Snapkeys eyes auto integration for invisible keyboard

Part of the problem with using nav or infotainment systems is they take your eyes off the road. But could it be safer if the keyboard was integrated in the car's steering wheel?

Liane Yvkoff
Liane Yvkoff is a freelance writer who blogs about cars for CNET Car Tech. E-mail Liane.
Liane Yvkoff
2 min read

Part of the problem with navigation systems or using infotainment systems is that it takes your eyes off the road. But could a steering wheel integrated keyboard make it safer?

Snapkeys is looking at an automotive application for its 4-key virtual keyboard, which it demoed at the CTIA convention in Orlando this week. The company created an keyboard that boils down the letters of the alphabet to just four blank keys on a device, such as a tablet or mobile phone. Letters are divided into four groups based on their shapes. On one key are letters that have a multiple points on the bottom, such as A, R, and W. Letters containing circles, such as O, B, and P are on another key. Two keys are placed on each side of a tablet, clearing up the entire device screen for typing.

It's easier to use than it sounds.

To spell a word, users single tap the keys with their thumbs. Snapkeys software guesses fairly accurately which word you're trying to spell, and for unique names, you can manually drag a key rather than tap to select a letter. To prove its 4-key virtual keyboard is easy to master, the Israeli start up used a team of children to demo its product on iPads.

Kids seemed equally proficient with or without the letters visible on the virtual keys. Jonathan, a 12-year old student, said it took him about a week to get really fast, while managers overseeing the booth at CTIA said some kids picked the skill up in a few minutes.

At CTIA, the company is hoping to partner with device manufactures interested in integrating its new technology. And the company says its technology could also land in automobiles. Theoretically, two keys could be embedded on each side of a steering wheel, and drivers could use their thumbs to tap out words. As the driver types, the words could appear on a windshield head up display.

While drivers technically wouldn't have to take their eyes off the road, it still diverts a percentage of their attention--especially if they had to enter an unconventional street name. But for the moment it's still a hypothetical.

For unique names, you can drag the letters you want rather than have Snapkeys guess which word or name you're trying to spell.
For unique names, you can drag the letters you want rather than have Snapkeys guess which word or name you're trying to spell. Liane Yvkoff