Microsoft has created a prototype keyboard that blends traditional typing with gesture-based control. Crafted by a team at Microsoft Research, the Type-Hover-Swipe keyboard uses a 16 x 4 array of infrared proximity sensors positioned between the keycaps of the mechanical board to track a user’s hands as they touch the keys or hover just above them.

Sensor data is only recorded at 64 pixels but it’s still enough to capture fingers and other parts of the hand moving above the keyboard. The sensors operate at high frame rates – above 300 hertz – which is plenty fast enough to capture quick movements.

Supported gestures include swiping down to scroll down a page, switching between applications using hover gestures, scrolling side to side with swipes, pinching to zoom and even controlling a car in a video game using a virtual steering wheel.

What’s different about Microsoft’s offering compared to something like the Leap Motion gesture control system is that you don’t need any external hardware as all of the necessary components are built right into the keyboard.

It’s unclear at this point if Microsoft has any plans to commercialize the technology on their own or if they are aiming to license it out to a third party like Leap. Either way, it looks a lot more practical than some of the gesture-based products already on the market and could certainly complement the existing mouse.