Chorded keyboard

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A keyset or chorded keyboard (also called a chorded keyset, chord keyboard or chording keyboard) is a computer input device that allows the user to enter characters or commands formed by pressing several keys together, like playing a "chord" on a piano. The large number of combinations available from a small number of keys allows text or commands to be entered with one hand, leaving the other hand free. A secondary advantage is that it can be built into a device (such as a pocket-sized computer or a bicycle handlebar) that is too small to contain a normal-sized keyboard.

A chorded keyboard minus the board, typically designed to be used while held in the hand, is called a keyer. Douglas Engelbart introduced the chorded keyset as a computer interface in 1968 at what is often called "The Mother of All Demos".


Principles of operation

Each key is mapped to a number and then can be mapped to a corresponding letter or command. By pressing two or more keys together the user can generate many combinations. In Engelbart's original mapping, he used five keys: 1,2,4,8,16. The keys were mapped as follows: a = 1, b = 2, c = 3, d = 4, and so on. If the user pressed keys 1 + 2 = 3 simultaneously the letter "c" appeared. Since Engelbart introduced the keyset, several different designs have been developed based on similar concepts.

As a crude example, each finger might control one key which corresponds to one bit in a byte, so that using seven keys and seven fingers, one could enter any character in the ASCII set—if the user could remember the binary codes. Due to the small number of keys required, chording is easily adapted from a desktop to mobile environment.

Douglas Engelbart recently filed two new patents for mobile chorded keyset devices and[1] has released a chorded app for the iPhone with Douglas Engelbart.

Practical devices generally use simpler chords for common characters (e.g., Baudot), or may have ways to make it easier to remember the chords (e.g., Microwriter[2]), but the same principles apply.

These portable devices first became popular with the wearable computer movement in the 1980s. Chorded keyboards have also been built into the handlebars of a recumbent bicycle containing a computer:

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