Maltron

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PCD Maltron Ltd.
Industry Personal computer hardware
Founder(s) Lillian Malt
Products Ergonomic keyboards

PCD Maltron Ltd., d.b.a. Maltron, is a manufacturer of ergonomic special-needs keyboards, founded by South African-born inventor Lillian Malt, the namesake of the company,[1] and manufacturer Stephen Hobday. Maltron specialises in making keyboards for the prevention and etiological (root cause) treatment of repetitive strain injury.

Maltron manufactures several models of keyboards, in varying levels of adaptation. Lillian Malt's original invention and the company's flagship design known as the Fully Ergonomic 3D Keyboard is the most highly adapted; it incorporates a curved surface for the keyboard, in which the keys' angles and depth are staggered to compensate for the different lengths and placement of the fingers. An integral trackball mouse is a customer-selectable option at additional cost. Other keyboard types available are single hand keyboards which are ergonomically designed to be used by only the left or right hand, a flat version of the fully ergonomic keyboard, a keyboard designed to be used by a single digit or head stick or mouth stick, and a robust expanded keyboard designed primarily to assist people with cerebral palsy. Maltron keyboards are electrically compatible with IBM PC keyboards and Apple Macintosh keyboards, using USB connectors. Earlier connectors included DIN and PS2 but these are now discontinued.

History[edit]

Lillian Malt ran a secretarial training business from 1955. Based upon her experience of typing errors (having been closely concerned in the printing industry with the retraining of Linotype operators to use computer keyboards), she conceived the idea of a typewriter keyboard designed with the keys arranged to fit different finger lengths, but found no manufacturer who was willing to work with her. In 1974, Stephen Hobday came to her with a one-handed keyboard that he had designed for the handicapped. Malt made several suggestions for improvement, telling Hobday of her failure to engage the interest of any manufacturers in actually building her ideal keyboard. Hobday told her "You tell me what you want and I'll tell you whether I can build it or not." From the resulting collaboration, with Malt's expertise in keyboard design and Hobday's expertise in electronics, came the first Maltron keyboard.[1]

The full name of the company, P.C.D. Maltron, Ltd, stems from Hobday's original electronics firm, Printed Circuit Design, Limited, based in Farnborough, Hampshire. The seeds of P.C.D. Maltron were sown when another Hampshire business had inquired about the possibility of custom manufacture of a computer keyboard. This led to discussions with Farnborough Technical College about the design of the keyboard, and in turn to the meeting with Malt.

Stanley notes that Malt was almost erased from history in the 1970s, with the only one of two 1979 articles in The Inventor (the journal of the British Institute of Patentees and Inventors) that even mentions the names of the keyboard's inventors at all, crediting it solely to Hobday.[1] However, Malt did present a major paper describing her work: Malt, Lillian G., 'Keyboard design in the electronic era', Printing Industry Research Association, Symposium Paper No. 6, September 1977.[2]

Models[edit]

Maltron Dual Hand with Malt Key distribution

There are five models of Maltron keyboard; two of them target most users, while the other three are geared towards people with more pervasive disabilities. The original curved, retro-styled keyboard devised by Lillian Malt is one of the former two and although the general form has remained the same, the original Maltron has gone through several revisions.

Due to customer requests for a halfway house between a conventional Sholes (i.e. QWERTY) keyboard and the curved Maltron, a flat (2D) version was introduced which although lacking the curvature of the 3D keyboard, incorporates split key groups, and offset letter rows to accommodate the different lengths of fingers.

For individuals with more severe disabilities, there are the single-handed, head or mouth stick, and expanded models.

All Maltron keyboards use Cherry MX brand key-switches; this makes keys much more responsive and durable compared to membrane or dome key-switches, used on the majority of keyboards.

Layouts[edit]

United-States Maltron 3D Keyboard-Layout

Maltron 3D and 2D (flat) keyboards are produced with three different layouts:

In the Maltron layout, the home row of keys are "ANISF" for the left hand and "DTHOR" for the right hand. This home row can be used to type many more complete words than that found on a Qwerty keyboard.[3]

The Maltron layout has been derived from frequency of use (FoU) statistics, plus additional considerations, such as the most frequent two- and three-letter combinations found in words. As much as possible, such combinations need to be placed as non-blocking sequences.

Whilst the letter E is normally regarded as the most common letter in the English language, one should not ignore the Space character, as it is nearly twice as frequent; additionally, in punctuation, the comma and full-stop are more frequent than the letters KVJZXQ.[4]

Directional or cursor keys have also been subject to changes in design approach. Whilst the earlier PC-XT compatible Model B featured opposing keys near each other such as PgUp and PgDn aligned vertically on the left little finger, and arrow keys arranged UP/DN and LF/RT on either thumb, later models were to introduce a complete design philosophy where such keys were split into left-right locations matching the former re-arrangement of such characters as "(" and ")" which had been moved to sit above the numbers 5 & 6 (as "< >","[ ]", "{ }" and "/ \" had all been respectively separated). This meant that any cursor or movement key which moved to the left or up in a document (Backspace, PgUp, Left etc.) were all moved to the left hand and those which moved right or down (i.e., forward or CR/LF) in a document were placed on the right hand.

Further variation in design has been a slight rotation of the key-bowl upward in the center which reduces the amount of pronation in the operators' wrists. Referring back specifically to the Model-B, the key-bowl required the hands, although separated from each other, still to be rotated outward as though operating a flat keyboard.

Newer evolutions include moving the pseudo-standard 12 Function keys into a new top row inside the bowl rather than a straight line along the back as can still be seen on the single-handed versions. The standard numeric row (1 through 0) has also been shifted one column to the left aligning "1" with "F1", "2" with "F2" and so on. The blank area between the two thumb keys has also been raised to a significant height in order to prevent "dropped-wrist" operation of the number pad, although because of its location and layout, continuous one-handed numeric data entry requires physical movement of the keyboard to properly accommodate the dominant hand (left or right) which increases the amount of desktop real estate that the keyboard occupies.

The more observant user will also note that there is only one key below the home row for the ring finger (made obvious by the gap in the next row). As the long finger and the ring finger share the same tendon along the back of the hand, removal of excess "under-reach" for the ring finger alleviates potential stress on this tendon thus contributing to the keyboard's overall success in reducing Occupational Overuse Syndrome (aka RSI) type injuries.[clarification needed]

Design and Construction Issues[edit]

"Maltron keyboards are expensive by comparison and for many people represent a considerable investment. They are hand made from sheet materials which are formed and punched to make the shell or body of the keyboard. Individual Cherry MX key switches are fitted by hand. The switch contacts are wired up into a scanning XY matrix by hand. In fact everything is done on an individual basis by hand." – Maltron Web site

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Stanley, Autumn (1995). Mothers and Daughters of Invention: Notes for a Revised History of Technology. Rutgers University Press. p. 369. ISBN 0-8135-2197-1. 
  2. ^ http://www.maltron.com/keyboard-info/academic-papers/236-lillian-malt-papers.html
  3. ^ http://maltron.com/keyboard-info/word-lists/word-lists-maltron-layout
  4. ^ "English Prose FoU". PCD Maltron. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]