It all started with a simple idea: To take the pain out of typing. In 1992, as an engineering graduate student, I had a mild case of carpal tunnel syndrome, a painful tingling in hands and fingers, due to typing. Imagine trying to have a career as a programmer--or any other career that utilizes computers for that matter--when typing causes constant pain.
If finger and wrist motion was the cause of this pain, a keyboard to eliminate those repetitive motions should surely help. After months of research, the idea of the Keybowl was born. (And yes, it is true, the first prototype was made with store bought cereal bowls --- hence the name Key-bowl.)
The Keybowl used two upside down bowls to type and operate the mouse. Each bowl moved into 8 directions via a sliding motion, much like the directions on a compass. It did not use finger or wrist motion, but it still had the capability to type the standard 128 keys in conjunction with a full 3 button mouse. Though it may sound complex, it's really not. You just have to change your perspective away from finger typing, and all the pain and agony you probably suffered learning to type on a regular keyboard. See what the first functional prototype looked like (see pictures and videos).
I was lucky. This Keybowl idea gained enough interest for it to qualify as my dissertation research. I'm sure you would ask many of the same questions I asked myself at the time. A few included: How effective could typing with two bowls be? How fast could you learn to type with the Keybowl and what typing speed could you accomplish after a certain number of hours? (Because if it's too difficult to learn and I can't type very fast with it, what good is it?) And lastly, would it actually be more comfortable to use?
Research has uncovered the following regarding the Keybowl:
- Learning speed: In 20 to 30 minute sessions at least 4 times per week, most people have the characters memorized in 10 hours or less
- Typing speed: Depending on level of hand and finger motion -- between 22 and 40 words per minute.
- Comfort compared to the regular and other ergonomic keyboards: Much higher.
- See more on these finding and others on the research findings page.
I was lucky again. After my dissertation was completed, the National Science Foundation awarded me a number of grants to continue the Keybowl research. The Keybowl and its subsequent research kept getting better--and so did the pain in my wrists.
Today the Keybowl is a commercial product called the orbiTouch. And although it was developed for people who had carpal tunnel syndrome, it is now being used by thousands of people with arthritis, cerebral palsy, low vision or blindness, and most recently children with autism. We continue to improve the product and our research. As a result, we have received numerous industry awards for innovation, some of them very prestigious.
Fairly recently, this two dome method of typing and mousing has found its way into the video game world as well--as the product you see today, Joystix Pro. Early in our research, there was no reason to think that typing with bowls using your hands couldn't be shrunk down to work equally well or better using your thumbs. What we found out? It not only works--it works well.
Born from the orbiTouch Keyless Keyboard, the patented Texter technology originally took the form of an intermediary piece of hardware between gaming consoles and their respective controller, and gave the user the ability to type using their controller. We quickly noticed that many Texter units were being sold to PC gamers for use with World of Warcraft. Because of the movement away from wired technology, and the booming PC gaming environment, we decided to create a software version of Texter called SwitchBlade, which allowed PC games to be played using console controllers. Because most video game controllers have two joysticks, they have a built-in keyboard and mouse using our software.
Now, with browser-based games skyrocketing in popularity among users who do not typically fall into the "gamer" category, a less intimidating sounding, more broadly scoped brand, Joystix Pro, was developed in order to facilitate a more positive experience for all users.
The reason I got into the development of the Keybowl was to try to help people who didn't have full use of their hands and wanted or needed to use a computer. If you know someone who would benefit from the orbiTouch, please contact me. I'd be happy to send them one to try--no strings attached. I am excited to share this technology with any and all who need it.
To your pain free typing,
Peter McAlindon, Ph.D.
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