The technology we have chosen for our semester-long research is the projection keyboard. It is a device that does what common physical keyboards can do but have superior portability. It is, in essence, a handy pocket-sized “projector.” Once you press ON and connect it to your computer, the laser keyboard appears on the flat surface in front of it, and you can type as if using the physical keyboard. Your finger and hand movement is captured by the sensor in the device and transformed into binary codes, which is then transmitted to the computer and output letters on the screen.

For decades, scientists have worked on giving machines three-dimensional vision for it to navigate and interact more naturally in human’s world than physical keyboards.[1] According to Wikipedia, it is not a new technology; instead, it was invented by the IBM engineers in 1992 (see patent[2]). It can detect human hand and finger movements and translate the movement as the operation on a surface with a projected keyboard. In 2002, a company called Canesta improved the keyboard with its own proprietary “electronic perception technology” and subsequently licensed it to Celluon of Korea. More complex systems based on it have been proposed since then, like the Virtual Piano and the Pen-style Personal Networking Gadget Package (P-ISM), but the concept of “projection keyboard” remains the basic and fundamental technology in the afterward systems[3]. In 2002, Forbes predicted that typing on tabletops might become “disconcerting common”[4]. This prediction, although not fulfilled yet, indicates a common sense that once the projection keyboard is tested and put into production, the physical keyboard manufactory will decline. Furthermore, the way people interact with the digital devices might change, while the interface changes from mechanical operational systems to projected ones, like Jarvis in The Iron Man.

The projection keyboard consists of a) projection module: this module requires a laser projector which projects a visible keyboard pattern on a flat surface, mostly using a red diode laser as a light source and projecting a full-size QWERTY keyboard; b) illumination module: this module usually contains an infrared emitter which projects an invisible infrared plane that hovers a few millimeters above the surface; c) sensor module: this module requires a sensor or camera that can pick up human hands and fingers movements interrupting the infrared plane; d) connectivity module: this module connects Projection Keyboard to computer, power supply, and working environment.

Read more about the architecture of the projection keyboard

When using a physical keyboard, people use fingers to strike the keys to input data. So keyboards, in this case, function as an interface between human and computer. The projection keyboard has the same role. Canesta’s patent, the “electronic perception technology”, is used here to translate the hand and finger movements into keystrokes in the device when typing movement interrupts infrared ray and sends signals to the sensor[5]. These procedures allow the projection keyboard to function like the actual keyboard.

See more detailed algorithm

People who need their digital devices to be portable and handy are potential users of this technology, mostly office workers or students. Instead of a bulky physical keyboard, they only have to bring with them a pocket-sized device, so a projection keyboard can afford more scenarios than a physical keyboard.  Moreover, projection keyboard is an instance and an intermediate state of the trend of eliminating physical input device and changing the way in which human beings interact with computers.

A more thorough analysis of the socio-technical system

Works cited

[1] Marriott, Michel. “No Keys, Just Soft Light and You.” The New York Times, September 19, 2002, sec. Technology. 

[2] Method and device for optical input of commands or data, issued April 21, 1995.

[3] “Projection Keyboard.” Wikipedia, September 8, 2017.

[4] Hesseldahl, Arik. “Typing On The Table.” Forbes. Accessed January 28, 2018. 2002/09/18/0918tentech.

[5] Shiels, Maggie. “The Keyboard That Isn’t There.” BBC News, October 15, 2002.