We’ve all been there: Your hands are full, it’s too noisy for voice recognition, but you really need to press a key on your keyboard. So you simply use the only thing that’s available: Your face.
…ok, so almost NONE of us have been there. Still, there are some niche applications where one might want to quite literally use their head to type. How is that possible? Read on, and you too will learn some of the rarest of keyboard hacks: How to type with your face!
We’ll start with the most elegant, if a bit niche, solution. Face gesture recognition is used in device interfaces to aid people with disabilities. But generally, this is a macro based system that does entire actions or home automations, rather than peck out individual letters on a keyboard.
The next step is face-controlled typing. By mapping every key on a keyboard to a face gesture(or series of face positions), one can type things out by contorting themselves like some sort of a facial acrobat. The process can be painstaking… but there are benefits.
First of all, it’s silent. Mr. Fletcher’s use case for this method was being able to type while holding a sleeping baby; so no hands, no noise, and a minimum amount of movement. Being able to use the opening and closing of his mouth to emulate Morse Code was an ideal solution.
Secondly, the human face has a surprising number of ‘control surfaces’. The gesture library he went with, found on the project’s GitHub page, includes:
Shift: close right eye
Command: close left eye
Arrow up/down: raise left/right eyebrow
Arrow left/right: raise left/right eyebrow + duckface (pursed lips)
Backspace: duckface + double blink
Zoom in: eyes bulge
Zoom out: eyes squint
Repeat previous letter/command: double raise of both eyebrows
Clear current Morse queue: wink right eye, then wink left eye
Escape: wink left eye, then wink right eye
Mr. Fletcher’s solution just needs a webcam and some open source software to run. One can only imagine the possibilities for those lucky folks who have a large range of motion with their nose and ears!
On a slightly more trodden path, there is a typing method that has been used for years that can be implemented by Paraplegics, those living with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) or Motor Neuron Disease (MND), and even some people with Locked-In Syndrome: Typing with eye tracking.
This used to be an expensive solution, involving setups that cost tens of thousands of dollars. But as the years rolled on, eye tracking has become far more precise, mainstream, and most importantly cheap.
There are eye tracking programs that work with only a webcam (even on smartphones), and that can be fine in a pinch. But for people using it every day for something as precise as typing, the professional hardware helps out tremendously.
One of the best low cost setups is the Tobii series of eye trackers. When used in conjunction with OptiKey, some amazing open source software made specifically for this scenario, the user can simply look at an on-screen keyboard and type to their heart’s content. OptiKey even offers gesture interfaces such as ‘swiping’ with your eyes, clicking on browser links, and taking advantage of an autocomplete menu.
This setup brings down the cost of a potentially life changing human interface to under $300 inmany cases. It even has gaming, streaming, AR, and VR applications!
You have a drink in one hand. You’re petting your cat with the other. The screen says ‘Press Any Key’ so you have a target rich environment. So you lower your head and quite literally peck the keyboard with your beak. Job done. Drink unspilled. Cat happy.
But the world of nose typing isn’t limited to simple lazy convenience. It’s competitive. Check out Davinder Singh’s world record nose typing feat for an introduction into this new world of human-computer interface.
Finally, there are a suite of practical solutions that have been used for thirty years or more. A mouth wand or mouth stylus is the most common for people who have lost use of their arms or hands. It’s cheap, accurate, and intuitive.
But the higher tech solutions include devices such as tongue keyboards with additional tongue mouse options. Using only a tongue, you can flip between a trackpad mode and a typing mode without much effort. And though it may be slower, it is usable by people with severe spinal cord injuries or diseases that don’t allow neck and back movement.
We hope that you enjoyed the sometimes humorous, sometimes awe inspiring, and sometimes life changing ways that you can type using only your face. One thing you can be sure of: Technical advances and the introduction of intricate AR and VR interfaces will no doubt open up even more interesting methods of face typing in the near future.