The keyboard helper

I was talking with a friend who has a big problem.  His son can’t use a keyboard but loves to play computer games.  He can only use a mouse and only with his right hand.  He has very limited abilities in his left.  It became clear after our conversation that if we put our heads together we could make something that might enable him to play the different computer games with more ease and enjoyment.

New video link added at the end of this posting.

We imagined a joy stick that could be used to maybe send different keystrokes to the keyboard via some device.  I took this problem home and below is what became “the keyboard helper”.

KeyHelper1

The Leonardo has a great capability; It can emulate a keyboard and mouse.  Using this as the core of the new device I tested a number of code snippets   I was able to send words and keystrokes to Notepad, what fun!  The next thing was to read analog ports connected to a joystick.  There are a ton of examples on the web, I got this running quickly.  To wire up the joystick I needed to tie in some resistors.  I’ll try to explain why they are in the circuit later.  The last part was to add an LCD display for some visual feedback.  I thought it would be important and we found out after the fact that it ended up having a very different function than what I had first envisioned.  LCD displays can be hooked up in a few different ways the most common are parallel (all pins) or via some type of intermediate device that you to talk to via a serial or i2c interface.  I had an i2c to LCD kit from an old project and decided to re-use this (the link is to a more recent iteration).  The LCD display itself was pulled out of an old PBX phone, it had some odd pinouts but normal LCDs you find on the web will be simple to wire up.

On a 2 hr flight I crafted most of my notes on how I felt the “system” would work.

KeyHelper5

I’d present a grid on the 2 line display of the characters Q W E R.

________Q__W______

________E__R_______

Something like the above. When you tell the LCD to use a blinking cursor and then move to a position over top of a letter – it looks selected.  By moving the cursor over each letter as the joy stick moves – you can see what letter is available to be typed to the computer.  Great visual feedback.  In the above diagram suppose Q is high lighted.  The movement UP or LEFT on the joy stick would then send the letter Q to the keyboard.  A movement DOWN would select E but not send E.  Once on E a movement LEFT or DOWN would send E to the keyboard.  Scroll to the letter needed then move -off- the screen to send it to the computer.

KeyHelper6

That’s how the 1.0 version functioned. There was some immediate feedback as the game being played changed.  It would be preferred to hold the key down and not just type one letter.  Selecting the letters became less critical as now it was a matter of just holding down the key and there were only 4 to send.  Here is the resulting logic main loop of the program that shows this modified approach.

void loop()
{
 center = 1; 
 up = map(analogRead(0),0,1023,0,1);    // Q MoveTo(0,9); 
 left = map(analogRead(1),0,1023,0,1);  // E MoveTo(1,9); 
 down = map(analogRead(2),0,1023,0,1);  // R MoveTo(1,11);
 right = map(analogRead(3),0,1023,0,1); // W MoveTo(0,11);

 if (up) {
 Keyboard.press('q');
 MoveTo(0,9);
 center = 0;
 }
 if (left) {
 Keyboard.press('e');
 MoveTo(1,9); 
 center = 0;
 }
 if (down) {
 Keyboard.press('r');
 MoveTo(1,11);
 center = 0;
 }
 if (right) {
 Keyboard.press('w');
 MoveTo(0,11);
 center = 0;
 }
 if (center) {
 Keyboard.releaseAll();
 MoveTo(0,0);
 }
}

The letters are now being sent as lower case. What’s nice about this approach is the MAP function.  It has a lot of uses.  Here it converts the range 0 to 1023 into the range 0 to 1.  This enables the code to read both momentary switch type joysticks or analog potentiometer joy sticks (we’ve used both in our prototypes).

Mental Note: if two states are on at the same time does the keyboard function send both or does the last one sent win?  Think moving on a diagonal in a game and how the code above may or may not enable this.

I am working on a wiring diagram it is going to be a while until I either build a second version or I can borrow back the one I’ve built for a day to recall the exact details.  Like I said above - examples for each element of this are easy to find on the web – you should not have much trouble.

A working version of the code (assuming you use the right pins with your LCD and such) is here.  As my LCD and I2C are probably different from yours – there will need to be some adjustments in the commands sent to the LCD (maybe).

I liked this project for a number of reasons.

  1. Jerry is a much happier camper now. UPDATE BELOW
  2. I had no idea how great that would make me feel.
  3. Game control is vastly improved.
  4. The project was small in scope and I was clear on the goal.

Thank you for reading.  There is not too much more to say about this project at this time.  It will be a while but the circuit will be doodled up some day.

Go make stuff.

The LCD took on an unexpected use:  It happens that the joystick needs to be positioned just right.  Exactly right.  Such that the limited motion of the left hand can move in the 4 directions.  It takes some time to get this center point just right.  The LCD will be highlighting the direction of the “problem” and my friend can use this as visual feedback until he gets both the joystick and hand centered.

UPDATE. The fine film crew at work put together this video of the project’s impact.

 

 

 

7 thoughts on “The keyboard helper

  1. One could take this idea a significant step further by reading the signals sent to Jerry’s muscles by his brain, with the SparkFun’s Muscle Sensor v3 Kit:
    sparkfun.com/products/11776
    and using that as input to the Arduino.

  2. Hi, If you are looking for a professional grade enabling solution already done and ready to go you might want to check out Madentec’s products: http://www.madentec.com/products/ . They’ve been doing keyboard enablement for years. The owner started out by inventing the on screen keyboard. Just an FYI. There might also be assistance in purchasing one through disability programs. Good luck with your projects.

  3. Fantastic! Not sure if you know I had a disabled brother, but people like you and this project just make my day. Thank you, and I’m sure Jerry is ecstatic for his new interface too.

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