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The Retractable Rast Vario Keyboard

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RAST Associates has unveiled what it calls the first stretchable keyboard for PDAs, cell phones, laptops and other mobile devices. Made of a fabric and rubber-like formulation, the company said the five-row Vario Keyboard opens to the desired size and then re-compacts down to about the size of a postcard, to slip into a pocket, purse or briefcase. Total weight of the various models, including housing, is less than eight ounces.

According to the company, from its retracted position, the Vario keyboard can be stretched out to 7.5 inches for single-finger typing or to 10.5 inches for complete two-hand touch typing — giving users a peripheral with full-size desktop keyboard functionality. The letters and symbols are the same as on a standard 84-key computer peripheral and the keyboard offers a key depression of 1-2 millimeters, providing the familiar feel of quality touch-typing.

Rast said Vario’s stretchable keyboard is encased in an expandable, spring-operated case. The keyboard and keypads are constructed of layers of fabric and elastomers — or rubber-like material — combined with standard components. The keyboard will communicate with most common wireless interfaces, including Bluetooth, infrared and 802.11b.

The company said it plans to license the Vario Keyboard technology to OEMs to be incorporated into host devices and to stand alone equipment providers for a version that can be hard-wired with a ribbon cable or docking station and sold as an accessory to the host unit.

RAST demonstrated the technology for the first time at Digital Focus in New York. The peripheral was designed by 3D Industrial Design, Marina Del Rey, Calif. RAST said the price of the five-row standard keyboard model would be competitive with other mobile keyboard devices on the market. RAST plans to offer a four-row model as well.

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