If you’ve ever wanted a pair of gloves associated with one of the great leaps in computer technology, now’s the time. Prototype typing gloves developed by Douglas Eberhardt and Valerie Landau to replace keyboards as interface devices are up for auction.
On December 9, 1968, a presentation was given by Douglas Eberhardt that rocked the computer world and has since gone down in history as the Mother of All Demos. Inspired by Vannevar Bush’s 1945 article “As We May Think,” Eberhardt dedicated himself to connecting people to the vast potential of computers by creating new interfaces and software protocols that got away from punch cards, paper tapes, and machine language.
The result was a 90-minute presentation that used multiple live television cameras, a giant projector screen, and remote computer links – also a first – that introduced the world to graphic windows, hypertext, computer graphics, efficient navigation and command inputs, video conferencing, the first computer mouse, word processing, dynamic file linking, revision controls, and a collaborative real-time editor in a single system.
Palm view of the HandWriter glovesRR Auction
Looking at it today, the demo is hard to sit through because what was revolutionary in 1968 is utterly commonplace today. It comes off like sitting for an hour and a half while someone explains fire or doorknobs. However, it introduced not only the mouse, but an interface device that never quite caught on.
This was the “keyset,” which looked like half of a stenographer’s keyboard. It was a pad with five keys that was supposed to rest under the computer user’s left hand. By pressing the keys in sequence, the user could type words or initiate commands (with practice) almost as fast as with the keyboard one-handed, which it was designed to supplement rather than replace because one could work the keyset and the mouse simultaneously when needed.
The keyset went nowhere, despite a number of iterations, but Engelhardt never abandoned the idea. Instead, he revisited it and expanded it in 2007 when, in partnership with educational technologist Valerie Landau, he transformed the keyset into a wired glove with Laird shielding tape at the fingertips that allowed the user to type messages and commands by simply tapping their trousers or some other cloth specially made to complete electrical circuits.
Cloth input pad used in 2007 developmentRR Auction
Dubbed the “HandWriter,” Eberhardt publicly demonstrated the prototype gloves in 2008 and explained his concept, which was to update the keyset to be compatible with today’s mobile technology by creating a way to type messages and commands while on the move and without needing to use one’s eyes.
The HandWriter never hit the market, but with increasing use of things like augmented reality glasses and the like, don’t be too surprised if one day you see someone sitting on a bench tapping away on their leg. They may not be impatient, just catching up on their email.