On the heels of an IoT revolution, TAP wants its keyboard-exploding wearable to be incorporated into a host of new technologies
There have been a fair number of attempts to reinvent the wheel in recent years. Sometimes such ideas just die on Kickstarter; others are a bit more practical and simple than crowdfunded hype. TAP Systems is introducing a new wearable that aims to replace the keyboard, banking on a collection of new technologies and several niche audiences to push a critical rethink of how we type into the mainstream.
The company is the brainchild of Poliakine, former NASA engineer Sabrina Kemeny, and David Schick who sold his Schick Technologies for $928 million in 2005. Having come out of stealth in May after 18 months in development, they are performing a beta test in California that will last until the end of the year when they plan to release to the wider market.
Poliakine was looking for the next big thing after leaving Powermat, one of the first and still more powerful forces for wireless charging on the market. Like Powermat, he wanted to get ahead of the game with a product he thought would also eventually be a necessary part of the global technology economy. That answer, seemingly, would be in VR.
“There’s a real need for a seamless input method which would become the underlying technology for VR devices,” Poliakine tells Geektime, keeping a sharp eye turned to companies making headway in the industry. But they are focused on the assistive tech market as well, seeing this as a major solution for the visually impaired.
“It allows your hand to be turned into a keyboard regardless of the surface.” That removes the need to see the keys. The company developed the foam wearable out of so-called “smart textiles” that will find major use in augmented and virtual reality environments.
A new way to type
The typing pattern does not follow QWERTY. Using only one hand, TAP had to be inventive. Therefore, the system is based off of specific combinations of fingers.
“If I could only define the finger or combinations of fingers were they to touch against any a surface, then I could turn it into a code,” he describes, “creating a language for smartphones, gaming, and music. In a way, this could be a simple way to code complex messages.”
There are 31 finger combinations ranging from simple single-finger taps for vowels to the more complex for the most infrequent letters. Think of a military prisoner’s code of taps, where a certain number of taps in certain patterns will stand for letters. In this case, the patterns are determined by the number and combination of fingers used in each tap.
“If I teach you that the combination of fingers #1 and #2 is N, let’s say, [then] you don’t need to know any target. Basically, you’re turning your hand into a keyboard without a target.”
Just how easy is it to learn this? Fairly, he tells Geektime. Promising that after 20 minutes a day for a couple weeks, you should have a strong command of the typing pattern.
“My partner is up to 55 words a minute for average 5-letter long words (vs his former 25 words per minute),” he says. “Physiologically, you have a muscle memory that indicates this finger is this letter or these two fingers is N.”
They are putting together plans for transferring the system to other alphabets and languages, as English is the primary target language for TAP right now. Some applications will likely require more than a single hand, he admits, but TAP might leave the design of new communication patterns to future partners and SME adopters.
“A can be א or ‘do’ in music of a hot key in a game,” he asserts, implying that this system could be just as effective for music as standard language. TAP’s team is hoping they will set the precedent, the standard, for a new generation of devices. “We hope industry will massively adopt it.”
A watershed in assistive technology?
Poliakine claims it’s a “comfortable textile,” ergonomic and unlimited in movement. There was no need to go with a special glove from that perspective. Yet, “if someone wants to use the reference design to integrate it into a glove,” he says, adding they will eventually incorporate wrist movements into their tech to create more options for recording motions as signals. “The underlying language is the same in one hand or two. Once it’s adopted by developers, it doesn’t matter of its a glove or a wristband, etc. We’re trying to unify the industry around a standard. There is a need for a unified language.”
That’s a big deal for people who need assistive technology as well. Blind users would find this immediately beneficial, and it’s a group that Poliakine has in his sights.
“On the emotional level one of our team members is a young student from SV who is blind that worked on our team. She became aware that it changes the experience. ‘It’s changing my life. I need it.’ There’s a large community up to speed.”
BCC Research projected five years ago the assistive technology market would be worth $55 billion in the U.S. alone by 2016, though that covers a lot more than just technology for the blind. Poliakine says they’ve gotten inquiries from four kinds of companies to grab licenses: device makers, wearable-focused OS developers, niche markets like gaming or assistive technology, and edtech.
The company has 25 full-time employees between offices in Neve Ilan, Israel just outside Jerusalem and in Silicon Valley. They are currently self-funded by the founding team. As for when those companies who came calling will be fully signed on to new projects, Poliakine is optimistic.
“I expect to announce partnerships with these in mind in the next six months when we finalize our product.”