A desi keyboard for Indian languages

Simulator Guru Prasad has developed a keyboard suited for Indian languages

July 02, 2018 04:55 pm | Updated 06:19 pm IST

 Guru Prasad with his Ka-naada keyboard for Indian languages

Guru Prasad with his Ka-naada keyboard for Indian languages

A small room on a terrace in Uttarahalli, Bengaluru, is bursting with a big idea. It is the office of KaNaada Phonetics Pvt Ltd which has just launched their new product, ‘Ka-Naada’, in April this year.

Ka-Naada (ka-naada.com) is a patented keyboard layout available as both hardware (with a USB cable) and software. It groups letters according to phonetics, creating a more intuitive interface for languages based on the Brahmi (the common ancestor of Indian scripts) script. The keyboard is available in multiple languages: Kannada, Gujarati, Gurumukhi, Malayalam, Tulu, Oriya and more. A user can switch languages, using the keyboard of one script to type in another. The current keyboard requires QWERTY for certain commands, such as the control and function keys. The future version of Ka-Naada will have these commands as well.

A long time coming

The idea was born in 2009 when Guru Prasad — a simulator based in Orlando, Florida — saw children struggling to learn their mother tongues. With a Ph.D in industrial engineering (simulation systems) he is an expert in simulation, network architecture, distributed systems and systems modeling. The QWERTY keyboard, he determined, was unfit for Indian languages. Navigating a keyboard meant for English disrupted ‘native thinking’. He worked predominantly with linguist Professor BVK Sastry at theYoga-Samskrutham University in Florida, and a few others, to find a solution. The Ka-Naada keyboard layout was finalised by 2011, the first prototype was done by 2012 and the first full keyboard, by 2015. It was an uncomfortable square shape, and had to be redesigned to be rectangular.

KaNaada has received funding from associations such as Kannada Praadhikaara and ITBT (Department of Information Technology, Biotechnology and Science and Technology of Government of Karnataka) and design assistance from the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME), Centre of Excellence, IISc. They received their patent in 2017.

“The response, particularly, has been very overwhelming,” Prasad says. “It is highly intuitive for users, right from the get go. Children, particularly, are thrilled to use it. I have heard comments like, Maine aankhe band karke, type kiya (I was able to type with my eyes closed), from them. For adults, there were some training issues because they are so accustomed to QWERTY. We are trying to work to come closer to that keyboard ergonomically.” While maintaining their current layout, the company is experimenting with the size and qualities of the keys and keyboard for the most user-friendly combinations.

For Prasad, the most fascinating part of his journey has been reviving the script of his mother-tongue — Tulu. “The language came alive. All of a sudden, we have a user interface for Tulu. It is the same with Kashmiri (in the Sharada script) and for all the other languages that might go out of use. This might be a boon, that we can keep them alive through our children.”

Increase accessibility

The entrepreneur lights up when asked about the potential of his product. It could open up job opportunities for those in the rural areas who do not know English. It could be a key learning device, and he plans on introducing a toy keyboard for children to use, as they learn their mother tongue. It could be used in government offices, for desktop publishing, or by visually-impaired users. It will soon be available in foreign languages, including Malay, Sinhalese, and Nepalese, which are all Brahmi-based.

As his dreams grow, so does his work. Currently, the entrepreneur is juggling production, research and development, and marketing. He receives his supplies from vendors across the country and is co-sharing a production facility in Bengaluru. However, a large machine has been ordered in anticipation of a full-scale production unit. He has now tied up with NGOs and is working with overseas students who come as part of a Youth Ambassador programme to distribute the keyboard in various rural schools in India.

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