Creating a one-button keyboard with the help of Buzz

Most computer keyboards have a total of 101 keys. Software developer Ajay Verma thought there had to be a way to type more efficiently, so he cut down the number of buttons for his project Haptapp Uploader – to one.

The initial idea

Verma conceived the idea of Haptapp Uploader in 2007 as a method of hands-free typing designed for EEG devices and brain-computer interfaces. The keyboard layout is a binary tree of letters that can be memorized to type blindly. Verma developed the game Neuratype to help a user learn to type with Haptapp. In the game, users tap a circle at just the right moment to move onto the next circle, each representing a letter. 

Verma’s early tests produced the highest interest among blind and visually impaired people. While Haptapp had the potential to make typing easier for this group of people, Neuratype relies on vision. This meant learning the keyboard was inaccessible to anyone who was visually impaired. Verma attempted to use cell phone vibrations to convey the keyboard setup, but found the vibrations of phones were too slow and inaccurate to work with.

Haptapp then spent years untouched in a drawer while Verma attempted to build a haptic-feedback sleeve that would convey vibrations accurately, but he realized this was a more difficult undertaking than anticipated.

Luckily, Verma says, he came across Neosensory. As a hardware winner of Neosensory’s Feel the Future contest, he was sent a free Buzz wristband – and Haptapp came out of the drawer.

A second attempt using Neosensory Buzz

Buzz, a haptic-feedback device featuring four vibrating motors, offered the accuracy and versatility Verma was looking for. In order to make learning Haptapp’s keyboard more accessible, he created a new app. This required Verma to learn Java and Android development in just two weeks, but in the end he managed to create a functioning app.

The new Happtapp Uploader app is a text-based adventure game relying on the memory palace technique. This technique is often used by people who want to memorize large amounts of information. The person imagines a familiar location, such as their own home. As they walk through this imaginary location, they place the information they wish to remember in specific areas. When they want to recall the information, they imagine the place and walk through it to find the memory.

In Verma’s app, each letter of the English alphabet has its own room, which has been assigned a unique vibrational pattern. As users move through the levels, they start to learn the patterns.

The new Haptapp Uploader app

The game is designed to get users started, but Verma says once they get the hang of it and fully memorize the patterns, they will be able to understand whole words via vibrations.

What’s next for Haptapp Uploader

While Haptapp might not replace everyday conversations, Verma says the applications can assist visually impaired people with reading and offer users who are hard of hearing a way to feel speech.

Verma is also working on interspecies communication research, as he discovered people who learned Haptapp notice familiar rhythmical patterns in dog barks. He thinks Haptapp could even change the way we think, provided young children start learning the language before they become verbal. To stay up to date with Verma’s research, subscribe to his Haptapp newsletter.