Technology eReport
Volume 5, Number 4
November 2006

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TechNotes

Relief for Sore Thumbs and Bruised Knees

J. Anthony Vittal

In my last column, I wrote about powerful computers in small packages. Many of you may have seen the Microsoft commercial for its new PDA. A business traveler leaves home with nothing but his PDA. Flying to another city, he arrives at his destination, enters a conference room, places his PDA on the conference table next to the projector, convenes the meeting, and starts his PowerPoint presentation. Yes, it also works as a phone.

While this is no surprise to those of us used to working with these sophisticated converged devices, their universal deficiency is their small keyboards and displays, which cause both sore thumbs and eyestrain. I wrote about this problem four years ago and discussed a potential—albeit less than ideal—solution for each deficiency. Although we have yet to reach the level of miniaturization that would permit us to carry everything, including the projector, in our pockets or purses, Israeli technology in the I-Tech Virtual Laser Keyboard (VLK) now offers a better solution than a folding mechanical keyboard. If you are a CSI buff, you even may have seen this solution on a CSI-Miami episode earlier this year—and it wasn’t science fiction!

 Imagine a tiny projector—a little larger (90 x 34 x 24 mm) than a disposable lighter—that both displays a full-size QWERTY keyboard on any flat surface and interprets the movement of fingers onto the key images to translate that movement into keystrokes for your PDA. Input is wireless, using the Bluetooth connection of your PDA. How does it work, you ask? Rather elegantly, I would say. Using a red diode laser, the VLK projects a holographic keyboard template onto the adjacent surface. The VLK also projects an invisible infrared plane of light a few millimeters above, and parallel, to the surface on which they keyboard is projected. When you touch a key position on the interface projection, surface light is reflected from this plane in the vicinity of the key and directed toward the sensor module, where it is filtered and then imaged on a CMOS image sensor. The processor then makes a real-time determination of the key being touched. It even can track multiple keystrokes and overlapping cursor control inputs. Best of all, the VLK includes an audible click feature, so you will know when you have keyed a character.

If you want to avoid battery drain, you can set the device to turn off the projector after a set time. The keyboard will instantly come back to life, however, if you touch or wave your hand across the surface where it was projected.

The VLK works with the Blackberry, various Palm devices (running OS 5), devices such as the Dell Axim and the HP iPAQ running either the Pocket PC 2003 Family (using Microsoft, Widcom/Broadcom, and Extended Systems Bluetooth Stacks) Windows Mobile 5, and various Nokia, Sony-Ericsson, and other devices. Check the website for compatibility with your PDA. The VLK also will work with desktop and notebook computers using either Bluetooth or a serial port interface, if you need a keyboard that will not be contaminated by food, drink, and other detritus.

Developed by i.Tech Dynamic Limited, the technology division of Hutchison Harbour Ring Limited (HHR), a listed company in Hong Kong, the VLK uses virtual interface technology developed by Lumio, Inc., headquartered in Silicon Valley. HHR, a subsidiary of Hutchison Whampoa Limited—a multinational conglomerate operating in 42 countries with more than 170,000 employees worldwide, one of the largest companies listed on the main board of the Hong Kong Stock Exchange—manufactures the VLK. Product and customer support is provided by Power Positioning (2P) Ltd. in Petah Tikva, Israel.

The VLK can be purchased online for $179.99 plus shipping via FedEx from www.virtual-laser-keyboard.com. It comes with a 30-day unconditional money-back guarantee (exclusive of taxes and shipping), and you also can buy extra Li-ion batteries, a charger, and other accessories from the website.

Bruised Knees
On the subject of bruised knee relief—how many of us routinely have had to get on our hands and knees because we either can’t see the USB port on the front of our desk-based computers, or we have to wrestle it out to find the USB port on the back of the box to insert a thumb drive or other USB device? Alternatively, we have an extension cable plugged into one of the USB hubs on the back of the computer and connected to a multiport hub on the desk—that more often than not drops off the desktop unless it is glued or taped down or fastened to something with a Velcro® strip—requiring another trip under or behind the desk. Industrial designers working for Belkin (the computer accessory manufacturer) and Ameriwood (the computer desk manufacturer) have developed a solution so elegant and attractive that it won one of the 2006 IDEAs (the Industrial Design Excellence Awards from the Industrial Designers Society of America).

This solution incorporates a four-port USB hub in the middle of a standard-sized cable grommet that will fit in the grommet hole on your work surface. The grommet hub is securely mounted to the desk for one-handed insertion and removal of USB devices. In addition, because the hub is suspended in the middle of the circular desk grommet, the user has a visual cue that cables and power cords still may be routed through the openings on either side of the hub.

By the time this column is published, you should be able to purchase the grommet hub for $39.95 on Belkin’s website ( www.belkin.com) or by phone at 800-223-5546. Consumers reportedly are asking for the development of other connections to fit in a grommet, so I expect that consumer demand eventually will make various types of grommet hubs available at your local “toy” store.

 

J. Anthony Vittal ( tony.vittal@abanet.org) is in private practice with The Vittal Law Firm based in Los Angeles, California. A former member of the ABA Standing Committee on Technology and Information Systems and a member of various technology-oriented committees of ABA Sections, he speaks and writes frequently on legal technology topics.

 

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