Answers To Frequently Asked Questions about Keyboard Alternatives

The Alternative Keyboard FAQ
Copyright 1992,1993 By Dan Wallach <dwallach@cs.berkeley.edu>;

The opinions in here are my own, unless otherwise mentioned, and do not
represent the opinions of any organization or vendor.

[Current distribution: sci.med.occupational, sci.med, comp.human-factors,
 {news,sci,comp}.answers, and e-mail to c+health@iubvm.ucs.indiana.edu,
 sorehand@vm.ucsf.edu, and cstg-L@vtvm1.cc.vt.edu]

Changes since previously distributed versions are marked with change
bars to the right of the text, as is this paragraph.

Information in this FAQ has been pieced together from phone conversations,
e-mail, and product literature.  While I hope it's useful, the information
in here is neither comprehensive nor error free.  If you find something
wrong or missing, please mail me, and I'll update my list.  Thanks.

All phone numbers, unless otherwise mentioned, are U.S.A. phone numbers.
All monetary figures, unless otherwise mentioned, are U.S.A. dollars.

Products covered in this FAQ:
    Using a PC's keyboard on your workstation / compatibility issues

    ("normal" keyboards -- by normal, I really mean non-chording)

    Apple Computer, Inc.
    Comfort Keyboard System
    FlexPro (Key Tronic)
    Kinesis Ergonomic Keyboard
    The MIKey
    MiniErgo (Marquardt Switches)
    The Tony! Ergonomic KeySystem
    The Vertical
    The Wave

    ("chording" systems / speech recognizers / other products)

    The Bat (Infogrip)
    Braille 'n Speak (Blaize)
    DataEgg (InHand Development)
    DragonDictate (Dragon Systems)
    IBM Speech Server Series (ISSS)                                        
    IN3 Voice Command
    The Minimal Motion Computer Access System

GIF pictures of many of these products are available via anonymous ftp
from soda.berkeley.edu:pub/typing-injury.  (  I highly
recommend getting the pictures.  They tell much more than I can fit
into this file.

If you can't ftp, send me mail, and I'll uuencode and mail them to you
(they're pretty big...)

Using a PC's keyboard on your workstation / compatibility issues

    Mini outline:
        1. Spoofing a keyboard over the serial port
        2. X terminals
        3. NeXT
        4. Silicon Graphics
        5. IBM RS/6000
        6. Other stuff

    1. Spoofing a keyboard over the serial port

        If you've got a proprietary computer which uses its own keyboard
        (Sun, HP, DEC, etc.) then you're going to have a hard time finding
        a vendor to sell you a compatible keyboard.  If your workstation
        runs the X window system, you're in luck.  You can buy a cheap used
        PC, hook your expensive keyboard up to it, and run a serial cable
        to your workstation.  Then, run a program on the workstation to
        the serial port and generate fake X keyboard events.

        A number of programs can facilitate this for you.  kt and a2x
        support ASCII input.  a2x-RawPC and serkey support raw PC scancode
        input.  Also, the new version of kt (kt18) additionally supports   
        raw PC scancodes.                                                  

        a2x is a sophisticated program, capable of controlling the mouse,
        and even moving among widgets on the screen.  It requires a server
        extension (XTEST, DEC-XTRAP, or XTestExtension1).  To find out if
        your server can do this, run 'xdpyinfo' and see if any of these
        strings appear in the extensions list.  If your server doesn't
        have this, you may want to investigate compiling X11R5, patchlevel
        18 or later, or bugging your vendor.

        kt is a simpler program, which should work with unextended X
        servers.  Another program called xsendevent also exists, but I
        haven't seen it.

        a2x-RawPC, serkey, and kt18 can take input from a device such as
        Genovation Serial Box which converts a PC keyboard into a normal
        RS232 serial device, but otherwise passes through the raw PC
        scancodes.  This approach has several advantages: a Serial Box is
        only $150, whereas the cheapest used PC you may ever find is over
        $300.  A Serial Box could easily fit in your pocket, while PC's
        tend to be much bigger.  Most important, however, is the ability
        to use *all* the keys of your PC keyboard with your workstation,
        like the function keys.

        a2x, a2x-RawPC, serkey and kt are all available via anonymous ftp
        from soda.berkeley.edu.

        Genovation can be contacted at:
            17741 Mitchell North
            Irvine, CA  92714, U.S.A.

            Voice: 714-833-3355
            Fax:   714-833-0322

        Apparently, you can also find it for $94+shipping from a mail order
        company called "United Computer Express", at 800-448-3738.

        Kinesis is also reselling the Genovation boxes under their         
        own label.                                                         

    2. X terminals

        Also, a number of X terminals (NCD, Tektronix, to name a few) use
        PC-compatible keyboards.  If you have an X terminal, you may be all
        set.  Try it out with a normal PC keyboard before you go through
        trouble of buying an alternative keyboard.  Also, some X terminals
        extra buttons -- you may need to keep your original keyboard around
        for the once-in-a-blue-moon that you have to hit the Setup key.

    3. NeXT

        NeXT had announced that new NeXT machines will use the Apple
        Bus, meaning any Mac keyboard will work.  Then, they announced they
        were cancelling their hardware production.  If you want any kind of
        upgrade for an older NeXT, do it now!

    4. Silicon Graphics

        Silicon Graphics has announced that their newer machines (Indigo^2
        beyond) will use standard PC-compatible keyboards and mice.  I
        believe this also applies to the Power Series machines.  It's not
        possible to upgrade an older SGI to use PC keyboards, except by
        upgrading the entire machine.  Contact your SGI sales rep for more

    5. IBM RS/6000

        IBM RS/6000 keyboards are actually similar to normal PC keyboards.
        Unfortunately, you can't just plug one in.  You need two things: a
        cable converter to go from the large PC keyboard connector to the
        smaller PS/2 style DIN-6, and a new device driver for AIX.  Believe
        it or not, IBM wrote this device driver recently, I used it, and it
        works.  However, they don't want me to redistribute it.  I've been
        told Judy Hume (512) 823-6337 is a potential contact.  If you learn
        anything new, please send me e-mail.

        Several people have reported problems contacting IBM on this       
        issue.  Be sure to bug your sales rep into doing the research.     
        Again, let me know if you learn anything new.                      

    6. Other stuff

        Some vendors here (notably: Health Care Keyboard Co. and AccuCorp)
        support some odd keyboard types, and may be responsive to your
        queries regarding supporting your own weird computer.  If you can
        get sufficient documention about how your keyboard works (either
        from the vendor, or with a storage oscilloscope), you may be in
        luck.  Contact the companies for more details.

("normal" keyboards -- things that bear a resemblance to QWERTY)

Apple Adjustable Keyboard
    Apple Computer, Inc.
    Sales offices all over the place.

    Availability: Now.
    Price: $219 (some dealers have it for less)
    Supports: Mac only

    Apple's keyboard has one section for each hand, and the sections
    rotateard on a hinge.  The sections do not tilt upward.  The
    keys are arranged in a normal QWERTY fashion.

    The main foldable keyboard resembles a normal Apple Keyboard.
    A separate keypad contains all the extended key functions.

    The keyboard also comes with matching wrist rests, which are not
    directly attachable to the keyboard.

    Many peripheral keys, such as function keys, are "chicklet" keys,
    than full size, normal keyboard keys.

    (See the files apple-press and apple-tidbits on the soda.berkeley.edu
    archive for more details)

Comfort Keyboard System   414-253-4131
    FAX: 414-253-4177

    Health Care Keyboard Company
    N82 W15340 Appleton Ave
    Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin 53051 U.S.A.

    Jeffrey Szmanda (Vice President -- contact)

    Shipping: Now.

    Supports: PC (and Mac???)

    Planned future support:
        IBM 122-key layout (3270-style, I believe)
        Sun Sparc
        Decision Data
        Unisys UTS-40
        Silicon Graphics

        Others to be supported later.  The hardware design is relatively
        easy for the company to re-configure.

    Price: $690, including one system "personality module".

    The idea is that one keyboard works with everything.  You purchase
    "compatibility modules", a new cord, and possibly new keycaps, and
    then you can move your one keyboard around among different machines.

    It's a three-piece folding keyboard.  The layout resembles the
    standard 101-key keyboard, except sliced into three sections.  Each
    section is on a "custom telescoping universal mount."  Each section
    independently adjusts to an infinite number of positions allowing each
    individual to type in a natural posture.  You can rearrange the three
    sections, too (have the keypad in the middle if you want).  Each
    section is otherwise normal-shaped (i.e.: you put all three sections
    flat, and you have what looks like a normal 101-key keyboard).

DataHand   602-860-8584
    Industrial Innovations, Inc.
    10789 North 90th Street
    Scottsdale, Arizona 85260-6727, U.S.A.

    Mark Roggenbuck (contact)

    Supports: PC and Mac

    Shipping: Now.  (Expect it to take about a month)

    Price: $2000/unit (1 unit == 2 pods). (new price!)

    Each hand has its own "pod".  Each of the four main fingers has five
    switches each: forward, back, left, right, and down.  The thumbs have
    a number of switches.  Despite appearances, the key layout resembles
    QWERTY, and is reported to be no big deal to adapt to.  The idea is
    that your hands never have to move to use the keyboard.  The whole pod
    tilts in its base, to act as a mouse.

    (see also: the detailed review, written by Cliff Lasser <cal@THINK.COM>;
     available via anonymous ftp from soda.berkeley.edu)

FlexPro Keyboard
    Key Tronic
    Phone: 800-262-6006
    Possible contact: Denise Razzeto, 509-927-5299
    Sold by many clone vendors and PC shops

    Availability: October/November, 1993 (?)
    Price: $489 (?)
    Supports: PC only (highly likely)

    Keytronic apparently showed a prototype keyboard at Comdex.  It's
    another split-design.  One thumb-wheel controls the tilt of both
    the left and right-hand sides of the main alphanumeric section.
    The arrow keys and keypad resemble a normal 101-key PC keyboard.

    Keytronic makes standard PC keyboards, also, so this product will
    probably be sold through their standard distribution channels.

Kinesis Ergonomic Keyboard   206-455-9220
    206-455-9233 (fax)

    Kinesis Corporation
    915 118th Ave. SE.
    Bellevue, Washington 98005, U.S.A.

    Shirley Lunde (VP Marketing -- contact)

    Shipping: Now.

    Supports: PC.  Mac and Sun Sparc in the works.

    Price: $690.  Volume discounts available.  The $690 includes one foot
        pedal, one set of adhesive wrist pads, and a TypingTutor program.
        An additional foot pedal and other accessories are extra.

    The layout has a large blank space in the middle, even though the
    keyboard is about the size of a normal PC keyboard -- slightly
    smaller.  Each hand has its own set of keys, laid out to minimize
    finger travel.  Thumb buttons handle many major functions (enter,
    backspace, etc.).

    You can remap the keyboard in firmware (very nice when software won't
    allow the reconfig).

    Foot pedals are also available, and can be mapped to any key on the
    keyboard (shift, control, whatever).

    The keypad is "embedded" in the right hand, and a toggle button        
    (or foot pedal) changes between normal and keypad mode for your        
    right hand.                                                            

    Software is newly available that lets you split the Kinesis into       
    multiple personalities so you can have more than one set of macros     
    and remappings available.  This software runs on your PC and downloads 
    the data to the keyboard.  For more info, contact the company.         

Maltron         (+44) 081 398 3265 (United Kingdom)
    P.C.D. Maltron Limited
    15 Orchard Lane
    East Molesey
    Surrey KT8 OBN

    Pamela and Stephen Hobday (contacts)

    U.S. Distributor:
        Jim Barrett
        Applied Learning Corp.
        1376 Glen Hardie Road
        Wayne, PA  19087

        Phone: 215-688-6866

    Canadian Distributor:
        Robert Vellinga
        Human Systems, Inc.
        310 Main Street East, Suite 205
        Milton, Ontario, L9T 1P4

        Phone: 416-875-0220
        Fax:   416-878-1683

    Supports: PC's, Mac, Amstrad 1512/1640.

    Price: 375 pounds
           $790 + shipping in the U.S.A.

           They have a number of accessories, including carrying cases,
           switch boxes to use both your normal keyboard and the Maltron,
           an articulated arm that clamps on to your table, and training
           'courses' to help you learn to type on your Maltron.

           You can also rent a keyboard for 10 pounds/week + taxes.
           U.S. price: $120/month, and then $60 off purchase if you want

    Shipping: Now (in your choice of colors: black or grey)

    Maltron has four main products -- a two-handed keyboard, two one-handed
    keyboards, and a keyboard designed for handicapped people to control
    a mouth-stick.

    The layout allocates more buttons to the thumbs, and is curved to
    bring keys closer to the fingers.  A separate keypad is in the middle.

MiniErgo   315-655-8050
    FAX: 315-655-8042

    Marquardt Switches Inc.
    2711 Route 20 East
    Cazenovia, New York 13035

    Robert Philipchik -- contact

    Shipping: middle June 93

    Supports: PC/AT and PS/2 (using adaptor)  Other interfaces as
    customer demand warrants.

    Price: $179 for MiniErgo, $125 for external numeric keypad.

    The MiniErgo is a split keyboard system with no numeric keypad
    (keypad available separately in August).  The two halves are
    fixed at about a 30 degree angle, to approximate the angle of
    your arms when you hands are in QWERTY home position.  The slant
    is approximately same as standard 101-key keyboard.  They've
    moved the cursor controls into the gap between the two halves.  A
    Fn key is used to access an embedded keypad and PgUp,PgDn,Home,
    and End.

The MIKey     301-933-1111
    Dr. Alan Grant
    3208 Woodhollow Drive
    Chevy Chase, Maryland 20815, U.S.A.

    Shipping: As of July, 1992: "Should be Available in One Year."

    Supports: PC, Mac (maybe)

    Price: $200 (estimated)

    The keyboard is at a fixed angle, and incorporates a built-in mouse
    operated by the thumbs.  Function keys are arranged in a circle at
    the keyboard's left.

The Tony! Ergonomic KeySystem        415-969-8669
    Tony Hodges
    The Tony! Corporation
    2332 Thompson Court
    Mountain View, CA  94043, U.S.A.

    Supports: Mac, PC, IBM 3270, Sun, and DEC.

    Shipping: ???

    Price: $625 (you commit now, and then you're in line to buy the
    keyboard.  When it ships, if it's cheaper, you pay the cheaper price.
    If it's more expensive, you still pay $625)

    The Tony! should allow separate positioning of every key, to allow
    the keyboard to be personally customized.  A thumb-operated mouse
    will also be available.

The Vertical
    Contact: Jeffrey Spencer or Stephen Albert, 619-454-0000
    P.O. Box 2636
    La Jolla, CA  92038, U.S.A.

    Supports: no info available, probably PC's
    Available: Summer, 1993
    Price: $249

    The Vertical Keyboard is split in two halves, each pointing straight
    The user can adjust the width of the device, but not the tilt of each
    section.  Side-view mirrors are installed to allow users to see their
    fingers on the keys.

The Wave        (was: 213-)  310-644-6100
    FAX: 310-644-6068

    Iocomm International Technology
    12700 Yukon Avenue
    Hawthorne, California 90250, U.S.A.

    Robin Hunter (contact -- in sales)

    Cost: $99.95 + $15 for a set of cables

    Supports: PC only.

    Shipping: now.

    Iocomm also manufactures "ordinary" 101-key keyboard (PC/AT) and
    84-key keyboard (PC/XT), so make sure you get the right one.

    The one-piece keyboard has a built-in wrist-rest.  It looks *exactly*
    like a normal 101-key PC keyboard, with two inches of built-in wrist
    rest.  The key switch feel is reported to be greatly improved.

(Chording keyboards / speech recognizers / other products)

    AccuCorp, Inc.
    P.O. Box 66
    Christiansburg, VA  24073, U.S.A.

    703-961-3576 (Pete Rosenquist -- Sales)
    703-961-2001 (Larry Langley -- President)

    Shipping: Now.
    Supports: PC, Mac, IBM 3270, Sun Sparc, and TeleVideo 935 and 955.
    Cost: $495 + shipping.

    Doesn't use conventional push-keys.  Soft rubber keys, which rock
    forward and backward (each key has three states), make chords for
    typing keys.  Learning time is estimated to be 2-3 hours, for getting
    started, and maybe two weeks to get used to it.

    Currently, the thumbs don't do anything, although a thumb-trackball
    is in the works.

    The company claims it takes about a week of work to support a
    new computer.  They will be happy to adapt their keyboard to
    your computer, if possible.

The Bat
    Infogrip, Inc.
    old phone number: 504-766-8082
    new phone number: 805-566-1049

    [note: Infogrip apparently moved to Southern California.  I don't
     have their new address, but their new phone number is above.]

    *OLD* Address:
    812 North Blvd.
    Baton Rouge, Louisiana 70802, U.S.A.

    Ward Bond (main contact)
    David Vicknair (did the Unix software)

    Shipping: Now.

    Supports: Mac, IBM PC (serial port -- native keyboard port version
    coming very soon...).  No other workstations supported, but serial
    support for Unix with X Windows has been written.  PC and Mac are
    getting all the real attention from the company.

    A chording system.  One hand is sufficient to type everything.
    The second hand is for redundancy and increased speed.

        $495 (dual set -- each one is a complete keyboard by itself)
        $295 (single)

        (cheaper prices were offered at MacWorld Expo as a show-special.)

Braille 'n Speak     301-879-4944
    Blazie Engineering
    3660 Mill Green Rd.
    Street, Md 21154, U.S.A.

    (information provided by Doug Martin <martin@nosc.mil>;)

    The Braille N Speak uses any of several Braille codes for entering
    information: Grade I, Grade II, or computer Braille.  Basically,
    letters a-j are combinations of dots 1, 2, 4, and 5.  Letters k-t are
    the same combinations as a-j with dot 3 added. Letters u, v, x, y, and
    z are like a-e with dots 3 and 6 added.  (w is unique because Louis
    Braille didn't have a w in the French alphabet.)

     InHand Development Group
     10330 Sepulveda Blvd. Suite 140
     Mission Hills, CA 91345, U.S.A.

     E-Mail: garyf@puente.Jpl.Nasa.Gov

     Price: $150
     Availability: First ter, 1994.                                     ||
     Supports: see below

     The DataEgg is a round, one-handed, chording computer with a two-line
     LCD display (similar to the Microwriter AgendA).  It can also serve
     as an alternative computer keyboard through a computer's serial port
     (currently supporting the PC, although it wouldn't be too hard to
     support X or a Mac if they wrote the driver).  InHand will be
     manufacturing the device, which was originally developed by Gary
     Friedman of JPL.

     Mr. Friedman's phone number: 818-354-1220                             
     I don't have a phone number for InHand.

     More info is available in NASA Tech Briefs, December 1992,
     Newsweek's "Technology Supplement" of December 12, 1992,
     or EE Times, March 8, 1993.

DragonDictate-30K (and numerous other Dragon products)
    Dragon Systems, Inc.
    320 Nevada Street
    Newton, MA  02160

    Phone: 800-TALK-TYP or 617-965-5200
    Fax: 617-527-0372

    Shipping: Now.

    Price: DragonDictate-30K -- $4995 (end user system)
           DragonWriter 1000 -- $1595 / $2495 (end user/developer system)
           various other prices for service contracts, site licenses, etc.

    Compatibility: 386 (or higher) PC only
                   (3rd party support for Mac)

        Free software support for X windows is also available -- your
        PC with Dragon hardware talks to your workstation over a
        serial cable or network.  The program is called a2x, and is
        available via anonymous ftp:

        ftp.x.org:contrib/a2x.tar.Z (most current)                         

        (NOTE: export.lcs.mit.edu is no longer the home of X software.     
               You should do your ftp's to ftp.x.org)                      

        If you want to use your Dragon product with X windows, you may want
        to ask for Peter Cohen, an salesman at Dragon who knows more about
        this sort of thing.

    Dragon Systems sells a number of voice recognition products.
    Most (if not all) of them seem to run on PC's and compatibles
    (including PS/2's and other MicroChannel boxes).  They sell you
    a hardware board and software which sits in front of a number
    of popular word processors and spreadsheets.

    Each user `trains' the system to their voice, and there are provisions
    to correct the system when it makes mistakes, on the fly.  Multiple
    people can use it, but you have to load a different personality file
    for each person.  You still get the use of your normal keyboard, too.
    On the DragonDictate-30K you need to pause 1/10th sec between
    words.  Dragon claims typical input speeds of 30-40 words per minute.
    I don't have specs on the DragonWriter 1000.

    The DragonDictate-30K can recognize 30,000 words at a time.