Keyboards of the future

Keyboards of the future


Well, I know what I want for Christmas!

I actually imagined this board a long time ago, and spent many hours brainstorming how it could be built. I imagined a single LCD or LED screen with fiber-optic lenses to carry the changing keycaps through to the surface without interfering with the key action. I had a lot of uses for such a beast if only I could figure out how to make one. Too bad it was just technically unfeasible.

Fortunately, materials science moves on! The Optimus Keyboard by Art Lebedev will be both simpler in mechanical design, and amazingly progressive in its electronic design. The keycaps will each carry their own “Organic LED” display panel, allowing digital keycaps to be downloaded for each key.

Of course, there are a few asking why we need this kind of sophistication. All I can say is that if you’re wondering, you must not be the kind of person who wants to type in English, Français, Русский, and 日本語℄all in the same post. Yes, I just did it anyway, but it wasn’t easy. I had to go to my Debian→Apps→Tools menu, launch my Canna server to recognize Japanese input, go to Debian→Apps→Editors to launch Yudit (a unicode editor that works regardless of your locale, and recognizes a variety of mnemonic input methods based on a standard English-language keyboard, including the final fall-back of “unicode” which turns (e.g.) the string “u2192” into that funky right-arrow you just saw, “→”).

The Optimus Keyboard by Art Lebedev, will have a tiny display on each key, so that keycaps can be changed as you type to match the software or language you are using. (From promotional materials on site/Fair Use).The Optimus Keyboard by Art Lebedev, will have a tiny display on each key, so that keycaps can be changed as you type to match the software or language you are using. (From promotional materials on site/Fair Use).

I’m hoping Free Software Magazine’s blog software renders the above paragraph correctly—we’ll just have to see.

Remember APL? No. Probably not, no one does. But I’ve always wanted to try it and see if it’s really that complicated to learn. Minus having to buy a new keyboard with funky APL programming symbols on it!

And if you find yourself Completely Lost in Blender, maybe it’d be cool to have correctly labeled keys to go with the program. Especially cool if they load automatically when you start the program.

There’s been some talk about the excitement of adding 3D graphics to desktop environments, but for my money, this kind of improved, more human-centric input device innovation is where the real action is going to be!

Can you do that?

One outstanding question, of course, is, “Sure it can do all that cool stuff in principle, but will X actually support it?”, “What about drivers?” you ask.

Well, the developer of the keyboard says (on his answers page) that it will be out in late 2006; that “It will be an open-source keyboard, SDK will be available”; and that it will be “OS-independent”. So I think the answer is probably a big “Yes!”, which is a welcome relief, isn’t it?

The cost is likely to be high, and it’s not clear what “less than a good mobile phone” means exactly (just how “good”?), but it does suggest that it’s not prohibitively much, if you have a lot of use for it.

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Terry Hancock's picture

My blog entries at Free Software Magazine may be reprinted with this notice:
Copyright (C)2004-2006 Terry Hancock / License CC-By-SA 2.5+
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5
Originally at http://www.FreeSoftwareMagazine.com

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Terry Hancock's picture

Biography

Terry Hancock is co-owner and technical officer of Anansi Spaceworks. Currently he is working on a free-culture animated series project about space development, called Lunatics as well helping out with the Morevna Project.