When it comes to groundbreaking research, there are two fields that seem to occupy the newscycle: Carbon nanotubes and artificial intelligence. The potential combination of those two fields of study seems like it could radically change the word as we know it, or, as South Korean scientists have discovered, at least change how we type.
Photo: American Chemical Society
The carbon atom, one of the building blocks of life, gains radical new abilities when assembled into long, thin chains, known as carbon nanotubes. Think ultra-flexible films that are better at stopping bullets than kevlar vests, or bio-engineered plants that can detect land mines and explosives.
And AI, trained using deep learning techniques, is soon going to make it almost impossible to discern fake videos from real ones.
But researchers from South Korea’s Sejong University, Chung-Ang University and Kyungpook National University are instead merging those burgeoning technologies to create an ultra-thin portable keyboard that can be crumpled up like paper without breaking it. A sheet of soft silicone rubber was embedded with conductive carbon nanotubes that create electrical resistance where a finger is pressed against the material.
The individual keys were simply drawn on to the keyboard using a marker – that was the easy part. To allow apps to determine where finger presses were actually happening on the material, and what keys a user was typing on, an artificial neural network was trained to pinpoint where the interactions were happening, and with how much pressure, based on the changes in electrical resistance.
It sounds like a shortcut, but in this case it isn’t cutting corners – it’s simply using a new tool to quickly, and cheaply, improve an existing process. Why do all that testing and coding by hand when you don’t have to?
The researchers claim the flexible keyboard they have created is far more durable than any other keyboard on the market, and because mass production could bring the per unit price down to as little as a dollar, even if something did happen, tossing it away and buying a replacement is a cheap option.
They don’t address the fact that typing on a soft blob of silicone without defined keys makes touch typing incredibly difficult. But this approach to the hardware could be combined with existing ones, resulting in cheaper and more durable keyboards that still provide a satisfying experience for your fingertips.