A Guide For Building Rubber Dome Keyboards

Let’s talk about computer keyboards for a second. The worst keyboards in the world are the cheap ‘rubber dome’ keyboards shipped with every Dell, HP, and whatever OEM your company has a purchasing agreement with. These ‘rubber dome’ keyboards use a resistive touchpad to activate a circuit, and the springiness of the key comes from a flexible rubber membrane. Mechanical keyboards are far superior to these rubber dome switches, using real leaf springs and bits of metal for the click clack happiness that is the sole respite of a soul-crushing existence. MX blues get bonus points for annoying your coworkers.

Mechanical key switches like the Cherry MX, Gateron, or whatever Razer is using aren’t the be-all, end-all mechanical keyswitch. History repeats, horseshoe theory exists, and for the best mechanical keyswitch you need to go back to rubber domes. Torpre switches are surprisingly similar to the crappy keyboards shipped out by OEMs, but these switches have actual springs, turning your key presses into letters through a capacitive touchpad. Is this a superior switch? Well, a keyboard with Torpre switches costs more than a keyboard with Cherry MX switches, so yeah, it’s a better switch.

It seems everyone is building their own mechanical keyboards these days, and the recipe is always the same: get a few dozen Cherry MX (or clone) switches, build a PCB, grab a Teensy 2, and use the tmk keyboard firmware. There’s not much to it. DIY Torpre boards are rare because of the considerations of building a capacitive switching PCB, but now there’s a DIY guide to making the perfect rubber dome keyboard.

[tomsmalley] put together this guide after reviewing a few amazing projects scattered around the web. Over on Deskthority, [attheicearcade] is building a custom, sculpted, split Torpre board and a split Happy Hacking Keyboard. These are projects worthy of a typing god, but so far there has been no real beginner’s guide for interfacing with these weird capacitive switches.

As far as circuitry goes on these capacitive boards, the PCB is the thing. Each key has a pair of semi-circular pads on the PCB to serve as plates on a capacitor. These pads are connected to a microcontroller through an analog mux, with a little opamp magic thrown into the mix.

With a relatively decent guide to the hardware, [tomsmalley] has also been working on his own firmware for capacitive switches. Shockingly, this firmware is compatible with the Teensy 3.0, which will provide enough horsepower to read a bunch of analog values and spit out USB.

Mechanical keyboards are great, and we really like to see all these hardware creators pushing the state of the art. You can only see so many custom sculpted keycaps or DIY MX boards, though, and we’re really eager to see where the efforts to create a custom Torpre board take us. If you’re building one of these fantastic keyboards, send it in on the tip line.

Handmade Keyboards For Hands

There were some truly bizarre computer keyboards in the 1980s and 90s. The Maltron keyboard was a mass of injection-molded plastic with two deep dishes for all the keys. The Kinesis Advantage keyboard was likewise weird, placing the keys on the inside of a hemisphere. This was a magical time for experimentations on human-computer physical interaction, the likes of which we haven’t seen since.

Now, though, we have 3D printers, easy to use microcontrollers, and Digikey. We can make our own keyboards, and make them in any shape we want. That’s what [Andrey]’s doing. The 32XE is an ergonomic keyboard and trackball combo made for both hands.

The keyboard has curved palm rests, a trackball under the right thumb, and is powered by the ever popular DIY mechanical keyboard microcontroller, the Teensy 2.0. This keyboard is equipped with a trackball, and that means [Andrey] needed a bit of extra electronics to handle that. The mouse/trackball sensor is built around the ADNS-9800 laser motion sensor conveniently available on Tindie. This laser mouse breakout board is built into the bottom of the keyboard, with enough space above it to hold a trackball… ball.

Since this is a very strange and completely custom keyboard, normal mechanical keyboard keycaps are out of the question. Instead, [Andrey] 3D printed his own keycaps on an FDM printer. Printing keyboard keycaps on a filament-based printer is extremely difficult — the tolerances for the connector between the switch and cap are tiny, and nearly at the limit of the resolution of a desktop filament printer. [Andrey] is taking it even further with inlaid keyboard legends. He’s created a keycap set with two color legends on two sides of the keycaps. If you’ve ever wanted to print keycaps on a 3D printer, this is a project to study.

Hackaday Prize Entry: 1337 Haxxor Keyboards

If you’re like us, you spend most of your time in front of a computer keyboard, wondering where your life went wrong. [AnonymouSmst] has a slightly more positive outlook on life, which led them to create a truly DIY keyboard with OLEDs, Bluetooth, NFC, Analog joysticks, an ‘Internet of Things thingy’, local storage, and ostentatious backlighting. It’s a 1337 h4x0r keyboard, and one of the coolest input devices we’ve seen since that weird GameCube controller.

[AnonymouSmst] was one of the very elite, very privileged hackers that made it out to the Hackaday Munich meetup where [sprite_tm] first demoed his firmware hack that allowed anyone to play Snake on a keyboard. Here, the idea of building the ultimate keyboard was planted, and [mst] quickly began researching which keyswitches to use. Apparently, [mst] hates his neighbors and chose the obnoxiously loud Cherry Blues.

To a standard 60% keyboard layout, [AnonymouSmst] added a lot of hardware you don’t usually see in even the most spectacular mechanical keyboard builds. A few dozen WS2812 RGB LEDs were added to the build, as was an Adafruit Bluefruit module, an NFC reader, a LORA module and a ESP8266 for WiFi capability, an OLED display just because, and two analog joysticks on either side, one acting as the arrow cluster the other acting as a mouse.

We’ve seen dozens of mechanical keyboard builds over the years, but this takes the entire concept of a DIY keyboard to the next level. It’s bright, shiney, glowey, and a vulgar display of conspicuous consumption and engineering prowess. It is the perfect keyboard, if only because it was designed and built by the person who would ultimately wield it.

Hackaday Links: July 24, 2016

Right now HOPE is dying down, and most of the Hackaday crew will be filtering out of NYC. It was a great weekend. The first weekend in August will be even better. We’re going to DEF CON, we’ll have people at VCF West, and a contingent at EMF Camp. If you’re going to EMF Camp, drop a line here. There will be Hackaday peeps wandering around a field in England, so if you see someone flying the Hackaday or Tindie flag, stop and say hi.

Raspberry Pi’s stuffed into things? Not all of them are terrible. The Apple Extended keyboard is possibly the best keyboard Apple ever produced. It’s mechanical (Alps), the layout is almost completely modern, and they’re actually cheap for something that compares well to a Model M. There’s also enough space inside the plastic to fit a Pi and still have enough room left over for holes for the Ethernet and USB ports. [ezrahilyer] plopped a Pi in this old keyboard, and the results look great. Thanks [Burkistana] for sending this one in.

We’ve been chronicling [Arsenijs] Raspberry Pi project for months now, but this is big news. The Raspberry Pi project has cracked 10k views on Hackaday.io, and is well on track to be the most popular project of all time, on any platform. Congrats, [Arsenijs]; it couldn’t happen to a better project.

A few months ago, [Sébastien] released SLAcer.js, a slicer for resin printers that works in the browser. You can’t test a slicer without a printer, so for the last few months, [Sébastien] has been building his own resin printer. He’s looking for beta testers. If you have experience with resin printers, this could be a very cool (and very cheap) build.

Anyone going to DEF CON? For reasons unknown to me, I’m arriving in Vegas at nine in the morning on Wednesday. This means I have a day to kill in Vegas. I was thinking about a Hackaday meetup at the grave of James T. Kirk on Veridian III. It’s about an hour north of Vegas in the Valley of Fire State Park. Yes, driving out to the middle of the desert in August is a great idea. If anyone likes this idea, leave a note in the comments and I’ll organize something.

Hackaday Links: April 24, 2016

TruckThe Internet Archive has a truck. Why? Because you should never underestimate the bandwidth of a truck filled with old manuals, books, audio recordings, films, and everything else the Internet Archive digitizes and hosts online. This truck also looks really, really badass. A good thing, too, because it was recently stolen. [Jason Scott] got the word out on Twitter and eagle-eyed spotters saw it driving to Bakersfield. The truck of awesome was recovered, and all is right with the world. The lesson we learned from all of this? Steal normal cars. Wait. Don’t steal cars, but if you do, steal normal cars.

In a completely unrelated note, does anyone know where to get a 99-01 Chevy Astro / GMC Safari cargo van with AWD, preferably with minimal rust?

[Star Simpson] is almost famous around these parts. She’s responsible for the TacoCopter among other such interesting endeavours. Now she’s working on a classic. [Forrest Mims]’ circuits, making the notebook version real. These Circuit Classics take the circuits found in [Forrest Mims]’ series of notebook workbooks, print them on FR4, and add a real, solderable implementation alongside.

Everyone needs more cheap Linux ARM boards, so here’s the Robin Core. It’s $15, has WiFi, and does 720p encoding. Weird, huh? It’s the same chip from an IP webcam. Oooohhhh. Now it makes sense.

Adafruit has some mechanical keyboard dorks on staff. [ladyada] famously uses a Dell AT101 with Alps Bigfoot switches, but she and [Collin Cunningham] spent three-quarters of an hour dorking out on mechanical keyboards. A music video was the result. Included in the video: vintage Alps on a NeXT keyboard and an Optimus Mini Three OLED keyboard.

A new Raspberry Pi! Get overenthusiastic hype! The Raspberry Pi Model A+ got an upgrade recently. It now has 512MB of RAM

We saw this delta 3D printer a month ago at the Midwest RepRap festival in Indiana. Now it’s a Kickstarter. Very big, and fairly cheap.

The Rigol DS1054Zed is one of the best oscilloscopes you can buy for the price. It’s also sort of loud. Here’s how you replace the fan to make it quieter.

Here’s some Crowdfunding drama for you. This project aims to bring the Commodore 64 back, in both a ‘home computer’ format and a portable gaming console. It’s not an FPGA implementation – it’s an ARM single board computer that also has support for, “multiple SIDs for stereo sound (6581 or 8580).” God only knows where they’re sourcing them from. Some tech journos complained that it’s, “just a Raspberry Pi running an emulator,” which it is not – apparently it’s a custom ARM board with a few sockets for SIDs, carts, and disk drives. I’ll be watching this one with interest.

Reviving The Best Keyboard Ever

For the last few decades, the computer keyboard has been seen as just another peripheral. There’s no need to buy a quality keyboard, conventional wisdom goes, because there’s no real difference between the fancy, ‘enthusiast’ keyboards and ubiquitous Dell keyboards that inhabit the IT closets of offices the world over.

Just like the mechanic who will only buy a specific brand of wrenches, the engineer who has a favorite pair of tweezers, or the amateur woodworker who uses a hand plane made 150 years ago, some people who use keyboards eight or twelve hours a day have realized the older tools of the trade are better. Old keyboards, or at least ones with mechanical switches, aren’t gummy, they’re precise, you don’t have to hammer on them to type, and they’re more ergonomic. They sound better. Even if it’s just a placebo effect, it doesn’t matter: there’s an effect.

This realization has led to the proliferation of high-end keyboards and keyboard aficionados hammering away on boards loaded up with Cherry MX, Alps, Gateron, Topre, and other purely ‘mechanical’ key switches. Today, there are more options available to typing enthusiasts than ever before, even though some holdouts are still pecking away at the keyboard that came with the same computer they bought in 1989.

The market is growing, popularity is up, and with that comes a herculean effort to revive what could be considered the greatest keyboard of all time. This is the revival of the IBM 4704 terminal keyboard. Originally sold to banks and other institutions, this 62-key IBM Model F keyboard is rare and coveted. Obtaining one today means finding one behind a shelf in an IT closet, or bidding $500 on an eBay auction and hoping for the best.

Now, this keyboard is coming back from the dead, and unlike the IBM Model M that has been manufactured continuously for 30 years, the 62-key IBM Model F ‘Kishsaver’ keyboard is being brought back to life by building new molds, designing new circuit boards, and remanufacturing everything IBM did in the late 1970s.
Continue reading “Reviving The Best Keyboard Ever”

A Better, Open Hardware Keyboard

A keyboard is the most important tool in the modern desk jockey’s arsenal but, despite this fact, millions of people suffer the $10 membrane keyboards that shipped with the computer they got a decade ago. It’s a terrible way to live your life, but for those of us who are enlightened, there’s another way: mechanical keyboards. [Mário] over at the Bit Bang Theory just built his own mechanical keyboard with his own homebrew firmware and a few interesting features that aren’t found in other open hardware keyboard projects.

The ‘from scratch’ aspect of this build is somewhat of a misnomer; the key switches used in this build were taken from a Monterey K108, and the key caps were taken from a keyboard with a Portuguese layout. Once the switches were in place and soldered up, it was time for the electronics.

While most homebrew keyboards these days use a Teensy 2 thanks to some amazing firmware and development tools that have grown up around this device, there’s not a Teensy to be found inside this keyboard. The keyboard controller is built around a PIC18F4550 and uses the USB available on the chip. Naturally, there are more than a few WS2812b RGB LEDs around the edge of the keyboard that “breathe”, run a KITT-style LED chaser, or simply display a single chosen color.

There are a few neat features in this keyboard controller that aren’t readily available with other open source keyboard firmwares. There’s a keylogger, macro recorder, and a toggle macro that will activate or deactivate a (secret) internal 8GB USB storage key. Settings are saved in the internal EEPROM.

It’s a great looking build, and something we don’t see enough of around here. In any event, it’s just one step further towards eliminating the menace of cheap keyboards, and something we hope to see more of soon.