If you’ve seen any Iron Man film, you’ve probably fantasized about how cool it would be to have Tony Stark’s 3D technology at your fingertips. While our technological advancements seem eons away, Microsoft Research has potentially created the first of many motion-sensor keyboards to make life just a little bit easier. This is some “next-level” gear!
The device is based on similar technology used in the Microsoft Kinect. The mechanical keyboard itself is a rather thin acrylic board, mounted by sensor PCB and infrared sensors installed between the keys. The 64-pixel IR technology is low-resolution, but because motion sensing is done at a short distance, it is surprisingly accurate, discerning frame rates above 300Hz.
Microsoft motion sensor keyboard prototype, featuring IR sensors.
Users can perform a number of hand motions on or a few inches above the keyboard, which are then easily picked up by the IR sensors and executed by the PC. Users can swipe the keyboard from top-to-bottom to scroll Web pages or documents, swipe from right-to-left to scroll open programs, hover above the keyboard to view all open programs, pinch or expand fingers to zoom in or out, and tap above the keyboard to make selections and control PC games by simulating the existence of a joystick.
The Microsoft Research team spent countless hours tracking common hand motions on the keyboard, and then programming the board in such a way that the PC would execute any desired function. The intent was to create a keyboard that could enhance user experience by combining the power of a PC and the ease-of-use that touchscreen devices offer.
In fact, many believe this keyboard, if released onto the consumer market, can make using the Windows 8.1 OS on PCs much easier. The OS was designed to function seamlessly with tablets and smartphones, incorporating such movements as the swipe and pinch-to-zoom. Using this OS with a desktop computer, however, can prove difficult, since functions such as the swipe are inaccessible. The keyboard is also expected to surpass the functionality of the touchscreen monitor, because users can keep their hands right where they are to execute any desired function.
There is no word yet as to whether the “Kinect Keyboard” will be mass-produced for consumer use, but we sure hope so. The board seems relatively inexpensive to produce. From a shameless, competitive viewpoint, MacBooks surely don’t exhibit that function.