Projection Keyboards

Projection Keyboards


These are virtual keyboards that can be projected and touched on any surface. The keyboard watches your fingers move and translates that action into keystrokes in the device. Most systems can also function as a virtual mouse.


Market Size

In addition to replacing the two million foldout keyboards sold for Palm and other handhelds to date manufacturers hope to take a significant share of the $1.6 billion dollar PDA market, the $50 billion dollar desk workstation market and the $23 billion dollar (by 2004) smart cellular phone market.



In addition to small devices projection keyboards could be used to create a control-panel projection that offers virtual knobs and switches for use in hazardous environments, as well as in medical markets where sterile data entry is a concern.



Fold-up Keyboards (wireless), Fabric Keyboards, Thumb Keyboards, Screen Keyboards, Speech, Pen Input



last updated 1/21/03.  Contact me if you have additions or corrections.

There are 4 companies that are bringing products to market in the next year or so.

 I've added a 5th University of Califonia at Irvine project



Virtual Devices

in Pittsburgh, PA (The Hampton Township, Pa)



·         Pete Hanowich, CEO

·         5 person staff


·         Even though PDAs have capabilities like word processing and spreadsheets, they’re generally not utilized because they lack a practical keyboard. Virtual Devices …provides a full-size computer keyboard that disappears when not in use. The “V-Key” projects the keyboard for users to type on. The integrated miniature cameras and lasers watch your fingers type a keystroke. When finished, the keyboard simply disappears. Recently, many cumbersome devices-- fold-up keyboards and difficult-to-use thumb-boards have been introduced -- not solving any problems but validating the market need. Initially, the stand-alone V-Key accessory will retail for $150, dropping to well under $100 after two years. Many of the consumer and commercial applications exist for the V-Key which command even higher prices. Virtual Devices offers an outstanding investment opportunity to both license and commercialize this lucrative technology.


·         Appears nothing solid yet but: “Microsoft Corp., Palm Inc., IBM, Intel Corp. and Samsung have sought confabs to discuss possible partnerships and licensing agreements.”

·         $100,000 investment from Innovation Works


·         The company is exploring suspension of a virtual keyboard in thin air.

·         “The keyboard picks up finger movements and triangulates them into a keystroke with a great degree of accuracy," Hanowich explained.

How Close to Production

·         The product is in the prototype stage and not yet ready for sale. (as of July)

·         The technology has been tested successfully, he noted, and the company is hoping to grab the interest of device manufacturers when the product is launched formally later this year. (as of May)


·         Unable to locate any patents via a USPTO search


·         V-Key will retail at $150 dropping to under $100 after 2 years. Cost to OEMs in million units ???


·         Bearbones. No developer kit.


·         ???



Developer VKB Inc

in Jerusalem, Israeli


·         Its full-size keyboard also can be projected onto any surface and uses laser technology to translate finger movements into letters.


·         working with Siemens Procurement Logistics Services



·         ?????


·         Rechargeable batteries similar to those in cell phones power the compact unit


·         The keyboard is full size and the letters are in a standard format.

·         As a Class 1 laser, the output power is below the level at which eye injury can occur.

How close to Production?

·         Demoed at CeBIT fair in Hanover, northern Germany, on Monday, March 18, 2002.

·         VKB has resolved all the technological hurdles required to make a practical virtual interface. Include minimizing the power consumption, minimal component size, simple processing, high accuracy and ease of use.

·         At present, the device is not available commercially although VKB hopes to begin shipping the devices by the end of the year.


·         VKB has filed numerous patents on its core technology and related applications.

·         Optical infrared sensing is used to detect the users hand movements over the keyboard. Lieberman is reluctant to reveal how VKB achieved this result as the company has a patent pending on the technology, but he says "all we can say is that we know where your hands are

Unable to locate any patents via a USPTO search





In San Jose, CA

The light keyboard


·         Canesta was founded in April, 1999, and has filed or been granted in excess of 20 patents. Investment to date exceeds $20 million, from Carlyle Venture Partners, Apax Partners, JP Morgan Partners, TechFund Capital, and Thales Corporate Ventures. The company currently employs about 35 people.


·         Jim Spare, Canesta's vice-president of product marketing

·         Nazim Kareemi, President and CEO of Canesta, Inc

·         Kareemi, who co-founded Canesta, is the former founder of PenWare - a pen-based computing venture


·         “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.”

·         Electronic Perception Technology

·         made up of three components.

·         Pattern Projector

is used to project light onto a flat surface, forming a standard QWERTY keyboard layout or a custom layout of your choosing.

·         an IR light source

bathes the keyboard in an infrared light.

·         sensory module

picks up finger movements over the keys.

The information picked up is formed into a 3D image with motion and translated into standard keyboard input data.

Canesta's advantage is the fact that as far as the user is concerned there's no new hardware to buy or install. But PDA manufacturers are under pressure to add a raft of new features to their devices, all of which require extra components that take up valuable space and add to the always sensitive bill of materials.


·         October 28, 2002 -- Canesta Inc, has disclosed that NEC Corporation is evaluating Canesta’s electronic perception technology for applications in NEC’s broad product line

·         several cellular device manufacturers are working with Canesta with the intent of rolling out projection keyboard-equipped cell phones before next spring.

·         Canesta's advantage is the fact that as far as the user is concerned there's no new hardware to buy or install. But PDA manufacturers are under pressure to add a raft of new features to their devices, all of which require extra components that take up valuable space and add to the always sensitive bill of materials.

·         (see bellow)

How Close to Production

·         Launched at DEMOmobile 2002

·         available in the first half of 2003

·         Canesta has not yet announced the availability of specific chips, and stated that it will make further disclosures later this year. OEMs have, to date, been working with chip prototypes that emulate electronic perception chips.

·         “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.” (see technology)

From ee-times article

·         A handful" of PDA companies have signed contracts to purchase the chipset, Spare said. After Canesta brings the chipset into production in early 2003, PDA and/or mobile phone manufacturers will require another six to nine months to refine their designs, he said.


·         uses low-cost semiconductor-based sensors.

·         The resolution of the chip also was not disclosed, although van Burden said that the sensor chip would recognize images up to about 30 centimeters away from the camera, in a field of view about the size of an airplane's seatback tray table. The chip can process up to 50 frames per second of information, he said. Future versions of the chip will improve the resolution of the device and the distance at which it can distinguish objects, van Burden said.

·         Ideally, the chipset will reduce a PDA's battery life by about ten percent, a target Spare said the company hasn't quite met. However, Taiwan chip foundry UMC is fabricating the chipset on 0.25-micron silicon, leaving plenty of room for a power-reducing process shrink. The pattern projector uses the most power, requiring about 60 mW to operate and project the image. The company built in power-saving modes into the chipset, set to wake up the device at the wave of a finger.

·         The chipset simply outputs RS232 serial keystrokes, and does not require a specific CPU, Spare said.

·         Tricky Placement: 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.

The 0.25-micron 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 x 8 x 8 mm. The infrared light source is in a separate 6.4-mm diameter x 12-mm module. And the pattern projector measures 9 x 9 x 12 mm. 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 x 6 x 6 mm 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.

·         Machine Vision: According to van Burden, the EPT chip includes finely tuned timing circuits that can be used to measure each individual pixel's worth of reflected light, calculating the distance of the object away from the camera. The reflected waves can be used to reconstruct the image of the object, complete with what van Burden called a "depth map" to extend the two-dimensional image into the third dimension.

·         EPT, in fact, does not use visible light at all. Instead, a beam of infrared light—similar to that emitted by the autofocus mechanism of a camera—"paints" the object. The EPT sensor receives the light and reconstructs the image using built-in software. The EPT system consists of the infrared light source and a slightly modified conventional CMOS imaging chip, similar to those used in digital cameras. Canesta has built in the software inside the imaging chip, eliminating the need for a separate microcontroller.

·         Total maximum power consumption for the three modules currently stands at 105 mW.


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

·         Development Kit:

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


·         has filed or been granted in excess of 20 patents

·         Although the government has approved Canesta's first patent, van Burden was reluctant to disclose certain technical details of the EPT system, including the power required to illuminate the image with the infrared light or the wavelength of the light itself. The light can be cycled on and off, he added.

·         Canesta has several U.S. patents on its 'electronic perception technology,' from which it's visionary projection keyboard' is derived.

·         Canesta claims that its designs, for which it has been granted patents, are the world's first technology that can produce real-time, three-dimensional "depth maps" of the nearby environment utilizing a tiny CMOS sensor chip.

Patents found

·         6,323,942: CMOS-compatible three-dimensional image sensor IC – Nov 2001

·         20020176067 Method and system to enhance dynamic range conversion useable with CMOS three-dimensional imaging

·         20020140633 Method and system to present immersion virtual simulations using three-dimensional measurement

·         20020084430 Methods for CMOS-compatible three-dimensional image sensing using quantum efficiency modulation

·         20020060669 Method for enhancing performance in a system utilizing an array of sensors that sense at least two-dimensions

·         20020021287 Quasi-three-dimensional method and apparatus to detect and localize interaction of user-object and virtual transfer device

·         20010048519 CMOS-Compatible three-dimensional image sensing using reduced peak energy


·         ********************************************

·         Canesta's usability tests show typists capable of entering 65-to-80 words per minute at a 2.5-to-3 percent error rate on a traditional keyboard are able to type 45-to-50 wpm at a 5 percent error rate on the company's projectable keys. That's twice the 25 wpm 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 vice president of sales and marketing at Canesta (San Jose, Calif.).

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

·         The Canesta Usability Lab conducts usability research on mobile and wireless device users and their interaction with their mobile and wireless devices. The Lab has also established working relationships with a number of independent usability and ergonomics experts and organizations to provide additional insights into the mobile input problem and how to best address this challenge with electronic perception technology and the Canesta Keyboard. Research methodologies include the use of qualitative studies such as focus groups and one-on-one interviews, as well as quantitative studies and surveys used to gather statistically significant data on performance, attitudes, and other important variables. In addition to its own primary research, the Canesta Usability Lab also collects relevant secondary research to further its understanding of the mobile input problem and apply it to improving the mobile user input experience through the Canesta Keyboard.

·         *******************************************


·         The set will sell for $30 to $35 in million-unit volumes; the company would not quote prices in thousands.


Possible Applications

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

·         However, the company sees this as a fundamental technology which can be applied to a variety of applications. "Any devices which we can give sight to will enhance the quality of life," van Burden said.

·         These include: projection notepads that track any pen, pencil or pen-like object; gestural interfaces for devices with inconvenient or ultra-small form-factors or locations (ie-wearable computers); and user identification and authentication through facial recognition. The company also perceives its technology as enabling a wide number of sight-enabled applications in consumer games, premise security, automobiles, military-aerospace, and medical apps.


·         “Well people, that MacMan is right about the investing, but what he did not tell you was it wasn't Apple that invested in it, Steve Jobs invested in it. My wife is an Investment Lawer and I had her look it up, that was all she was allowed to tell me.”





Senseboard Technologies

based in Stockholm, Sweden

·         Senseboard Technologies AB is an IT company headquartered in Stockholm, Sweden. It was founded in 2000 by Gunilla Alsiö and employs 10 people.


·         Two hand-mounted devices connect to the target computing device with the help of Bluetooth wireless networking technology. The user can type on a hard surface like a desk or table, or into the air. The hand-mounts measure finger movements and tell the handheld what keys the user intends to press, based on the ubiquitous Qwerty keyboard layout. There's also a pause function.

·         Senseboard SB 04 – The Current System
The prototype product released in December 2002 is designed to capture the motion of the fingers and hands, enabling keyboard functionality. The Virtual Keyboard's current status is that it works for slow typing of words and numbers on a PDA or Laptop computer. Within the next few months Senseboard will make the following improvements:

·         faster (i.e. normal/touch typing speed possible)

·         easy to use for an un-trained Senseboard user

·         wireless version will be released

·         also is offering a virtual keyboard that uses sensor technology and artificial intelligence to let users work on any surface as if it were a keyboard.

·         We've seen something similar before. At last year's Comdex trade show in Las Vegas (see: "Air Typing Into A PDA") we ran across a company called Senseboard Technologies that had designed devices that attached to the hands and allowed for typing into a PDA. It won a Best of Show award and reminded us of the classic Jerry Lewis typewriting comedy routine from the movie, Who's Minding The Store?

·         Sensors made of a combination of rubber and plastic are attached to the user's palms in such a way that they do not interfere with finger motions. Through the use of Bluetooth technology, the "typed" information is transferred wirelessly to the computer, where a word processing program analyzes and interprets the signals into readable text.

·         The device is currently usable via existing ports on personal digital assistants (PDAs) from Palm and other manufacturers. Senseboard officials say it eventually will be compatible with most brands of pocket PCs, mobile phones and laptop computers.

·         Alsio said the Virtual Keyboard is scheduled for general release in March 2002, and is expected to retail for about US$150.


·         No visual mapping, recognition not recall, easy to make errors. Only for expert touch typists.



Update 1/21/02

I've heard about a new Virtual Keyboard system called Kitty


University of California in Irvine

KITTY,  a finger-mounted keyboard for data entry into PDA's, Pocket PC's and Wearable Computers which has been developed here at the University of California in Irvine.
KITTY was one of this years ISWC (Int. Symposium on Wearable Computers) Wearable Fashion Show main features (see ).
KITTY, an acronym for Keyboard-Independent Touch-TYping, is a fingermounted keyboard that uses touch-typing as the method of data entry.
The device targets the portable computing market and in particular wearable computing systems, which are in the need of a silent, "invisible" data entry system based on
touch-typing. The new device combines the idea of a finger-mounted chording device (such as the "Twiddler"  by the HandKey Corp.),
with the advantages of a system that uses touch-typing (such as the Virtual Keyboard by Senseboard or the Scurry by Samsung).
However, the KITTY system has distinct and important advantages in comparison to the mentioned devices (see attached Comment.txt document).
A patent application for KITTY has been submitted. We also have secured the international rights on the device.
More information about KITTY (including a Flash Demo)  can be found at  
Our new device was featured in "wireless, Business & Technology" (Vol.2, Issue 3, P.12), the "MIT Technology Review" magazine (July/August 2002 Issue, P.16, online at  ), the "Nikkei Marketing Journal" (July 27 2002, P.1) as well as in several European magazines
(e.g. C't Magazin, Die Computer Zeitung, TeleCran, etc.). 
A report on KITTY was aired on CNN Headline News (for a video-clip see ) as well as on n-TV (a Geman television channel)  A recent interview with Accenture's Tech_Watch can be found at;xd=servicestechnologypublicationstech_watch_1_13.xml#kitty.

© Copyright 2003 Micah Alpern.
Last update: 10/8/2003; 7:24:07 AM.