Remember a couple of years back when virtual keyboards in the physical space were all the rage? Sure, they still haven't really taken off as the must-own accessory, but the idea was sort of neat, right? NEC Corp. has announced it is now working on a similar product, but rather than producing a holographic keyboard projected by lasers, they have chosen to explore the Augmented Reality (AR) route.
The product NEC is developing is still in its concept phase, and they are calling it ARmKeypad. As the name suggests, this is not meant to be a keyboard projected onto a desk-like surface, but instead as a virtual-wearable accessory. The use case scenarios the folks at NEC have in mind involve businesses that require, or would benefit, from hands-free operations for optimal efficiency. Examples would be workers performing equipment maintenance or inspection no longer being bogged down by the need to hold and carry physical input devices. Warehouse inventory management and health care are two other industries cited by the company that could benefit from the ease of operability of a virtual input device.
The ARmKeypad functions by utilizing a new recognition technology that requires a set of AR viewing glasses, tied to a smart watch with the needed sensors built-in. The glasses allow the keyboard to be seen on the users' arm and detect the finger movements. The watch can sense the timing of keystrokes and control the keyboard displays. The company claims the equipped sensors will be able to offer high-speed and high-precision touch input. The accuracy is purported to lend to the feeling of wearing and using an actual physical device rather than a virtual one. The setup of the ARmKeypad is reminiscent of an input method Google was developing for their Google Glass wearable, though that was focused more on the laser projected keypad and not the AR technology NEC has developed for their unit. Perhaps the closest thing we have seen to this is the AR keyboard Samsung's Gear Glass would show on the users hands. The ARmKeypad is not ready for market just yet, as NEC has stated that they plan to enhance the features over the coming months. The plan is to have a commercially viable product available sometime next year.