Using Morse Code as an Enabling Technology
Purpose of this site
In the search for ways to enable communication between users and their computers in new manners, Morse Code has emerged as one of the most exciting and flexible protocols. Considered by some to be a relic of 19th century telegraph lines, Morse Code is actually quite adaptable. The very simple nature of its input language allows for some very inventive input devices. Users who are constrained by a disability or the way in which they need to use a computer have been able to use Morse Code quite effectively.
So what's so great about Morse Code, anyway?:
First and foremost, it is simple. The only characters in the code are dit(.) and dah(-). This was the reason it was originally adopted -- even if the cable covered great distances and was of poor quality, it was still possible to distinguish these two characters. This binary nature is also the reason that Morse Code is still around. Users don't need 100 keys for input with Morse - 1 or 2 can do the trick. Through simple devices like a puff-sip straw or mechanical switch, disabled users have achieved full control of a computer.
In this project we will look at how we can adapt the benefits of Morse Code to enabling technology. We'll explore what is currently available, and then present the prototype for a useful product that we have designed. And we'll point you in the direction for some more information, since what good is this technology if no one learns about it?
What can we do with Morse Code in the 21st century?
- Existing solutions: We wanted to focus on new and exciting angles on the use of Morse Code. There is a already a large body of custom devices available, catering to almost every possible style of input. There is also a reasonable amount of support for desktop applications that utilize Morse Code. For instance, you can get a free program for Linux that allows you to use a standard two-button mouse to enter text via Morse. Therefore we chose to instead focus on an area which has not been explored so extensively.
- Mobile computing: This is an area that has not been explored so extensively, and we believe that Morse can become quite useful in certain mobile applications. Since a reasonable implementation of morse needs only 3 keys (instead of the 80 plus you'd find on a standard keyboard), it can easily be adapted to allow entry of text anywhere, with a very acceptable loss in speed.
- Wireless interfaces: Modern PDAs are rapidly gaining support for wireless standards such as Bluetooth. This application lends itself quite well to a wireless input system. Instead of pressing keys on the PDA, one could leave the device in a briefcase, and send it input via a wireless device.
- Text-to-speech: With the amount of processing power in a PDA, it is quite feasible to run a small text-to-speech engine. This speech feedback can free the user from looking directly at the screen. In addition, letter-by-letter feedback should reduce the number of errors -- or enable them to be fixed more quickly.
- Universal computing: The hope behind this project is to design a product that is appealing to all users, whatever their level of ability. If a mobile user is willing to spend the time to learn Morse Code, then they can use a PDA to input text anywere without looking. The applications for such a use range from taking notes silently and unobtrusively at a meeting to recording thoughts on the drive home. But we don't want to limit our uses to just those with full abilities. Other groups that might benefit:
- Those suffering from ALS. A PDA based input system with very simple input requirements could be a low-cost (less than $300) and portable solution.
- The visually disabled. Since the program can be navigated with touch input and audio feedback, blind users would be able to use the product. Obviously they would need assistance starting the program, but this version is merely a demonstration. What about a full Morse-Shell, with Morse-VI?