For IEEE Spectrum’s special issue this past June, my colleague Ariel Bleicher visited Tad Starner’s lab at Georgia Tech and tried out an intriguing kind of wearable technology: a computerized glove equipped with five vibration motors, one perched atop each finger. Wearing the glove for a couple of hours while attending to other tasks, she acquired sufficient “muscle memory” to play 61 notes of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” with hardly any effort.
Of course, learning to play a more complicated piano melody would take more than just a couple of hours wearing such a glove. But her success immediately got me thinking about a problem I’d been grappling with: how to get my kids to learn to touch-type.
Even my youngest, an 11-year-old boy, is pretty quick on the keyboard. But his hands move all over the place, and he rarely uses his pinkies. As I’m an accomplished touch typist, this irritates me, and I am forever hounding him to go back to what my eighth-grade typing teacher used to call the “home position” and use his eight fingers and two thumbs properly. Of course, my son just ignores my urgings.
Introducing a bit of technology, I thought, might be just the ticket to ensure cooperation. So while my wife was sewing eight diminutive vibration motors into the fingers of a pair of cycling gloves, I set about working on the hardware and software for a haptic typing tutor.