A keyboard for your back

Ignacio Tartavull
Nov 8, 2016 · 4 min read

If you’re the kind of person who uses a laptop for many hours a day, you know if the monitor is at the right height for your back and neck, your arms and shoulders are too high; if the keyboard is at the best height for your arms and shoulders, you must hunch your shoulders and neck to see the monitor.

I, also, as many others do, want to kill our QWERTY keyboard — not because I believe there are other layouts which offer faster typing, but because I don’t want to have shoulders, neck, or back pain.

The Prototype

Some clay, Bluetooth modules, and a few spare hours produced the first prototype.

It consists of two wireless keyboards (one for each hand) that can be held in a very natural hand position. It lets you freely choose where to put your hands; you can do squats or even run on a treadmill while you type.

Each finger controls two buttons ,except the thumb . The first button can be quickly pressed by the tip of the finger, while the second can get pressed by straightening your finger. This means that minimal movement is required, improving speed and precision, similarly to a QWERTY with only the home row.

The thumbs are the most skilled fingers we have, but in traditional keyboards, we only use one of them for the space key. What a waste! Here we put four buttons foreach thumb.

This give us a total of 24 keys; way less than the 78 of your macbook. Stenographers make real-time transcriptions for court reporting using a special type of keyboard which only has 22 keys. Some of them can reach an incredible 300 words per minute.

Stenotype keyboards only have 22 keys.

Multiple keys are pressed simultaneously (known as “chording” or “stroking”) to spell out whole syllables, words, and phrases with a single hand motion. We will require a similar trick to be able to produce all 107 keys that current laptops depend on.

keyboard layout called thor because of the second column.

In the current design, the left thumb selects the mode from mode 1 to 4, depending on which of the four buttons you are pressing, or mode zero if nothing is pressed. This gives us 5 times 20 keys, which is more than we need. For the precise mapping of the buttons, look at this repo.

After a few iterations of 3D printing, it started looking like this:


First hour: Where is letter J? (3–5 wpm)

I have been typing on regular keyboards for so long that I barely remember how I learned to use it. All I remember is that I used to type only using one and sometimes two fingers on each hand, and pressed two keys at the same time between keys. With THOR, from the first minute, you are using all ten fingers, and pressing two keys at the same time is practically impossible.

Although it felt really ergonomic, it took a long time to find in the paper cheatsheet which combinations of buttons I had to press to type. After looking for 40 seconds to try to find J, I realized that I didn’t actually have any mapping for it.

Third hour: I don’t need that paper anymore (15–18 wpm)

The most used key became familiar, like backspace for making so many mistakes all the time. I started disliking how the keys where organize.

I switched from having my arms in front of me as if I were still using a traditional keyboard, to crossing my arms behind my back.

Fourth hour: Thor is born (8–12 wpm)

Completely changed the layout, back to the paper cheatsheet.

Sixth hour: Let’s write something in Medium (25–27 wpm)

This typing speed is good enough for my job as a programmer — I’m never using a keyboard again. I’ll write a blog about it. Maybe it will make someone else stop having neck problems.

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