Inputs Of Interest: The OrbiTouch Keyless Keyboard And Mouse

I can’t remember how exactly I came across the OrbiTouch keyboard, but it’s been on my list to clack about for a long time. Launched in 2003, the OrbiTouch is a keyboard and mouse in one. It’s designed for people who can’t keyboard regularly, or simply want a different kind of experience.

The OrbiTouch was conceived of by a PhD student who started to experience carpal tunnel while writing papers. He spent fifteen years developing the OrbiTouch and found that it could assist many people who have various upper body deficiencies. So, how does it work?

It’s Like Playing Air Hockey with Both Hands

To use this keyboard, you put both hands on the sliders and move them around. They are identical eight-way joysticks or D-pads, essentially. The grips sort of resemble a mouse and have what looks like a special resting place for your pinky.

One slider points to groups of letters, numbers, and special characters, and the other chooses a color from a special OrbiTouch rainbow. Pink includes things like parentheses and their cousins along with tilde, colon and semi-colon. Black is for the modifiers like Tab, Alt, Ctrl, Shift, and Backspace. These special characters and modifiers aren’t shown on the hieroglyphs slider, you just have to keep the guide handy until you memorize the placement of everything around the circle.

You’re gonna need a decent amount of desk space for this. Image via OrbiTouch

The alphabet is divided up into groups of five letters which are color-coded in rainbow order that starts with orange, because red is reserved for the F keys. So for instance, A is orange, B is yellow, C is green, D is blue, E is purple, then it starts back over with F at orange. If you wanted to type cab, for instance, you would start by moving the hieroglyph slider to the first alphabet group and the color slider to green.

Continue reading “Inputs Of Interest: The OrbiTouch Keyless Keyboard And Mouse”

Hackaday Links: September 27, 2020

Hardly a week goes by without a headline screaming about some asteroid or another making a close approach to Earth; it’s only by reading the fine print that we remember what an astronomer’s definition of “close” means. Still, 2020 being what it is, it pays to stay on top of these things, and when you do the story can get really interesting. Take asteroid 2020 SO, a tiny near-Earth asteroid that was discovered just last week. In a couple of weeks, 2020 SO will be temporarily captured into Earth orbit and come with 50,000 km near the beginning of December. That’s cool and all, but what’s really interesting about this asteroid is that it may not be a rock at all. NASA scientists have reverse-engineered the complex orbit of the object and found that it was in the vicinity of Earth in late 1966. They think it may be a Centaur booster from the Surveyor 2 moon mission, launched in September 1966 in the runup to Apollo. The object will be close enough for spectral analysis of its. surface; if it’s the booster, the titanium dioxide in the white paint should show up loud and clear.

Lasers are sort of forbidden fruit for geeks — you know you can put an eye out with them, and still, when you get your hands on even a low-power laser pointer, it’s hard to resist the urge to shine it where you shouldn’t. That includes into the night sky, which as cool as it looks could be bad news for pilots, and then for you. Luckily, friend of Hackaday Seb Lee-Delisle has figured out a way for you to blast lasers into the night sky to your heart’s content. The project is called Laser Light City and takes place in Seb’s home base of Brighton int he UK on October 1. The interactive installation will have three tall buildings with three powerful lasers mounted on each; a smartphone app will let participants control the direction, shape, and color of each beam. It sounds like a load of fun, so check it out if you’re in the area.

We got an interesting story from a JR Nelis about a quick hack he came up with to help his wife stay connected. The whole post is worth a read, but the short version of the story is that his wife has dementia and is in assisted living. Her landline phone is her social lifeline, but she can’t be trusted with it, lest she makes inappropriate calls. His solution was to modify her favorite cordless phone by modifying the keypad, turning it into a receive-only phone. It’s a sad but touching story, and it may prove useful to others with loved ones in similar situations.

We pay a lot of attention to the history of the early computer scene, but we tend to concentrate on computers that were popular in North America and the UK. But the Anglo-American computers were far from the only game in town, and there’s a new effort afoot to celebrate one of the less well-known but still important pioneer computers: the Galaksija. Aside from having a cool name, the Yugoslavian Z80 computer has a great story that will be told in documentary form, as part of the crowdsourced Galaksija project. The documentary stars our own Voja Antonic, who was key to the computer’s development. In addition to the film, the project seeks to produce a replica of the Galaksija in kit form. Check out the Crowd Supply page and see if it’s something you’re willing to back.

There’s an interesting new podcast out there: the Pick, Place, Podcast. Hosted by Chris Denney and Melissa Hough, it comes out every other week and is dedicated to the electronic assembly industry. They’ve currently got eight episodes in the can ranging from pick and place assembly to parts purchasing to solder paste printing. If you want to learn a little more about PCB assembly, this could be a real asset. Of course don’t forget to make time for our own Hackaday Podcast, where editors Mike and Elliot get together to discuss the week in hardware hacking.

Inputs Of Interest: BIGtrack Mouse Might Make You Squeal

You know me, I like to get my feet involved when I use my computer, which happens pretty much all day every day at this point. My cache of pedal inputs keeps growing like mushrooms in the darkness under my desk: every upper case letter in this post and dozens more have been capitalized with a shift pedal!

Naturally, I’ve thought about what it might be like to mouse with my toes. The more time I can spend with both hands on the keyboard, the better. I started sniffing around for foot-sized trackball candidates, thinking maybe I could just build one with regular mouse guts. Then I found a 15-year-old Golden Tee home edition console at a thrift store. It has a large ball and four buttons, so it seemed ripe for turning into a mouse as-is, or just stealing the ball to build my own. So far, that hasn’t happened, though I did solder a bunch of wires for testing out the controls. Continue reading “Inputs Of Interest: BIGtrack Mouse Might Make You Squeal”

Give Me A Minute, My Eyes Are Busy

Social cues are tricky, but humans are very good at detecting where someone is looking; that goes a long way toward figuring out where someone is placing their attention. All of this goes right out the window though, when you’re talking with somebody who uses eye-tracking software to speak. [Matthew Oppenheim] with Lancaster University, UK wants to give listeners the message of Give Me a Minute with an easy-to-recognize indicator. His choice is a microBit, which displays a rotating arrow on the LED array while someone composes their speech. He chose the microBit because they are readily available, and you can get cases to fit people’s personalities. After the break, you can see a demonstration, but the graphic appears scrambled because of the screen flicker. The rotating arrow is a clear indicator that someone is writing, whereas a clock might suggest a frozen computer, and a progress bar could not be accurate.

[Matthew] wrote a program for the interpreting computer which recognizes when a message is forming by monitoring the number of black pixels in the composition field. If it changes, someone must be composing a sentence. Many people will try to peek over the speaker’s shoulder and see if they are working, but we’re sure that most readers would join the users of such tech in being unhappy if someone blatantly looks at theirr computer screen while they are typing.

Wheelchairs don’t always have to come from a hospital or supply store, and they don’t have to stay on the ground.

Continue reading Give Me A Minute, My Eyes Are Busy”

Cerebral Palsy Tool Assistant

We all deserve to create. Some people seem to have the muses hidden in their pocket, but everyone benefits when they express themselves in their chose art form. Each of us has tools, from Dremels to paintbrushes, and many folks here build their own implements. Even if we don’t have our macro-enabled mechanical keyboard or a dual-extrusion printer, we can make due. But what if you couldn’t operate your drill, or mouse, or even a pencil? To us, that would be excruciating and is the reality for some. [Laura Roth] and [Christopher Sweeney] are art teachers designing a tool holder for their students with cerebral palsy so that they can express themselves independently.

On either side of this banner image, you can see pencil drawings from [Sara], who has spastic cerebral palsy. She made these drawings while wearing the tool holder modeled after her hand. Now, that design serves other students and is part of the 2020 Hackaday Prize. The tool holder wraps around the wrist like a wide bracelet. Ribbing keeps its shape, and a tube accepts cylindrical objects, like pencils, styluses, and paintbrushes.The result is that the tip of the pencil is not far from where it would have been if held in the hand, but this sidesteps issues with grip and fine control in hands and fingers.

The print is available as an STL and should be printed with flexible filament to ensure it’s comfortable to wear. Be mindful of digital styluses which may need something conductive between the barrel and user.

Hackers are familiar with the challenges of cerebral palsy, and we’ve enjoyed seeing a variety of solutions over the years like door openers, camera gimbals, and just being altogether supportive.

Assistive Gloves Come In Pairs

We have to hand it to this team, their entry for the 2020 Hackaday Prize is a classic pincer maneuver. A team from [The University of Auckland] in New Zealand and [New Dexterity] is designing a couple of gloves for both rehabilitation and human augmentation. One style is a human-powered prosthetic for someone who has lost mobility in their hand. The other form uses soft robotics and Bluetooth control to move the thumb, fingers, and an extra thumb (!).

The human-powered exoskeleton places the user’s hand inside a cabled glove. When they are in place, they arch their shoulders and tighten an artificial tendon across their back, which pulls their hand close. To pull the fingers evenly, there is a differential box which ensures pressure goes where it is needed, naturally. Once they’ve gripped firmly, the cables stay locked, and they can relax their shoulders. Another big stretch and the cords relax.

In the soft-robotic model, a glove is covered in inflatable bladders. One set spreads the fingers, a vital physical therapy movement. Another bladder acts as a second thumb for keeping objects centered in the palm. A cable system draws the fingers closed like the previous glove, but to lock them they evacuate air from the bladders, so jamming layers retain their shape, like food in a vacuum bag.

We are excited to see what other handy inventions appear in this year’s Hackaday Prize, like the thumbMouse, or how about more assistive tech that uses hoverboards to help move people?

Continue reading “Assistive Gloves Come In Pairs”

Inputs Of Interest: The Infogrip BAT Chording Keyboard

I guess it shouldn’t surprise me that by researching weird and interesting keyboards, I would uncover more weird and interesting keyboards. This is the BAT personal keyboard by Infogrip, and it’s something I came across while researching the DataHand keyboard and mentally filed away as something cool to look into.

When I came across a used BAT for a reasonable price, I snagged it, even though it didn’t come with any of the manuals or software, not even a cord. Like I said, reasonable price. I looked these keyboards up and found out that you can buy them new for a lot more than what I paid.

My gently used BAT in all its angular glory.
The lowercase letter chords use either the middle thumb key or no thumb key. Image via Infogrip

So what is this thing? It’s a chording keyboard that’s meant to be used a standard PC input device by anyone who either can’t use a regular keyboard or has a need for speed. Years of research went into the BAT’s chording scheme, which was developed in conjunction with NASA’s Stennis Space Center.

Instead of stretching your fingers all over a regular keyboard, poking keys one at a time to spell out words, you press combinations of keys simultaneously, like playing chords on a piano.

You’re meant to use your thumb for the red, grey, and blue keys, and lay the other four on the rest of the keys. All of the alphabet keys are chorded with or without the gray thumb key, and all the number, symbol, and modifier keys are accessed through the red and blue layers.

Why would you want one of these? Well, given enough time to learn the chords, you can do anything a standard 104+ keyboard can do with only seven keys. You would never need to look down, not even for those weird seldom-used keys, and the only finger that ever travels is your thumb. All of this reduced hand/finger/wrist travel is going to be easier on the body.

The BAT lets you CAD like a madlad. Via Bill Buxton

The BAT is also part programmable macro pad, and from what I can gather, the main selling point was that you could quickly input shortcuts in CAD programs and the like, because you could keep one hand on the mouse.

The BAT came in both left- and right-handed versions that can be used either alone or together. Imagine how fast you could type if you chorded everything and split the typing duties between both hands! The only trouble is learning all those different finger combinations, although they say it doesn’t take that long.

So why is it called the BAT? Legend has it that it’s because company started out in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, but also because a pair of BATs sitting next to each other resembles a bat (PDF).

Continue reading “Inputs Of Interest: The Infogrip BAT Chording Keyboard”