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Steve Mann's septambic keyer custom molded to fit the hand, with one key for each finger, and three for the thumb.
A commercially manufactured keyer, the Twiddler 2.
A keyer for wearable computing, designed and built for making lightvector paintings. Note the thumbwheel for cursor control and lightvector weight setting. The keyer is designed to hold a video screen (below the keyer) and a photographic flash lamp (above the keyer).

A keyer is a device for signaling by hand, by way of pressing one or more switches.[citation needed] Modern keyers typically have a large number of switches but not as many as a full-size keyboard;[when defined as?] typically between four and fifty.[citation needed] A keyer differs from a keyboard in the sense that it lacks a traditional "board"; the keys are arranged in a cluster[1] which is often held in the hand. An example of a very simple keyer is a single telegraph key which used for keying Morse code. In such a use, the term "to key" typically means to turn on and off a carrier wave. For example, it is said that one "keys the transmitter" by interrupting some stage of the amplification of a transmitter with a telegraph key.

Morse code was an early form of serial communication, which in modern times is usually automated. In a completely automated teleprinter system, the sender presses keys to send a character data stream to a receiver, and computation alleviates the need for timing to be done by the human operator. In this way, much higher typing speeds are possible.

Iambic keyers became popular, in telegraphy, in the 1960s. In these, the "dot" and the "dash" are separate keys.[citation needed] When this concept was introduced to inventor Steve Mann in the 1970s, he mistakenly heard "iambic" as "biambic" which he then generalized to include various "polyambic" or "multiambic" keyers, such as a "pentambic" keyer (five keys, one for each finger and the thumb), and "septambic" (four finger and three thumb buttons on a handgrip). These systems were developed primarily for use in early, experimental forms of wearable computing, and have also been adapted to cycling with a heads-up display in projects like BEHEMOTH by Steven K. Roberts. Mann (who primarily works in computational photography) later utilized the concept in a portable backpack-based computer and imaging system, WearCam, which he invented for photographic light vectoring.[2]

Such keyers, often used in conjunction with wearable computers, are typically one-handed grips.[citation needed] Unlike keyboards, the wearable keyer has no board upon which the switches are mounted. Additionally, by providing some other function – such as simultaneous grip of flash light and keying – the keyer is effectively hands-free, in the sense that one would still be holding the light source anyway.

Chorded or chording keyboards have also been developed, and are intended to be used while seated having multiple keys mounted to a board rather than a portable grip. One type of these, the so-called half-QWERTY layout, uses only minimal chording, requiring the space bar to be pressed down if the alternate hand is used. It is otherwise a standard QWERTY keyboard of full size. It, and many other innovations[example needed] in keyboard controls, were designed to deal with hand disabilities in particular.[citation needed]


  1. ^ Intelligent Image Processing. John Wiley and Sons. 2001.
  2. ^[full citation needed]

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