Despite the rise in touchscreens and gesture-controlled devices, the humble computer keyboard has remained practically unchanged for decades.

But Microsoft is bringing the input device into the 21st century by working on a futuristic keyboard that responds to hand gestures so you could navigate around your screen without having to hold a mouse.

Microsoft Research has developed an augmented mechanical keyboard, an enhanced input device which uses infrared sensors to support the kind of additional gestures found in touch-free devices like the Leap Motion Controller.

Detailed in a paper entitled Type-Hover-Swipe in 96 Bytes: A Motion Sensing Mechanical Keyboard, it looks a bit like a conventional keyboard, but hidden between the keys are a 16:4 array of infrared proximity sensors. These sensors can detect motion on top of, or even a short distance above the keys.

Type-Hover-Swipe in 96 Bytes A Motion Sensing Mechanical Keyb

When using the keyboard, hands remain in the conventional typing position, but gestures can enhance the experience by offering more control over apps and other on-screen elements. For example you could explore documents with a tablet-style pinch-and-zoom gesture, while hover gestures can be used to switch between applications.

Microsoft also believes the device can be used for gaming, for example by simulating a virtual steering wheel in a racing game. Check out the video to find out more (via CNET).