July 28, 2008

Charleston’s Jackson Develops High-Tech Keyboard

By Williams, Walt

CHARLESTON - Johnny Jackson's company Stenovations may have invented the better keyboard, particularly if you're a court reporter.

In the past, court reporters have used special machines called stenographs to record what people are saying. However, stenographs tend to be bulky machines that are a bit of a chore to carry.

Stenovations' solution was to use modern technology to build a better stenograph. The result was its LightSpeed keyboard, which can be plugged into any computer and is lighter than most laptop computers. Special touch-sensitive technology also allows individuals to tailor the keyboard to their typing styles, allowing for faster typing speeds and greater accuracy.

That same technology someday may be able to be affordably carried over into computer keyboards, using the jumbled alphabet of the QWERTY layout that most typists know. If that happens, people with ailments such as carpal tunnel syndrome may no longer find the simple action of typing to be such a burden.

"You could plug it into your computer and use it and have the software for the adjustments come with it," Jackson said.

Jackson is chief of technology and development for Stenovations, as well as the founder of Johnny Jackson & Associates, which provides court reporting services.

Court reporters and people who provide the closed captioning in television broadcasts need to type very fast to do what they do. In fact, to become a court reporter a person must first demonstrate he or she can type at least 225 words per minute while accurately recording what a person is saying.

Such speeds on regular keyboards that use the QWERTY layout are extremely difficult. So court reporters use keyboards that type in shorthand, allowing them to record what people are saying with fewer keystrokes. A major difference is court reporters often will hit several keys at the same time, whereas people using a QWERTY keyboard hit only one key at a time.

Jackson originally was going to use touchpad technology in his keyboards, but developers of that technology sold the rights to Apple, and it was later incorporated in the iPhone.

"So we had to find something different," he said.

In that search, one of Jackson's employees found information on the Internet about a special type of sensitive "skin" developed in Canada for robotic arms used on the U.S. space shuttle. Essentially, the skin is a type of foam that allows light to pass through it. Special sensors monitor changes in light patterns when pressure is applied to the foam, allowing software to sense where the skin is being touched and how much pressure is being applied.

The LightSpeed keyboard uses tiny LED lights under the keys to record keystrokes. The advantage of the technology is that the sensitivity of the software can be adjusted so bad strokes on the keyboard are ignored or that a person resting his or her hands on the keypad won't trigger a long string of illegible letters.

"We're adding all kind of customization to the touch for every individual," Jackson said.

The sensitivity also can be adjusted so just the lightest of touches can trigger a key.

"Imagine a keyboard for people with carpal tunnel just having to barely wiggle their fingers," Jackson said.

So far Jackson is concentrating on marketing the LightSpeed keyboard court reporters. He said the device received a lot of positive buzz at a court reporter conference last year in Vancouver.

The LightSpeed keyboard sells for $2,500. More information about it can be found on the company Web site www.stenovations.com.

Copyright State Journal Corporation Jul 11, 2008

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