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BrightFingers' lighting keyboard, gloves and software give kids a multi-sensory way to learn to type — and the desire to practice.

In a world of 140-character updates, text messages, and emoticons, learning to type doesn’t sound cool or fun to most kids … more like, “Huh? I think you mean BORING.”

Not anymore.

Becoming a touch-typist is hard, and it does require months, even years of practice. It can also be frustrating and the progress slow.

But that doesn't mean learning to type has to be any of those things.

Instead, with BrightFingers, we can make it visually attractive and make the practicing part engrossing. And, we can make it much easier for kids to learn a skill that saves them valuable time and facilitates bringing their ideas and creativity to life.

WHY BRIGHTFINGERS?

BrightFingers eliminates the need to hunt for the right key. It lights up the way, showing you clearly which key to press through a lighting keyboard and great big colorful circles on your screen.

Plus, BrightFingers also comes with wicked cool gloves — the colored fingers show you which to use for each key.

BrightFingers is like training-wheels for your fingers: you get to type successfully from the very first minute. Later, once you've started to get the hang of things, it shifts your learning focus to fully internalizing the locations of each key, while guiding you each step of the way.

Most of all it's FUN. Following the moving lights and circles around the keyboard and the screen makes practicing painless, not tiresome. Kids finish lessons before they know it because they get immediately and totally in the flow.

Finally — it works.  Using BrightFingers, our team of 4th grade product testers were 25% faster — proof that BrightFingers makes their learning task much easier.

SO HOW DOES BRIGHTFINGERS WORK?

BrightFingers combines a lighting keyboard, software, and gloves to provide a multi-sensory way of learning typing. The rich, vibrant colors, lights, and sounds make for a captivating learning experience, that makes you want to practice typing — by far the biggest challenge in acquiring this difficult skill.

The keyboard lights up the learning path, letting you focus on fluid movements, not hunting. The gloves help keep your attention on the learning task, and make it totally obvious which finger to use to press each colored key. On screen, the big colorful circles — we like to call them donuts — give you a large target to follow as you progress from key to key. Plus having two donuts gives the experience a rhythmic feel, letting your mind and body plan sequences of keypresses, not staccato individual ones.

What's more, the lighting keys help you find those hidden keys: with your fingers on the home row keys, you'll notice that you can't actually see about half the keys. So when it comes to an 'X' or a '.' you find you've got to move your hands around to try and find the key. BrightFingers' individually lighting keys take away the guesswork and hunting as the light seeps through the cracks between your fingers, making it easy to know where the key to press is, even if you can't see its letter.

BrightFingers will also come in a tablet version (initially iPad; Android and Surface versions to follow, if there is sufficient demand). For people new to typing, especially youngsters, we feel it's important to have real, physical, tactile keys that you can both feel and rest your fingers on as you're learning the keyboard. With so many tablets in use now, though, the tablet version of BrightFingers can offer convenient practice opportunities — in the car, at mom's office — that may not be quite as helpful as with the real keyboard, but that nonetheless support you in learning where the keys are located. Also, similar to the illuminated keys in the keyboard version, the big donuts in the app version point you to the right key even when your fingers block your vision.

WE NEED YOUR SUPPORT!

By now we hope you can sense how much of an impact BrightFingers will have on teaching and learning an essential skill. The great news is that our software is relatively easy to produce, and the beta-version is ready to go. However, creating the keyboard, which is critical in the first year of learning, is where we need your help. Hardware manufacturing requires considerable up-front costs, which we’ve described in greater detail below. We can ship the software without a Kickstarter campaign, but we want students and teachers to enjoy the advantages and fun of the keyboard along with it. Please help us make a production run of the keyboard a reality by:

 •  Pledging your financial support — no amount is too small. We greatly appreciate your participation. 

 •  Sharing our story — tweet it, post it on Facebook, email your friends and colleagues!

Then, if you'd like, read on below and learn more about how BrightFingers came to be, where we are in the prototyping and manufacturing process, our timeline, risks and challenges we face … and most importantly, an enormous thank you to our wonderful team.

BONUS: And as soon as we reach our goal of $12,000, if you've pledged $25 or more, you get the app! So go get your friends to back us too — the faster we reach the goal, the faster you can have the app!

A DEEPER DIVE INTO THE BRIGHTFINGERS STORY

I have to confess: I'm often an impatient learner. I tried to learn how to type twice when I was younger, and I failed both times. It's hard, it takes an awful lot of time and practice, existing methods were kind of tedious, and I just didn't stick with it.

BrightFingers is an idea that's been kicking around in my head for many years, but it was only this past summer that I found the right time to start pursuing it. It was borne then both of personal need, and of that Kickstarter-familiar-sense that existing approaches just left a lot to be desired.

Once I started digging into the problem in a serious way, it struck me that the conventional wisdom in typing instruction — "Don't look at the — was sort of throwing out the baby with the bathwater: when you're first starting out, you simply have to look at the keys. You don't have a clue where they are yet, and you have to look. Ask a typing teacher about this, and if they're candid, they usually confess that they actually do let kids look at the keys in the beginning.

So the BrightFingers idea says why don't we embrace looking at the keys? If learning to type is at least a 2-3 year endeavor, then let's let people look for the first six to twelve months. My learning problem the two times I tried was precisely that I never graduated past square one, past that first learning stage. I was frustrated by pressing the wrong keys, frustrated by not being able to find the right key, and really frustrated by what little progress I seemed to be making. Not to mention that the activity was boring, the way I was being taught.

I also owe a small debt to Tim Gallwey, who wrote a little book called "The Inner Game of Tennis" many years ago. (It's actually funny, I'm quite a tennis addict nowadays, and I read it long before that happened; Alan Kay mentions Gallwey in a number of his writings and lectures, and that's how I found out about him.) After teaching tennis for a number of years, and not being satisfied with the progress his students were making, Gallwey came up with the idea of eliminating verbal instruction to begin with, just showing students how to perform a tennis stroke, and then letting them get familiar and comfortable with this movement before starting to verbalize the instruction. (He terms it keeping the conscious, judgmental 'Self 1' out of the way of the unconscious 'Self 2'.) In a similar way, I thought to myself, why make learners have to decode the letters — to hunt for the matching letter — when you could instead just show it to them first — by lighting the keys — and then let them focus on the spatial encoding task only later on, once they already had some fluid performance and comfort with these often rather awkward finger movements?

Where We Are Now: From Prototyping to Factory Selection

We've been developing BrightFingers for seven months now. We've made four prototypes, submitted a patent filing, visited middle-school typing classes, interviewed school technology directors, typing teachers, parents, and most importantly 4th, 5th, and 6th graders. We've met with educational researchers and have started user testing to see how much faster kids will be able to learn with BrightFingers than with other methods.

We've had to learn an awful (well, ok, wonderful actually) lot of new things, and we've gotten quite well and stumped for a few days on several occasions. You know, the joyful 98% perspiration part that comes with inventing and innovating. We've ripped apart a dozen keyboards by now, experimented with LED's, surface finishing methods, etc.

Through our friends at M.E. Mobility Engineering in DongGuan (http://www.memobility.biz/), we have met with two dozen Asian factories so far, and have narrowed down the factory selection to a very short list. One has sent us a sample (which appears here in the video and photos); we will order another sample from a second factory, this time with functioning LED's, once we reach our goal. After working through any refinements that are necessary once we have the functioning sample, we will finalize the factory selection and place our initial production order come late June.

The funds from our Kickstarter campaign will be used primarily to complete the keyboard. Overall tasks remaining include: the electrical engineering for the PCB that will hold the SMT LED's; the design of the PCB, and fabrication and assembly of sample PCB's; refining samples that our gloves supplier has begun working on; further evolving the various versions of the software. The first release of the App will be for Mac OS X, available in beta at the close of the Kickstarter campaign (we have already begun user testing of the current App prototype). This will be followed by the iPad version in June. Thereafter Windows and Android versions will be available this summer, if sufficient demand is shown. The initial release of the App will be a standalone client; also planned for this summer is a networked version that will let students and teachers share lessons and progress.

Keyboards typically have a half-dozen major components, including a bottom case, contact layers, key switches, a midframe that the switches clip into, and the keys themselves. The BrightFingers keyboard also requires a PCB for the LED's under each key, as well as colored translucent keycaps. Tooling costs for making a brand new keyboard are at least $55,000. After consulting with several mechanical and electrical engineers, as well as several factories, we are initially planning to save on up-front costs by modifying an existing keyboard module rather than start from scratch. The savings here mean we can ship a keyboard for the $12,000 that is our Project's goal. In the event that we exceed the goal of our campaign, we could contemplate a more elegant (and therefore expensive) keyboard design as a stretch goal; we can cross this bridge once the campaign is over in May.

Stretch Goal #2: iPad Keyboard / Case

Several of the educators we've met with have told us about the myriad iPads they are now using in their classrooms, and have asked about having an iPad Keyboard / Case version of BrightFingers. We think this is a great idea, but it will depend on you to make it happen. An iPad keyboard would require modifying another keyboard module. To accomplish this we would therefore need to reach $24,000.

Prototyping Gallery

We began with an html5 prototype on the iPad. This we later ported over to a native OS X version. The first quick & dirty keyboard prototype we mocked up with ButtonPads from SparkFun. The working prototype that appears in the video was made using an acrylic keyboard, loose LEDs mounted onto a plywood frame, and these in turn connected via a breadboard and an Arduino Mega2560 to the Arduino IDE and to our prototype App. The keys were hand-painted with Testor hobbyist enamels, and the lettering applied by transparent laser-printed labels. The shipping keyboard will have surface-mounted LEDs on a custom PCB, underneath the translucent keycaps. Finally, for the first glove prototypes we started out with latex (food-handling) and then cotton (fine-art) gloves, which we colored with Sharpie markers. With the cotton version, we discovered that we had to make them 'half-finger' — cutting off the tips — so that the iPad would still register keypresses. The half-finger gloves turned out to give vastly better tactile feel on our prototype keyboards. The shipping gloves will be a spandex material, the coloring done during the knitting process. (By the way, we switched from a pink spacebar to a green one after polling 30 friends on their preferred color.)

Delivery Timeline (Estimated)

Many, Many Thanks To Our Awesome Team

The kiddos!:  Brian F, Andy, Tristan, Fiamma, Cassius, Pearl, Tyler, Charlie, Gus, Jacob, Jake, Lachlan, Vikram, James, Ella, Ivan, Sully, Mason, Sydney, Spencer, Jesse B, Elam, Aaron B, Max, Addie, Sophie, Charlotte, Joseph, Harrison, Dakota, Tahina, Francesca, Juliana, Paley, Odi. †

The educators:  Steve, Andy, Julia, Ellen, Karen, Sarah R, Tim, Ahsan, Matthew, Andrew, Sujean, Mary, Paul W, Tovah.

The engineering team:  Aaron, Binesh, Jesse.

Our partner team:  M.E. Mobility Engineering, on the ground in DongGuan City, China:  Brian B, Vickie, Ben.

The domain experts and consultants:  Ioannis, John, and Marshall @ CLUE, Iris, Hannah, Jeremy, Dave, GTC Law Group, Bingham McCutchen, WSGR, Cerny Product Development, Dieter, Jay, Tobin, Salman.

The suppliers:  Magid Gloves, Signature Plastics, Fentek, Superior Gloves.

The prototyping vendors:  TechShop, SparkFun, Adafruit, NYCResistor.

Help with the video:  Benno, Brian F, Phil.

And our friends who shared their detailed comments and ideas:  Lionel, Amelia, Philip, Wendy, Alison, Bethany, Scott, Allison, Chris, Rebecca, Anthony, Bill, Heather, Carolyn, Michael, Amanda, Alex, Craig, Jane, Dave S, Kirsten, Tricia, Laura, Karin, Derek, Ranny, Sarah B, Alison, Erica, Stefan, Travis, Jen, Christian, Carrie, Paul M, Yvonne, Lucian, Elizabeth, Dave K, Matt B, Justin, Mike B, Rosie, Ish, Pamela, Amy, Freddy, Lucy, Clyde, Kimberly, Jane L, Beth, Newt, Richard, Jenny, Kate, Eva.

 † (Ok, adult kiddos included)   :)

Risks and challenges Learn about accountability on Kickstarter

The core Telefirma team is a bunch of software developers. This is personally my first foray into hardware, and it brings with it a whole raft of new things to know about. I've been rather astonished to find myself taking classes in the last few months in Arduino programming and plastic injection molding. But most Kickstarter innovators will recognize this story.

So a big part of pulling this off has been reaching out in our networks and finding people with expertise — electrical engineers, mechanical engineers, overseas manufacturing experts, amongst others — who can augment the core team's skills and enable us to produce and ship a hardware product.

We're fortunate in that half of the undertaking, namely the software, is easy for us. And in fact as you can see, that part is already done, and you can have it in your hands at the end of the Kickstarter campaign. We believe strongly in the advantage of having the lighting keyboard too, in addition to the software, which is why we decided to undertake all the additional work of the hardware part of our learning method.

We will get this done. As complicated as a keyboard may seem when you first take one apart, it's actually a pretty simple device compared to a lot of technologies, and we're not having to push the engineering envelope even a little bit: keyboard technology is an extremely well-understood space. To me, Kickstarter is about empowering creative people to stretch themselves, to attempt to extend into new areas, and thereby make the world a better place when they succeed. With your backing, we're going to transform learning keyboarding into something kids really enjoy.

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