed myself at 26.5 wpm seated at a desktop QWERTY board and 27.6 wpm, standing, with the prototype shown in figures 1-3.  [update Nov 2002:  my one-hander speed has accidently climbed to 33 wpm]

How fast will I be able to type on it?

Probably faster than I can.  Assuming that you too are not a touch typist on the qwerty, I would guess that you too will be about as fast on the portable one-hander as you are on the qwerty.  I would expect that if you're really fast on the qwerty then you may lose some speed on the portable because you have freed one hand.  Actually, since you can now stand up and walk away from the qwerty, one might say you have freed your whole body.

How hard is it to learn?

It's much easier to learn than touch typing on a qwerty but harder than two-finger hunt and peck.  I think I had memorized all the chords after a week or so of intermittently playing with my first working unit.  After that I quit using my qwerty all together and never missed it.  Of course the chords soon became automatic and unconscious.  I make a poor example because I was changing the prototypes and the chords as I learned them.

How many people have used this type of one-hand keyboard?

As I write this, I'm the only one.  I like it but skeptics might reasonably question my objectivity.  I'd like to get more people involved.

Previous chording keyboards haven't been very popular.  How is this one different?

One big reason is that the typing fingers don't grip the unit and don't participate in retaining it within the hand.  Trust me; this makes it much simpler to use.  It's hard to type with fingers that must grip something at the same time.  That's why the only portable one-hander you can buy at present, as far as I know, has a big, ugly, wrist strap .  Another reason is that the fingers are never far from their relaxed positions.  They don't have to curl tightly, which quickly becomes tiring.  This keyboard is small enough to be mostly hidden by the hand so it's not so geeky.  Since there's no strap, it can go in and out of a pocket quickly.  When you actually get one in your hand you see it's great fun to type so casually and with so little effort.  

Will it work with gloves?

Probably, if the gloves are thin.  In cold weather it might be better to use a mitten or bag that goes around both the (naked) hand and the keyboard.  Or just build it with key guards and keep it in a coat pocket while you use it.

Does anyone have IP rights on it?

I own US patent 6429854 and I am applying for others.

Who are you?

I am John W. McKown, a retired guy living in Arizona. Long ago I studied electrophysiology but I have worked mainly as an electrical engineer (signal processing and wireless networks). 

What's your plan, John?

Along with many others, I think the absence of adequate input devices has been holding back a huge market for more portable computers.  I'd like to see this kind of one-hander developed, productized, manufactured and available.  This web site is part of an effort to interest enterprises which have those capabilities.  If that effort fails I might start selling crude kits myself.  I might even decide to invest in some engineering and sell finished units.  I'd like to make a few bucks from this somehow because it has been a lot of work.  

It's only when you get one of these units properly fit and in your hand that you experience their true beauty: the simple pleasure of typing so easily and casually.  I want to make that experience easy for potential licensees.  I want technical people inside big companies to be able to proceed without needing a lot of prior paperwork and permissions.  This website goes further, however, and enables the whole world to duplicate my prototypes and, no doubt, improve them.  I believe that today's hobbiest might well turn into tomorrow's advocate, co-developer or investor.  Since my patent only applies in the US, someone somewhere else in the world might even develop and sell similar units without involving me at all.  That's OK:  it would help to demonstrate a market to potential investors.  Sooner or later, I'm hoping, someone will want to license a product for sale or production in the US.

When can I buy one?

I don't know but when I do I'll certainly announce it here.  Check the news link above.

Suppose I want to evaluate a prototype like yours. What help do you offer?

I've prepared a downloadable information kit which has everything you need to quickly duplicate the prototypes shown on this website.  It includes a bill of materials, source and executable firmware, part numbers at Digi-Key, instructions, diagrams, helpful hints, etc.  This kit is aimed at folks who have done a little soldering somewhere along the line.  It should get techs and engineers off to a flying start.

PLEASE NOTE: I am not a lawyer but this is the legal situation as I understand it.  If you do the work outside the USA, you can proceed as if my patent didn't exist until you want to sell within or import into the US; for that anyone would need a license which of course I would provide very affordably (unless I had already sold an exclusive license to someone else).  If you are within the USA, its territories or possessions and you want to evaluate prototypes covered by the patent, then you need a license.  This is not a problem -- I'll grant you a free license to build and use prototypes for evaluation purposes on your way to the download.  

The firmware included in the download lets an Atmel AVR '2313 microcontroller interpret chords and talk to a PS/2 port.  It's about 900 lines of rough and ready assembler code that I'm releasing to the public domain with (hopefully adequate) disclaimers.  Software professionals might be offended by it --sorry-- but it works and it might even be useful for designs of your own. Take it, go and God bless.  No promises.   Note that US patent 6429854 is NOT being released to public domain and I reserve all rights under that and related patents.

If the download doesn't take you as far as you want to go, I'm available for consultation with your techs, M.E.s, industrial designers or whomever.  

We see some possibilities here, John.  We'd like to talk.  How shall we contact you?

Please send me an email   

I'm building one of these things just for fun and I have a question or comment for you, John.  How shall I contact you?

Please send me an email   

And please take the poll