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Invisible Touch

photo - hands holding paper thin keyboard

Photo: Rob Felt

By analyzing such parameters as the force applied by key presses and the time interval between them, a new self-powered, non-mechanical intelligent keyboard could provide a stronger layer of security for computer users. The self-powered device generates electricity when a user’s fingertips contact the multi-layer plastic materials that make up the device.

“This intelligent keyboard could change the traditional way in which a keyboard is used for information input,” said Zhong Lin Wang, a Regents Professor in the School of Materials Science and Engineering at Georgia Tech. “Every punch of the keys produces a complex electrical signal that can be recorded and analyzed.”

Conventional keyboards record when a keystroke makes a mechanical contact, indicating the press of a specific key. The intelligent keyboard developed in Wang’s laboratory records each letter touched, but also captures information about the amount of force applied to the key and the length of time between one keystroke and the next. Such typing style is unique to individuals and so could provide a new biometric for securing computers from unauthorized use.

In addition to providing a small electrical current for registering the key presses, the new keyboard could also generate enough electricity to charge a small portable electronic device or power a transmitter to make the keyboard wireless.

An effect known as contact electrification generates current when the user’s fingertips touch a plastic material on which a layer of electrode material has been coated. Voltage is generated through the triboelectric and electrostatic induction effects. Using the triboelectric effect, a small charge can be produced whenever materials are brought into contact and then moved apart.

The research was reported in the journal ACS Nano. It was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Basic Energy Sciences.—JOHN TOON

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