Text Input Methods in VR



During my initial explorations of VR, I was struck at the initial stages on the fact that keyboard use and text entry were necessary but not natural — and people all around the world were having similar complaints. It is with a research-backed understanding I was able to understand that in certain situations the user still needs a keyboard to interact with applications, particularly in productivity-driven or desktop scenarios, but also in games, social applications and content browsing.

Case 1:

In this video, the keyboard used is made by the Google Daydream team. The keyboard is virtual and is used by pointing and clicking on the letter you wish to type. This is currently the standard keyboard on the Daydream VR headset.


Case 2:

The good folks at over at Google Daydream Labs have been experimenting for a quite some time with the input methods in VR, especially text input. In this video, they show one of those experiments. Using two controllers as drumsticks and typing by playing drums.


Case 3:

Similar to the Drum keyboard in case 2, Jonathan Ravasz has made a keyboard for Oculus VR which uses the two controllers to type. Along with being able to drag and drop the keyboard wherever you want, a big addon from the previous example is the ability to choose from the predictive text like we have on our mobile smartphones.


Case 4:

Aaron Ng. (2017). VR Text Input Experiment: HTC Vive Split Keyboard. [Online Video]. 30 January 2017. Available from: https://youtu.be/k8efl_KXt5Q. [Accessed: 30 November 2017].

In this example, Aaron Ng came up with a way (for the HTC Vive) to use the trackpad present in the Vive controllers and map out two separate keyboards on each. You simply slide your finger and press the key required. Although it has a bit of a learning curve and the interaction method is quite different from what we’re used to, he claims that it is much faster than the laser pointer’s point-and-click method (and more accurate). The biggest plus point I saw in this example was the feedback you receive on-press, that we usually feel from our physical keyboards and haptic on mobile keyboards.

Case 5:

James Walker, a lecturer in computer science, led the research as part of his dissertation, working with Scott Kuhl. He says the challenge stems from the fact that people need to see what they’re typing—a bit difficult with an over-eye headset on—so he developed a light-up virtual keyboard synced with a physical keyboard. This virtual keyboard lets a VR typist see in the head-mounted display what keys they typed on the physical keyboard.

Other VR typing systems rely on either mid-air virtual keyboards or overlaying of real-world video into the VR display. But both approaches require extra equipment such as tracking cameras that can be error-prone and intrusive. People’s texting performance also declines with only virtual keyboards.


Case 6:

And last but not the least, the latest development in terms of text input in VR, The Logitech Bridge. When the Bridge Tracker disk is paired with the Logitech G keyboard (physical keyboard), an exact replica of the physical keyboard will be in your VR environment. As simple as that. You’ll be typing on your actual real-world keyboard and it will be tracked as it is in VR. Why Logitech used this particular method instead of devising a virtual keyboard is better explained by them than me. Here’s the excerpt:

We believe that a physical keyboard should be present, as it delivers essential tactile feedback and a universal experience that people value. Whether you are using a keyboard for gaming, communication or productivity, it is an effective and efficient tool. Besides letters, numbers and symbols, keyboards provide a range of modifier keys for more complex actions, all learned, perhaps painfully, and stored in your memory over years of use.


After looking at all the cases, I have a pretty good idea as to which ones are feasible in terms of my project execution and where the ideal solutions lie (Case 6 in case it wasn’t obvious enough).

Reference list:

Kiran Udayakumar, (2017), Computer scientist at Michigan Technological University testing out methods of input [ONLINE]. Available at: https://3c1703fe8d.site.internapcdn.net/newman/csz/news/800/2017/physicalkeyb.jpg [Accessed 29 November 2017].

Daydream District. (2016). Google Daydream VR: The Typing Experience / Keyboard Hands-On. [Online Video]. 16 November 2016. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NNoiSm5ZVOU. [Accessed: 30 November 2017].

Google VR. (2016). Daydream Labs: Drum Keys. [Online Video]. 19 May 2016. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QYwzSEAyn2M. [Accessed: 30 November 2017].

Jonathan Ravasz. (2017). Punchkeyboard Beta. [Online Video]. 27 January 2017. Available from: https://vimeo.com/200672424. [Accessed: 30 November 2017].

Michigan Technological University, (2017), Example of VR Keyboard prototype[ONLINE]. Available at: https://3c1703fe8d.site.internapcdn.net/newman/csz/news/800/2017/physicalkeyb.jpg [Accessed 29 November 2017].

Vincent Tucker – VIVE blog. 2017. Introducing the Logitech BRIDGE SDK. [ONLINE] Available at: https://blog.vive.com/us/2017/11/02/introducing-the-logitech-bridge-sdk/. [Accessed 30 November 2017].

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