Computer: Keyboard: Add-On
External Mechanical Keyboard Actuator   (+7, -2)  [vote for, against]
Types for you as you type

People using laptop computers sometimes add an external keyboard, for the convenience of bigger keys, or ergonomics. And sometimes the keyboard you're using has a foreign key layout. However, such external keyboards are wired in (whether with wires or wirelessly), and thus depend on software, drivers etc.

I'm proposing a standalone mechanical unit that sits in front of the keyboard of your computer. The front end of it has a keyboard for you to type on. The back end of it has levers which are acutated by your key-presses, and which themselves press down on the computer's keys.

Levers at the side of the mechanical actuator would enable the user to splay or adjust the spacing of the levers for different size computers. There would also be complex roller mechanisms, like a cross between a car gearbox and a pipe organ tracker mechanism, to switch keyboard layouts. A fearsome system of cams would translate single keypresses on the actuator into staggered multiple presses on the computer keyboard for accented letters.

Once you had learned the lever settings, you could use this actuator on any computer. Or, as [DrWorm] suggests, you could rapidly switch to different layouts.

Naturally, the luxury version would be made in oak and brass with exposed mechanism.
-- pocmloc, Aug 06 2009

Piano Players http://www.pianola....ry_pianoplayers.cfm
[pocmloc, Aug 06 2009]

External Repetitive Keypresser External_2c_20Repetitive_20Keypresser
A simpler version of this from last year [pocmloc, Aug 06 2009]

I imagine that for many people, finding extra desk space would be hard, but [+] because this is a good idea.

Actually, a great added feature would be the ability to "program" or "bookmark" custom keyboard layouts for the device, for later or repeated usage.
-- DrWorm, Aug 06 2009

I like the concept in some ways, but I can't imagine any circumstance in which--for any common laptop--this would be more practical than simply plugging in an external keyboard. I can imagine this could be a useful approach if the equipment one is using does not have a standard keyboard connection, but doubt there are enough of any particular such machine to make worthwhile the investment in tooling for a purely mechanical system.

That having been said, an easy-to-configure system using electronically-actuated button pushers might be useful in circumstances where it's necessary to control an esoteric piece of equipment which lacks a keyboard port. If there weren't a need for rapid or simultaneous button pushes, an XY motion rig might be readily adaptable to actuate many types of devices.
-- supercat, Aug 06 2009

[supercat] Yes you could electrify the concept; I was concentrating on exploring a totally mechanical solution (no need for external power etc.)

[DrWorm] How might one store the configurations mechanically? Perhaps the control levers might be doubled in a 'port' into which one inserts a specially shaped brass 'key' or 'comb'. Different keys set the device to different configurations.
-- pocmloc, Aug 06 2009

Pocmloc, I've been mulling over a similar metaconcept -- how to rapidly reconfigure a keyboard. My half-baked idea is to put LED/LCD displays on the crown of each key. The crown would then display the character which that key would input when pressed. The keyboard would then be programmable to support he various standard arrangements.

The downside is that you wouldn't get the benefit of muscle memory as you would from typing with your own familiar keyboard.
-- velosapiens, Aug 07 2009

Wouldn't it be simpler and more useful to have a similar device attached to each hand, which scales down the motion of the fingers?

Quite apart from typing on small keyboards, this would help with fiddly tasks around the home and workshop.

I'm almost inspired to build some.
-- Twizz, Aug 07 2009

But what would you use to actuate this device? Surely it wouldn't be manual typing, would it? A Babbage engine typing machine to actuate the typewriter would be good. Perhaps some kind of advanced mind-reading technology could activate the keyboard button-pusher...
-- RayfordSteele, Aug 07 2009

[velosapiens] I'm pretty sure your thing is baked, as a demo if not commercially. Perhaps you could set it to 'random' so the letters shuffle every time you hit the space bar?

[RayfordSteele] Presumably a punched paper tape reader could be incorporated into the design...
-- pocmloc, Aug 07 2009

random, halfbakery