back to article iPhone senses you typing on table, bit of wood etc, turns vibes to text

A Swiss designer says he has created an iPhone keyboard that turns vibrations from fingertips on a tabletop into key-presses. Software keyboards are nothing new, and neither is the ability to project a keyboard on to any solid surface, but existing solutions need scanners or touchscreen surfaces to detect one's fingers. But …


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  1. Fred Flintstone Gold badge

    Back to basics..

    I like the alternative thinking, but I think I'm going to do some digging for the laser keyboard thingy. If I have to type on a hard surface (which is not something you will do for long) I think I'd like something that doesn't take long to set up..

    1. James Micallef Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: Back to basics..

      Might still need some refinements for pratcicality, but even if it never makes it into the mainstream, top marks for original thinking

      1. Thomas 4

        Re: Back to basics..

        I did a review on one of the iTech Bluetooth Laser Keyboards for All About Symbian a few years back. It was an interesting bit of kit but had issues in strong sunlight. It was also a gargantuan pain in the ass getting the bloody thing to connect to my phone.

        Think I've still got it hidden away in my mountain of abandoned gadgets somewhere...

  2. Scott 2
    Thumb Up

    iPad app for Ninjas

    At last, an app designed for those busy martial artists on the go - train your fingers to break through wood, stone and trees while typing!*

    * note: may cause digit micro-fractures.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Robust against changes in resonance?

    eg a friend says "wotcher doing?" and leans on the desk to take a better look. Or while writing one quaffs a refreshing beverage, diminishing level in the glass steadily shifting vibrational mode of table - this alone would make it pretty useless for El Reg correspondents...

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The software could run on any device!

  5. Arachnoid

    Actually the accelerometer was reported to be one of the few unprotected devices installed on an iphone and was being considered as a way of implanting a key stroke recorder for nefarious reasons.

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Yeah, I remember that from a a year or two back. The basic concept of using two transducers to triangulate the location of a tap- for this kind of application - has been around even longer. But fair play to this lad for implementing something similar with only one 3 dimensional accelerometer- if the phone had second sensor I suspect the 'training' time would be reduced substantially.

      On the subject of chorded typing, an after-market phone case seems to be the ideal place to implement a chorded keyboard (as long as you don't have 5" monster phone!). Fairly cheap to prototype, too, I would image. What would you need- some silicone, some micro-switches and some Arduino parts... though it would probably be cheaper to cannibalise an existing Bluetooth keyboard.

  6. andreas koch

    Seems legit . . .

    . . . as all the keyboard-app has to do is to count the taps. A synergic data collation unit (SDCU) then polls SIRI, aerialcucumber analcircumcision acidic comment autocorrect and iOS6 maps to decide what you wanted to type.

    Apple decides a lot for the user already, why not the message contents as well?

    Seriously: without 2 independent accelerometers to triangulate and the "sorry, no live show", I'd put it into the same box as the iPhone5 laser keyboard and holoscreen demo. Fanboi bait.

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Seems legit . . .

      "Macbook Wheel - with predictive sentence technology!"

      The Onion did it! ; )

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  7. ranger

    So useless for use on a train, or any other moving object where there's going to be varying background information?

    I also recall reading a couple of years ago that virtual keyboards can actually be bad for joints: it was something to do with the shock travelling up the finger from repeatedly hitting a hard surface with the tip of the fingers, which normal keyboards don't have due to the cushioning of button presses. I've been trying to find the article again, but my google-fu's failing.

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      > virtual keyboards can actually be bad for joints... ...shock travelling up the finger

      Use chewing gun to attach a jelly-bear to each finger tip. NEXT!

  8. yakitoo

    In the current climate

    I do hope that he has patented it.........................

    1. Evil Auditor Silver badge

      Re: In the current climate

      He?! Pretty sure FruityCompany has a patent on that already...

  9. Steve I


    So how could this actually work? How would you build a box that could do this?

    Lets assume the accelerometer is infinitly sensitive. How can a device on a surface detect where the surface was being tapped? As the shock wave from the tap moves across the surface and under the phone, it's going to cause the phone to move (to perhaps minutely 'rock' in effect ). Can the phone use the direction of the movement to detect the direction of the tap? What about triangulation using multiple microphones (which most phones have) ?

    Thje device would still need some way of detecting which key each tap represented, even if if could pinpoint the tasp su cm-accuracy as required (maybe ask the user to tap the 2 'shift' keys before typing...)

    OK, I'm done. Anyone with an engineering brain?

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Interesting...

      Triangulation with two or more transducers for locating keystrokes was put forward years ago... sorry, I haven't got a link, but it is much the same principal that cartographers and radio and radar engineers have used for years.

      I can only imagine that this lad's solution requires the 'training' it does because because it relies on different relative X Y Z values being detected at a single point, and that these vary depending upon the surface being used. With calibration, calibration, calibration, you wouldn't even need to develop a model of how the vibration passes through the medium.

      Another way of doing something similar might be to use two earbuds as transducers, if any phones allow for for stereo-in. If not, then even using the mono headset mike*-in in addition the phone's accelerometer and built-in microphones (most phones have two internal mikes, for noise cancellation) might drastically reduce the 'training time'.

      Extra points awarded for using several phones, communicating with each other sonically (see Reg article yesterday!), to give more locations and accuracy.

      *though presumably a bit of Blu-tak might be required to stop it moving around the desk : D

  10. Fab De Marco

    very clever but

    wouldn't a bluetooth keyboard take up the same table real estate, be far more accurate and not sensitive to unwanted vibrations..... this seems a lot like using a sledgehammer to crack a walnut

    In addition to this, in a normal typing position your screen will have to be flat and you would look at it from a 45 degree angle, so not overly optimal, in the bluetooth keyboard scenario you can pop your phone on a stand.

    Don't get me wrong its very clever but not overly useful.

    1. Steve I

      Re: very clever but

      "using a sledgehammer to crack a walnut"..

      Hmmm, ok if we place the walnut on a flat plane defined by the line xy and then attach the handle end of the sledgehammer to a pivot point p, such that when allowed to rotate about a pivot the face of the hammer, as defined by the line ab will impace with the walnut...

      Sorry - got carried away...

  11. Bob Hoskins

    I'm calling bullshit on this

    For all the obvious reasons.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I'm calling bullshit on this

      Hey world, let's just do something kiddie kewl like and not bother researching the implications of it's use.

      This makes as much sense as car brakes that only work after you have impacted into a brick wall.

      On that basis I'll raise you impact RSI and early onset arthritis.

      1. Steve I

        Re: I'm calling bullshit on this

        Umm,, how do you research the impact of something without researching the something first?

    2. Boyd Crow

      Re: I'm calling bullshit on this

      Gee, works in the lab. Someone will buy it. I think it might work if you glued your paper keyboard to a board and carried that with you.

      I carry a small Apple Wireless Keyboard in my briefcase. It works a treat with iPhone. No messing about.

  12. Robert Grant

    A "designer"?

    I'm not quite sure what this means. Is this guy a developer, or is he someone who said to a developer, "I've done the hard work of drawing and printing out a picture of a keyboard; now just let me type on my iPhone with it"

    1. Steve I

      Re: A "designer"?

      Engineer: "OK - tell me the user requiremnts and I'll see what I can come up with"

      MArketing: "No - show me every doohickey you can make, and I'll pick a cool one"

  13. JaitcH
    Thumb Up

    Unlike many Apple products, this at least has ...

    novel thought behind it.

    I was thinking what other sources of vibration might produce unique outputs. I would suggest some but El Reg is not in the same genre as Health and Efficiency magazine!

  14. Paul Renault

    It might be more accurate than..

    ..the bloody keyboard on the iPhone's screen.

  15. Rick Brasche

    one possible use

    a spongy neoprene mouse pad with the printed keyboard on it to absorb shock from the fingertips. waterproof or not depending on requirements and appearance, disposable and cheap or customizable as giveaway swag. Problem is that might make it so the vibrations are too muffled to use.

    1. andreas koch

      @ Rick Brasche - Re: one possible use

      Take gun, aim at foot, pull trigger.

      Or was this supposed to be a joke?

  16. Charles Manning

    No you can't see it, but you can watch the video

    Same plot, different movie:

    Cell phones and popcorn/eggs:

    Engine runs on water:

  17. cortland

    Hey! I DID that. Sort of.

    Looks remarkably like an idea I submitted for patent consideration while at Tandy/AST Research (aqcuired then destroyed by Samsung).

    Maybe they'll find something in in the mouldering documents dump.

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