Crowdfunding sites are offering a new path for inventors with original ideas. We talk to inventors looking to gain the public’s favour with something new to offer. Is this a business of the future?
Name: Mark Parker
Job title: Inventor/President
Organisation: TREWGrip, LLC
Location: Cincinnati, OH
Product: TREWGrip Mobile Dock
What it does & How it works:
TREWGrip is a 2-handed mobile and ergonomic data-entry device that allows people to type and control mouse movement while walking, standing or sitting comfortably. A user can dock a mobile device and then pair it with TREWGrip using Bluetooth, and pair it with a desktop or smart TV for a universal user experience across all technology platforms.
What makes it special:
The rear-type keys and curved design offer both mobile and ergonomic benefits. We live in an era with incredible mobile solutions. Unfortunately, modern tablets and smartphones do not allow the growing mobile workforce to be more efficient and productive. TREWGrip changes that. We have approached data entry different than anyone else has ever done. We twisted, turned, rotated and curved traditionally flat technology to make something that changes how we work and interact with everything from mobile devices to Smart TVs.
What’s your background, and what inspired you to come up with the idea?
I have 15-years of experience developing software applications for mobile workers. One day I received a call from a customer who complained about occasionally having to sit on the floor to type. As a result of her call, I started thinking about the mobile text entry problem. That evening, as I was typing away, I picked my hands up off the keyboard and imagined the keys being rotated so a user could hold the device with both hands and type at the same time. But there was a problem with the initial concept, users couldn’t see the keys on the back-side, which wasn’t a problem for a touch-typist. But for a non-touch-typist like myself, I wouldn’t be able to use the device without visual cues. After thinking about this problem for a while, I remembered sewing in home economics class in junior high school and being fascinated by people’s ability to position the needle from behind without having to see the needle. Sewing with a needle and thread was the inspiration for the indicator keys on the front of TREWGrip.
Another problem I had to overcome with placing keys on the back-side was limited reach. When extending fingers along a flat surface, the user’s fingers could only reach and easily actuate two-rows of keys. Most users can reach a third row, but because the fingers are so far extended it’s difficult to actuate the keys. I was lying in bed one night just studying my hands and realized that reach is limited when extending my fingers on a flat surface, but my fingers had tremendous range of motion along a curve. The curved shape is a result of lying in bed one night studying the reach limitations and range of motion of my hands.
Kickstarter is the most popular crowdfunding platform, which offered us the greatest exposure, and allowed us to test sell TREWGrip without a commitment to manufacture product. We obviously wanted to reach our goal, but the all-or-nothing format meant we didn’t have to deliver a product if the project failed. In reality, the project failing wasn’t the worst case scenario. The worst case scenario would have been selling and having to produce a small number of devices.
Is Crowdfunding good for innovation? How so?
Yes. The process forced us to think through our development plan, production plan and pricing model. Most importantly, it forced us to create real milestones that we would have to achieve if the project was funded. Real milestones and deadlines are essential to innovation. Without them, the process is too long and expensive.
What were the reactions of people on KS, was the feedback good?
There was a very wide range of feedback from “life changing technology” to “the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen”. The most common reaction was the price point was too high for the consumer market.
Why do you think you didn’t make your goal?
We focused too much on the “mobile keyboard” features early on. We didn’t provide enough information on mouse movement and the ability to interface with a wide variety of technologies. We made some adjustments to the campaign, but we ultimately attribute the campaign’s failure to the price point.
How hard was it to get this new layout just right? Were there any other stumbling blocks in its development?
The layout wasn’t hard, the hardest part was choosing the key technology. There are so many different types of key technology, and so many variables we had to consider. Our first prototype was built with mechanical switches and standard key caps. The problem with this approach was the keys were too far apart and the keys' travel distance was too long.
For the second prototype we used silicone membrane keypads. It was fairly easy to adjust the spacing and travel, but the force and snap were problematic. To get prototype #2 ready for the Cincy Typing Challenge we had to implement some workarounds to prevent keys from sticking because the force and snap were set too low.
For prototype #3 we’re using modified mechanical switches with custom key caps. This approach is the most expensive, but we believe it will be the most responsive and ergonomic.
TREWGrip relies on being a good typist, were you worried that may put people off?
I don’t think we rely on people being good typists, but if they are, the learning curve isn’t as steep. What we’re finding is that trained touch-typists learn TREWGrip the fastest, approximately 8-10 hours. Hunt-and-peck typists can also learn TREWGrip quite quickly, but their typing speeds are ultimately much slower than a trained touch-typist. The people who seem to have the most difficulty are the “idiosyncratic” typists. TREWGrip forces people to type using proper fingering, which over time results in faster and more accurate typing, so I think some hunt-and-peck or idiosyncratic typists may be put off. We know TREWGrip may not be for everyone.
There’s been very little innovation in desktop peripherals in recent years, why do you think this is?
I just don’t think the demand is there. Desktops are about working in an office, and people want technology that gets them out of the office. The other thing to consider is that desktop peripherals and technology are not really designed for the end users as much as for the environment they work in or on. Most solutions that have been designed for the desktop fit into a very standard, controlled work environment. TREWGrip breaks away from that mold and invites people to work comfortably.
Outside of hardware, does QWERTY as a layout still have a place in the mobile touchscreen world?
I think so. Whether you like it or not, it’s the standard. It’s like gasoline - it’s part of the infrastructure. Until there’s another layout that can be used across all technology platforms, and people can see the benefits of switching to it, I think QWERTY, or a QWERTY-like layout, is going to remain the standard.
Possible business use?
TREWGrip was initially conceived for “mobile workers”. People who spend a majority of their time away from a desk and rely on technology to do their jobs. We intend to target medical professionals.
Aims for the future?
Our goal with TREWGrip is a new classification of mobile computers called “Grippables”. A Grippable is a mobile computer that’s between a laptop and tablet, and has the typing benefits of a laptop and mobility benefits of a tablet.
PREVIOUS ARTICLE«Nest Goes International with UK Smoke Detector Launch
Jon Collins’ in-depth look at tech and society
Phil Muncaster reports on China and beyond