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Image-projection keyboard eyes mobile gear

Posted: 23 Sep 2002 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:canasta? integrated canasta keyboard? image projection keyboard? projectable keyboard?

Startup Canesta Inc. has launched its first product, a projectable keyboard that could help solve the problem of how to get lots of text into pocket-sized devices. The Integrated Canesta Keyboard is based on a controller and two optical components that project the image of a keyboard onto any flat surface and use a light source to track the movement of fingers on that image.

The company claims that one Web tablet and one high-end PDA/phone maker have designed the projectable keyboard into products that should ship next summer. And the company has already started work on a smaller version of its components in hopes of design wins in more mainstream PDAs and phones.

Canesta's usability tests show typists capable of entering 65-to-80 words per minute (wpm) at a 2.5 percent to 3 percent error rate on a traditional keyboard are able to type 45-to-50wpm at a 5 percent error rate on the company's projectable keys.

That is twice the 25wpm rate and similar to the accuracy level of users entering text on small "thumb" keyboards used on many PDAs today, said Joep van Beurden, the VP of sales and marketing at Canesta.

"We are working on expanding the projected keyboard by 15 percent to get to a full 90mm key size," he added.

The projection keyboard could also replace a market for as many as two million foldout keyboards that have sold with Palm and other handhelds to date.

Size and proper orientation of the three Canesta components is likely to be the biggest hurdle for handheld system makers looking to use the technology.

Tricky placement

The 0.25?m sensor chip at the heart of the solution includes a barrel lens that senses the light bouncing off a finger. The chip and lens together measure 8-by-8-by-8mm. The IR light source is in a separate 6.4(?)-by-12mm module.

And the pattern projector measures 9-by-9-by-12mm. All three devices need to point outward from the system in a similar orientation - a tricky placement and integration challenge for a PDA and one currently not feasible for the next-generation of relatively thin 2.5G cellphones.

The company is already working on a so-called LP-2 version of the components that would shrink the controller module to 6-by-6-by-6mm and shave size off the optical components as well.

"The next rev shrinks significantly in size and power. The challenge with the light source and pattern projector are optical in nature," said van Beurden.

Total maximum power consumption for the three modules currently stands at 105mW. The set will sell for $30 to $35 in million-unit volumes; the company would not quote prices in thousands.

The company has integrated the module with Windows 2000/XP, Microsoft Pocket PC and Palm OSs. It supplies source code for drivers for all three environments.

The controller chip communicates with a host via either an RS-232 or USB slave interface.

Separately the company has been exploring other applications for its 3D sensing technology. Canesta has worked with automotive electronics companies to develop a specification for use of their technology with air bags.

The Canesta chipset would determine the size and position of a person in a car seat and report that info back to a subsystem which would determine whether or how hard to fire an air bag in case of an accident.

- Rick Merritt

EE Times





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