The 6 Best Virtual Keyboards
6. iNextStation Virtual
5. AGS Laser Projection
4. Lamaston LK100
3. ShowMe Bluetooth Wireless
2. Stwie Mini Keyboard
1. Celluon EPIC Ultra-Portable
Have Flat Surface, Will Type
What if you didn't need a physical keyboard attached to your computer? Imagine yourself sitting in a coffee shop, your desk at the office, or even at a table in your home with the ability to type as you normally would on a laptop without the need for a bulky keyboard. Is this the work of magic? Not really. Is it practical, convenient, and worthy of a tech geek in most respects? Absolutely–and consider tech geek to be interpreted in the most positive sense possible.
Regardless of whether you prefer to travel light or whether the sound of a keystroke makes you cringe, a virtual keyboard can be a cutting-edge addition to your technology arsenal. Why is that? Let's dig a little deeper into what this device actually does.
Also referred to as an optical virtual keyboard or projection keyboard, a virtual keyboard is a unique form of computer input device, whereby a digital image of a keyboard is projected onto virtually any flat surface using a red diode laser. This laser shines through a Diffractive Optical Element, a tiny image of the QWERTY-style keyboard. Along with special optical lenses, the DOE then expands the keyboard image to a usable size where it is finally projected onto a level surface. However, the image of a keyboard by itself isn't enough.
The device still needs a way to interpret the information as you type. An infrared laser diode, located on the bottom of the input device, projects a thin plane of invisible infrared light running parallel to the intended typing surface. As you type on that surface, your fingers pass through certain areas of this plane. A complimentary metal-oxide semiconductor images the position of your fingers within the area of the keyboard, while an integrated sensor chip called a Virtual Interface Processing Core analyzes the location of the intended keystroke. Finally, the device sends this information back to the computer to interpret the command.
The virtual keyboard operates in a similar fashion to how a conventional keyboard operates, meaning that it's still considered an input device that accepts and interprets commands (or keystrokes) and renders them appropriately on your computer or mobile device. Its main advantage over conventional keyboards is its portability.
Most virtual keyboard devices are small and lightweight, often times being no bigger than a pack of chewing gum. This means they can fit into almost any bag or pocket. The virtual keyboard can connect to your laptop, tablet, PDA, or smartphone using either a USB cable or Bluetooth technology. Once connected, the virtual keyboard can send commands/keystroke information back to a word processing program or most any other active window on your mobile device/computer.
Projecting The Right Ideas
It is important to keep in mind that a virtual keyboard requires a flat, non-reflective, and opaque surface on which to operate. That said, using it in certain places (i.e. on the bus, train, or in the car) isn't the most user-friendly of experience for the device. But that should hardly be a deterrent from investing in one to make working on the go easier.
Speed is an important factor to consider when making your choice. Some virtual keyboards can detect up to 350 or 400 characters per minute, so even if you're one of fastest typists out there, you shouldn't have to worry about the unit's ability to keep up. On that same note, pairing speed also matters, since you don't want to waste time installing additional drivers. Many virtual keyboards don't require software drivers.
If you're like many computer enthusiasts, you are familiar with both Macs and PCs, so finding a virtual keyboard that is widely compatible with a variety of operating systems is helpful.
A built-in range of adjustable brightness control settings also comes in handy if you plan to use it throughout the day. Obviously, you'll want easy adjustments at night to ensure the projected light is bright enough to see.
Battery life is another biggie. Many virtual keyboards feature lithium polymer batteries, giving you extended run time of up to 2-3 hours, and allowing you to charge the device almost anywhere.
Innovation: Past and Future
The optical virtual keyboard was originally conceived, invented, and patented in 1992 by IBM engineers.
In 2002, a startup called Canesta created the first projection keyboard using its proprietary electronic perception technology, which is a low-cost, single-chip imaging technology designed to create 3-dimensional images of its nearby surroundings and objects in real time. Canesta's projection keyboard was the first application of this technology.
From there, this type of perception/recognition technology may be used in the future to create additional spatial/object recognition functionality, including such things like doorknobs that recognize the hands of the homeowners or home security systems that are smart enough to distinguish questionable movements from authorized activities.
With its recent patent, Apple has also been testing the waters since 2006 for the development of its own virtual keyboard, which would make the technology highly adaptable considering its innovation of the iPhone and iPad among its other products.