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Google reports that drums make a great virtual reality keyboard

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A goofy experiment created an efficient means of text entry

Today Google announced Daydream Labs, a way for the Google VR team to rapidly prototype different applications and interactions for virtual reality. The company will be sharing what it learns with the greater community before Google's VR platform, Daydream, is released this fall.

The first blog post details some of what the team has already learned, including an interesting way to tackle text input.

"To learn fast, we build two new app prototypes each week. Not all of our experiments are successful, but we learn something new with each one," the post states. "For example, in one week we built a virtual drum kit that used HTC Vive controllers as drumsticks. The following week, when we were debating how to make typing in VR more natural and playful, we thought — 'what if we made a keyboard out of tiny drums?'"

It seems like a goofy idea, but the prototype looks surprisingly functional, and early experiments with the concept proved that people could learn to input text in this manner rapidly.

"We were initially skeptical that drumsticks could be more efficient than direct hand interaction, but the result surprised us," the post explains. "Not only was typing with drumsticks faster than with a laser pointer, it was really fun!"

The author of the post, Andrey Doronichev, Google VR's group product manager, was able to hit 50 words per minute.

It's worth noting that this was an experiment created with the Vive's controllers, and Daydream itself will use a single controller that only offers three degrees of freedom; the movement away from and toward the body required by this input mechanism would be impossible with Google's official motion controller.

Still, this is an intuitive way to input text in virtual reality, and could easily be placed in any number of games or programs as other teams figure out how to allow players to type while inside virtual reality. I've struggled with Steam VR's laser pointer for text input in order to message friends inside of virtual reality and would love to move to this method instead.