NextGen Science Fair and a new controller board
We've made it back from both San Francisco for the NextGen event and the longer visit to CA to spend time with friends and family out there. The SF trip especially felt like a whirlwind tour of the place, since we were only in town for less than 36 hours and extremely busy for most of it. It was a great opportunity though, and I'm very glad we were invited and able to participate.
We also learned that you can in fact run a pretty decent booth out of two backpacks and a triangular 3-foot banner shipping box. I wouldn't necessarily recommend that approach, but it can be done! My wife Courtney tagged along and provided a lot of support; I couldn't have done it without her. My parents also helped with a lot of the preparations, especially with the portable PVC banner stand design and even a new touchset layout (more on that later).
The first annual NextGen Science Fair included 16 exhibits, and the organizers tallied over 600 attendees through the course of the 7-hour event. They were hoping for even more, but for a first-time event, it seemed pretty busy from my perspective anyway. All kinds of people showed up, from very young children all the way to older seniors, and everything in between. I was pinned (in a good way) behind the Keyglove table for the entire time, but it looked like many of the other exhibits were quite interesting. We were right next to NeuroSky table, certainly one of the most impressive groups there (think poor man's EKG machine designed for thought-based computer control). Being next to them afforded us a lot of valuable collateral interest from people who finished up with their booth and ended up at ours, which was really quite nice.
I demoed the Keyglove prototype I brought for most of the morning, which gave me a good opportunity to hone my answers (people usually ask a lot of the same questions) as well as to practice with the new touchset. A few days prior, my mom, who is a stenographer, spent a good deal of time brainstorming what a good touch configuration would be to maximize convenience and efficiency. The stenograph keyboard used for court reporting is very different from a standard QWERTY one, since they record speech in syllables rather than letters. It's pretty weird if you've never seen it before, and I still think it's weird even though I know how it works!
Anyway, while the mechanical design of the Keyglove doesn't allow the exact same approach, the idea behind the stenograph keyboard is to keep the letters that typically appear close together in words also physically close together on the keyboard. For example, ST, SP, SL, SC, PL, CL, CR, CH, and SH are common in many English words. Therefore, those individual letters should be easy to touch in rapid succession, ideally in one fluid motion moving your thumb from left to right (or right to left for left-handed people) across your hand. This idea is applied for the whole alphabet in the touchset that my mom created. After spending about four hours practicing with it during the first half of the NextGen event, I was able to memorize all of the letter positions and get up to nearly 25 words per minute. For a brand-new touchset, I am extremely pleased with this so far. More practice will demonstrate what the upper limit of typing speed is, but I'm hopeful for 60 or 70 WPM without more changes.
One of the most fun things about the event was to watch people try using the Keyglove themselves, which many wanted to do. Especially the kids enjoyed it, despite the fact that the glove I brought was far too big for their hands. For precision and accuracy, the glove really needs to fit snugly over all of your fingers, but they managed to do very well anyway! A couple of them even came back to try it a second time later in the day. I was encouraged by that.
Overall, most people were somewhere between "interested" and "excited" after seeing the prototype work. Many who came by had actually done a little research on the project before they arrived. Aside from the typical questions that everyone asked, like "What is it?", "What does it do?", "How does it work?", and "Where/when can I buy one?", there was one critical thing that a few people asked:
Why would I want this instead of what I am already familiar with?
Ah, that's the main question, isn't it? A surprisingly small number of people asked this, but it's important to know as a consumer, and it's even more important for me to be able to answer as the designer. The people who brought it up typically also had a related question about how hard it is to learn the new touchset, which is definitely the main barrier to adoption. If you have a mouse and keyboard that works, why not stick with it instead of buying something new and putting in the time and effort to learn it?
I tried to do a good job answering that, and I think in most cases people were satisfied. In short, I summarized the use cases that I outlined in the Kickstarter project description--wearable computing, gaming, 3D input and design, mobile device control, unique intuitive artistic creation, and handicapped/disabled usage. At the same time, I stated the shortcomings of traditional input devices in those particular cases--in general, lack of portability and too much visual attention required. As I move forward with developing and especially marketing the Keyglove, this will be the key factor in convincing people of the value (which I believe to be very real and significant).
The NextGen event also generated a few good leads for people interested in buying the Keyglove, as well as a few who would like to help bring it to market. I am actively discussing a few different opportunities, and hope to move forward quickly as I continue working with the prototype.
Speaking of the prototype development, I got the second version of the controller board in the mail two days before NextGen, and I got one of them built successfully! The third picture below illustrates this in all of its glowing geeky glory. It is working significantly better than the first version, and although I still need to do more testing and debugging (and probably another revision), it's coming along nicely and working almost as well as the bigger prototype.
Thanks again for all of your support and interest in this project! Your help has facilitated all of this great progress, and I appreciate every bit of it.
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Mar 27, 2011 - Apr 27, 2011 (30 days)
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