Chorded keyboard

A chorded keyboard (sometimes called chording keyboard or simply chord keyboard) is a computer input device designed to replace a traditional QWERTY computer keyboard.

Instead of using one key for each character, the user presses multiple-key combinations, similar to the playing of chords on a piano. Such technology has been around for many years but is little known to the public because more specialized training is needed to use it than the standard keyboard, which can be used in a "hunt and peck" style much more quickly. For example, each finger might control one key which corresponds to one bit in a byte, so that one to eight fingers can enter any character in the ASCII set if the user can remember the binary codes. There are many different designs based on the same concept, some requiring only one hand for operation.

Due to the small number of keys required (the minimal design only needs one key for each finger), a chorded keyboard is easily adapted from a board to a grip such as the one on a bicycle handle bar. In this case it is referred to as a keyer rather than a keyboard because the keys are no longer mounted to a board. A keyer is a good replacement for a chorded keyboard in portable applications such as the wearable computer. On the other hand, the failure of touch typing to penetrate the world after a century of availability leads buyers to question their ability to remember the chordings necessary.

Some claim that, because the fingers don't need to move as far, it saves time and can be typed on faster than a regular keyboard. Others claim it is slower because a regular keyboard allows the next key to be pressed while the last key is still held down, but a chording keyboard requires each chord to be completely released before the next is pressed. Definitive numbers (in WPM) are hard to find. This is probably also due to the many different designs available.

Doug Engelbart, inventor of the computer mouse, may have invented chord keyboards.

One of the earliest commercial models was the five-button Microwriter, designed by Cy Endfield and first sold in 1980. It was designed only for right-handed use. A modern example of a chorded keyboard is the GKOS keyboard which is intended for tiny tablet PCs and wireless mobile terminals.

Multiambic keyers for use with wearable computers were invented in Canada in the 1970s. Multiambic keyers are like chording keyboards but without the board, i.e. the keys are grouped in a cluster for being handheld rather than for sitting on a flat surface.

Chording keyboards are also used as input devices for the visually impaired (sometimes combined with a refreshable braille display). Such keyboards use a minimum of eight keys, where each key corresponds to an individual braille point. Note that the number of points used in braille computing is not 6, but 8, as this allows the user, among other things, to distinguish between small and capital letters, as well to identify the position of cursor.


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