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A handheld keyboard and air mouse for your mobile technology, smart TV, and desktop computer.

TREWGrip is a handheld “rear-type” keyboard that has tactile keys for typing, but on the back-side. The standard QWERTY key layout is split and rotated so the hands gripping TREWGrip can also do multi-finger text entry. By maintaining the QWERTY key layout, typists can quickly transfer competencies from a traditional keyboard to TREWGrip without having to learn an entirely new skill.

We call it “mobile QWERTY”

back-side (typing keys)
back-side (typing keys)
front-side (see details below)
front-side (see details below)

TREWGrip also provides visual cues on the front-side which help users, with varying levels of typing expertise, easily locate the typing keys on the back using hand-eye coordination. And when a typing key is pressed, the corresponding indicator key on the front is illuminated.

The curved shape is more about function than design, it allows the user to reach the inner most row of typing keys while gripping the device. The handgrips located on either side are also removable, and can be replaced with different size and types of grips to accommodate various hand sizes and user preferences respectively. These two unique characteristics, and the split and rotated QWERTY key layout, are what make rear-typing possible.

Cincy Typing Challenge

The first professional typing competition took place on July 25, 1888, in the Palace Hotel in Cincinnati, Ohio. Frank McGurrin a court reporter from Salt Lake City, challenged Louis Traub, a typing teacher from Cincinnati, to determine who was the fastest typists in the country. McGurrin used the touch-typing method on a QWERTY keyboard while Traub typed with four fingers on a rival non-QWERTY keyboard. McGurrin beat Traub easily, typing 98 words per minute, and at the same time, establishing touch-typing on a QWERTY keyboard as the preferred method of typing that has endured for the past 125 years.

To introduce the next evolution in typing, Mark Parker decided to host the Cincy Typing Challenge, an open typing competition to identify the fastest typist in the area. The Finals of the event took place on July 25, 2013, 125 years to the day of the McGurrin-Traub contest.

Rather than competing on a traditional keyboard, contestants at the Finals of the Cincy Typing Challenge were challenged to compete on a new mobile QWERTY device called TREWGrip, a rear-type mobile text entry technology created for today’s modern worker. Parker’s challenge was to convince people that they could type as effectively on TREWGrip, using muscle memory and a few hours of training, as they could on a standard keyboard. The winner of the typing challenge would walk away with $2,500. Beat McGurrin’s 98 wpm using TREWGrip and the prize doubles to $5,000.

At the Finals, Robert Price, who had typed 137 wpm on a standard keyboard at the qualifying round just 5-days earlier, typed 115 wpm on TREWGrip. Price, and Parker, beat McGurrin, launching in a big way, a new typing paradigm to allow the modern worker to be more productive and fully maximize today’s prevailing mobile technology.



Two-handed Mobile Text Entry

We started this project to research and develop a two-handed text entry device for mobile workers because the available mobile hardware was just inadequate for typing. Hunting and pecking with one finger and thumb typing were barely adequate for entering just a few sentences. Although voice dictation, handwriting recognition and gesture-based typing continue to show promise, we found the majority of mobile workers still preferred a traditional tactile keyboard for text entry. Unfortunately, typing with both hands on a traditional keyboard required mobile workers to be immobile. To fully realize the expected benefits of mobile technology, especially in remote work environments, we decided mobile workers need a device that supports two-handed text entry while on the move.

The ultimate goal for TREWGrip is a mobile computer, but for this project the goal is to develop and manufacture a mobile dock that works with existing technology. By bringing the mobile dock to market first, we hope to introduce rear-typing and begin building support for the “mobile QWERTY” key layout. If we can succeed in introducing this new typing paradigm, we believe TREWGrip can effectively improve the way people type and work with mobile technology.

TREWGrip Mobile Dock

The TREWGrip Mobile Dock will offer smart phone and mini tablet users an alternative to on-screen hunt-and-peck typing and portable keyboards. By temporarily docking a mobile device onto TREWGrip using a suction mount and wireless Bluetooth connection, smartphone and mini tablet users can efficiently type using both hands while walking, standing or sitting comfortably.

smartphone
smartphone
mini tablet (up to 7" screen)
mini tablet (up to 7" screen)

Desktops and Smart TVs

The TREWGrip Mobile Dock will also be available with a Bluetooth USB dongle and integrated gyroscope, allowing users to connect TREWGrip to a standard desktop computer or smart TV for entering text and controlling mouse movement. This configuration will give users an ergonomic alternative to a traditional keyboard and mouse as an added benefit.

Personalize

The TREWGrip Mobile Dock will come with one set of small, medium or large rubber grips in either black, green, blue or red. A downloadable sizing chart will be available on our website to assist customers with choosing the right size grips.

Specifications

  • Bluetooth 3.0 HID
  • Wireless Range: 30-feet
  • Rechargeable Lithium Ion Battery (Micro USB charging – cable included)
  • Battery Life: 10-hours
  • Suction Mount Docking: supports up to 7” tablet (portrait orientation)
  • Dimensions: 12” x 6” x 1 ¾”
  • Weight: 1lbs 5oz

Learning Curve

The learning curve for TREWGrip is virtually the same as a split fixed-angle ergonomic keyboard, or approximately 90% of the user’s typing speed after 10-hours of use. This is because learning TREWGrip only involves physical learning, whereas other methods of typing that deviate from the QWERTY key layout involve some combination of physical and cognitive learning. In fact, as soon as touch-typists stop thinking about the keys and start relying on muscle memory, typing speeds begin to increase rapidly. The following illustrates the typical learning curve for touch-typists from our usability testing.

TREW-typist

Because the average user needs approximately 10-hours to transfer competencies from a traditional keyboard to TREWGrip, we’re creating a training website with exercises and games to help facilitate the learning process. Although the website’s primary purpose will be to help touch-typists become TREW-typists, the site will offer exercises and games to facilitate learning for non-touch-typists as well.

Your Support

We have spent almost two-years building models and functional prototypes to explore rear-typing, and with one additional round of design and engineering we’ll be ready for production tooling. But we need your support before we can start this final round.

Our focus to this point has been on the shape of the device and the feel of the typing keys, and our usability testing has proven rear-typing works. But there are skeptics who say you won’t change, not even for a keyboard that’s more ergonomic and helps you type faster. To help us justify the final round, we need your support.

Here’s how you can to help:

  • Share our project with friends and colleagues by liking us on Facebook and following us on Twitter
  • Show your support for TREWGrip and “mobile QWERTY” by sporting one of our cool t-shirts
  • Be one of the first to get your hands on a TREWGrip Mobile Dock and become a TREW-typist

and here's a glimpse at our t-shirt rewards

The Artifacts

On April 18, 2010 Mark Parker conceived the idea for a “reartype” keyboard while working late in his office. That same night, Mark also realized there was a major flaw with the concept. If the keys were placed on the backside of a device, they would not be visible. This meant the concept would only work for touch-typists. Ironically Mark was not a touch-typist, he never learned to type in school, but what he did learn in school was how to sew with a needle and thread in Home EC class while in the seventh grade. Mark remembered sewing with a needle and thread, and being fascinated by not needing to see the needle to position and push it through the fabric from behind. This initial concept was simply to prove a user could locate typing keys on the backside of a device using visual cues on the front and simple hand-eye coordination.

Initial Concept
Initial Concept

Shortly after creating the initial concept, Mark created this second concept to research the feel of keys placed on the backside of a device. This concept is a literal representation of the reartype idea conceived on April 18th, and provided the first indication of a potential reach problem.

Literal Concept
Literal Concept

Click the link to review the Microsoft Research study on RearType: Text Entry Using Keys on the Back of a Device, published in September of 2010. The study confirms the reach problem, but also provided an indication that rear typing is feasible. Eleven of the twelve participants typed 15 WPM on average after 1-hour of practice, but Participant #10 typed 57 WPM with very few mistakes.

Despite being intrigued by the outlier, Mark decided to put research and development on hold thinking another company would develop the concept.

This is the first wooden model created by Mark Parker when research and development resumed in December 2011. The idea was to address the reach problem by changing the angle of the backside keys to shorten the distance from the fingers. The purpose for the concept was to make sure changing the angle didn’t affect the user’s ability to locate the backside keys using hand-eye coordination. However, this model was set aside before it was completed because Mark felt it looked clumsy.

Wooden Model #1
Wooden Model #1

This is the second wooden model created by Mark Parker in December of 2011. The purpose for this model was the same as the first wooden model, but it was also an attempt to create a more aesthetically appealing device. Using this model Mark confirmed hand-eye coordination was not affected, but he felt the model was way too big.

While building this second model, Mark also starting think about different size hands. While looking for dowel rod to make the handgrips, he realized a handheld device would have to accommodate different size hands.

Wooden Model #2 (front)
Wooden Model #2 (front)
Wooden Model #2 (back)
Wooden Model #2 (back)

This third wooden model was created by Mark Parker on January 2, 2012 and was the model provided to Design Central in May 2012 to prepare patent drawings and begin development of the first functional prototype.

This prototype was originally created with paper keys stapled onto the front and back. In January 2013 after testing the first functional prototype, Mark added Velcro attached keys to explore key size and location.

Wooden Model #3 (front)
Wooden Model #3 (front)
Wooden Model #3 (back)
Wooden Model #3 (back)
Patent Drawings (front)
Patent Drawings (front)
Patent Drawings (back)
Patent Drawings (back)

This is the first appearance model created in early October 2012. By creating this model, an issue with the location of the home row was identified and corrected before beginning the functional prototype.

Appearance Model #1
Appearance Model #1

This is the second appearance model created in early October 2012. To address the home row issue from the first appearance model, the front-side keys were reduced to a single column on either side. This model also included a set of small, medium and large handgrips that were used to further ensure the modifications would address the home row location issue.

Appearance Model #2
Appearance Model #2

This is the first functional prototype which was completed on November 1, 2012. It has borrowed parts from other keyboards, and off the shelf Cherry switches for the keys.

This prototype was used to initially reproduce the results of the Microsoft Research Study and determine the learning curve for rear typing. This is the only Functional Prototype #1 in existence.

Functional Prototype #1 (front)
Functional Prototype #1 (front)
Functional Prototype #1 (back)
Functional Prototype #1 (back)
Functional Prototype #1 (LED)
Functional Prototype #1 (LED)
Functional Prototype #1 (circuit board design)
Functional Prototype #1 (circuit board design)
Functional Prototype #1 (assembly)
Functional Prototype #1 (assembly)

This is the first book ever written using a reartype keyboard. While testing Functional Prototype #1, Mark Parker began transcribing letters written by his Grandparents in 1945. As part of a longitudinal typing study to determine learning curve, participants also contributed to the book by transcribing letters.

For Sentimental Reasons
For Sentimental Reasons

This wooden model was created by Mark Parker in January 2013 to further experiment with reducing reach. After creating this model and adding Velcro to explore key size and location, Mark decided to modify Wooden Model #3. After doing so, it was determined the design of this model was unnecessarily complex.

Wooden Model #4
Wooden Model #4

This is the first 3D model created in April 2013. Although the overall shape was refined in future iterations, this model is the first to include the improved key size and locations on both the front and back.

3D Model #1
3D Model #1

This is a 3D model was printed by Jeff Lashley in April 2013 on his Printrbot 3D printer. The model was printed to quickly confirm the look and feel of the device with removable handgrips.

3D Model #2
3D Model #2

This 3D model was created in May 2013 to initially illustrate the internal design, and discuss the layout of the electronics. Prototype rubber keypads were added in June 2013 to confirm the location of the circuitry.

3D Model #3
3D Model #3
Right-side Overlay (LED testing)
Right-side Overlay (LED testing)

Production Plan

For the Finals of the Cincy Typing Challenge, the TREWGrip Design and Engineering Team hand-made 15 prototypes for the Finalists. The prototypes were fully functional, and included all of the features and components planned for the first production run, but many of the components were made using non-production tooling. During a final round of design and engineering, we will use what we learned in previous rounds to dial-in certain individual components and finalize the assembly process.

We have planned 2-months for a final round of design and engineering, and have scheduled it to begin on September 2, 2013. This will allow the individual manufacturers the lead time needed to create production tooling, and a first run of production parts by February 1, 2014.

The plan also includes sourcing parts from both onshore and offshore manufacturers, but the assembly of TREWGrip will take place in Cincinnati, Ohio. This is less cost efficient than offshore assembly, but will give us more control over quantity and quality. For the first few production runs, we will outsource the actual assembly to a local firm, but will keep the quality control and packaging functions in-house. After that, we expect to re-evaluate the production process and make adjustments where needed for the long-term.

Risks and challenges Learn about accountability on Kickstarter

Our approach to projects includes identifying risks upfront, and mitigating the highest risks before moving onto actual development; and for TREWGrip, the high risk items were the curved design and back-side keys. To mitigate these risks, we focused substantial time and resources on researching flexible circuit boards, finding different types of keys (or switches) and building an initial prototype. With a functional prototype in hand, and phenomenal results from usability testing, we decided to move onto development.

Throughout development we have addressed many of the risks associated with the design and technology, and we have begun building partnerships with manufacturers. We do not foresee any issues with manufacturing, but will continue to identify and prioritize risks through the completion of the project.

Having said that, our focus at this stage is on testing the suction mount, mouse buttons and function keys. For the suction mount, we chose micro-suction technology because of its simplicity and versatility. For the mouse buttons, navigation keys and control keys, we chose domed switch technology for its low profile and resistance to unintended key presses. In both cases we are confident in our approach, but have planned an additional round of design and engineering to dial-in the technology.

The biggest challenge we face with introducing a new typing paradigm is getting people to think differently. From the beginning our internal team believed in the concept, but it took months to find partners who could look at the mobile text entry problem from a different perspective. We have built a great team of innovative thinkers, and believe the time is right to introduce TREWGrip.

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    FOR SENTIMENTAL REASONS – Get a First Edition copy of the book ghostwritten by Mark Parker while testing Functional Prototype #1. In addition to being the first book written using reartype, it provides a glimpse into the origins of Mark’s adventurous and entrepreneurial spirit.

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