Hacklet 17 – Keyboards

17

This week on The Hacklet we’re featuring some of the best keyboard hacks from Hackaday.io!

Hackers are really into their keyboards. Everyone has a favorite, and those favorites vary wildly. Mechanical, soft touch, ergonomic, QWERTY, DVORAK, chorded, you name it, there is a hacker, maker, or engineer who loves it, or absolutely hates it. For some, no commercial product is perfect. All is not lost though, as a custom keyboard is just a hack away!

ergo60

[Warren Janssens] gets things rolling with Ergo60, his 60 key ergonomic keyboard. [Warren's] layout is a pair of 25 key hand clusters, each with a matching 5 key thumb cluster. This layout minimizes lateral wrist movement. With the reduced key count and stacked keys, the user’s hands never move from the home row. [Warren] rolled his own PCBs for Ergo60. A Teensy 2.0 running a fork of TMK serves as Ergo60’s controller. [Warren's] is running Cherry Black switches and his keycaps are from Signature Plastics. [Warren] is using Ergo60 as his daily driver these days, so it’s no surprise that he’s set the “Completed Project” tag.

keycaps

Some say he needs no keyboard at all, and that his heartbeat sounds just like an IBM Model M. All we know is he’s called [Brian Benchoff]. [Brian's] created a pair of minimalist keyboard projects. The Unhappy Hacking Keyboard takes us back to basics. After all, computers run on 1’s and 0’s, right? What more could a person need? Apparently just a space and return. Unhappy Hacking Keyboard uses an ATtiny85 with V-USB as the controller and the interface. Keys are cherry MX blues. The keycaps are [Brian's] own Hackaday Cherry MX Keycaps printed by Shapeways.

zxkeyboardAn entire generation of hackers don’t know the joy of typing on a tiny rubber keyboard. [Alistair MacDonald] aimed to fix that, so he turned an old computer into a keyboard with his ZX Keyboard. [Alistair] started with a broken ZX Spectrum. He gutted the original electronics and added an Ardunio Pro Mini running the V-USB library. [Alistair] directly wired the row and column I/O lines from the keyboard to his Arduino. The result is a keyboard which is the perfect size for cell phones, Raspberry Pi’s and the like.

chordkey[Servo] teaches us new ways to type with Chordy KEY, his chording keyboard project. Chordy Key is meant to be used in the left hand. Five finger buttons and three thumb buttons are all that is needed to chord out 64 different letters and symbols. [Servo] utilized an ATmega32U4 powered Sparkfun pro micro to control his keyboard. Chordy Key is a proof of concept, but with [Servos's] use of 3D printed parts, Chordy Key looks like it’s ready for your next wearable computing project!

chord2[jmptable] is also working on a chorded keyboard design. Chord Keyboard uses only 7 keys to send the entire ASCII character set and a few control combinations. [jmptable] used an ATmega328P as his processor. Chord keyboard isn’t wired though. An RN-42-HID module provides bluetooth connectivity to the world.

[jmptable] has provided an amazing amount of detail on his research, including one of his goals of adding a chorded keyboard to the Gameboy Advance. They keyboard itself would be mounted on the spine of a game cartridge. We would love to see that idea come to fruition, [Servo]!

 

mightyFinally we have [Gertlex], who just wanted a scroll wheel embedded in his keyboard. He got there with the help of an Apple Mighty Mouse. Keyboard with Apple Mouse Scroll Ball is one of those hacks that looks like it original equipment. [Gertlex] took a drill to a Targus slim USB keyboard, putting a small hole right between the ESC and F1 keys. He fit the scroll ball from his Apple Mighty Mouse in the hole. Electronics are as simple as plugging the mouse and keyboard into the same USB hub. The only downside to the design is that [Gertlex's] keyboard doesn’t recognize fast enough to send key presses during the boot process.

That’s just about enough keystrokes for this episode of The Hacklet. As always, see you next week. Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of Hackaday.io!

Update – check our our keyboard list right here!

Building A True Unix Keyboard

keyboard

compact keyboards that do away with a third of the keys you would usually find on a normal-sized keyboard are all the rage now, but for [jonhiggs], they weren’t good enough. There is a long tradition of Unix shortcuts these compact keyboards don’t pay attention to – CTRL-A being the Home key, and CTRL-D being the Page Down key. To fix this horrible oversight of Unix history, [jon] tore apart one of these compact keyboards, rewired the switch matrix, and made his own perfect keyboard.

The keyboard [jon] is using is a Filco Minila, a very nice and high quality keyboard in its own right.  After mapping out the switch matrix, [jon] wired all the switches up to a Teensy 2.0 loaded up with the TMK firmware. This is a pretty standard way of building a custom keyboard, and [jon] could have just cut a switch plate and installed panel-mount switches and wired up the matrix and diodes point to point. The case for the keyboard is constructed out of Lego.

Because this is a true, modern Unix keyboard, [jon] needed to connect this keyboard to a box running his *nix of choice. He’s doing this in the most future-retro way possible, with an Amazon EC2 instance. This project isn’t done yet, and [jon] is hoping to add an ARM dev board, an iPad Retina display, battery, and SSD, turning this into a completely homebrew laptop designed around [jon]‘s needs.

DIY Keyboard Backlighting Takes Forever, Worth It

LED Keyboard with Custom Lights

Want a back-lit keyboard? Make one yourself. Though you may not want to after seeing this build by [prodigydoo], who devoted 40 hours to upgrade his mechanical keyboard with a smattering of shiny.

No eye rolling just yet, though, because [prodigydoo's] work is a monument to meticulous craftsmanship and dedication. So what if he accidentally dropped the keyboard’s PCB and cracked it? He patched that up with a few wires in true hacker-problem-solving fashion and no one will ever know.

With the electronics “safely” removed, [prodigydoo] set about desoldering every single key switch, then carefully detaching and disassembling the Cherry MX Blues. He then inserted an LED into each switch’s backplate, reassembled them, mounted the keys back on the board, then added some current-limiting resistors and heat shrink to the circuit. [prodigydoo] cut a few necessary holes for a power switch, state indicator LEDs (Caps Lock, etc.) and some under-the-board lighting, then rounded off the build by hooking up a power supply capable of running all the lights.

No microcontroller? No RGBLEDs? We like it anyway, and it seems [prodigydoo] is glad he kept it simple. Go check out the gallery for gritty details, an explanation of the circuit, and more pictures than your family vacation album.

Capacitive Sensing And Old IBM Keyboards

bar

The pen is mightier than the sword, but the IBM Model M keyboard, properly applied, can knock teeth in. There are a few more IBM keyboards even better suited to blunt force trauma – the extremely vintage beam spring keyboards made for terminals and desktop publishers. Being so very old, there’s no easy way to connect these keyboards to a modern system, so when [xwhatsit] wanted to make his work, he needed to build his own controller.

The beam spring keyboards use capacitive switches, and with 122 keys, the usual method of reading capacitance – putting a capacitor in an oscillator – would be far too slow to be of any use in a keyboard. There is another method of reading capacitance: measuring the current going through the capacitive switch. This can easily be accomplished with an LM339 comparator.

[xwhatsit]‘s keyboard controller uses this capacitive sensing circuit to read the four rows of keys, with a few shift registers taking care of the columns. An ATMega32u2 is the brains of the outfit, running LUFA to translate the key presses to USB.

If you’re lucky enough to have one of these ancient keyboards, [xwhatsit] is selling a few over on the usual mechanical keyboard forums. There’s also a controller for the Model F keyboard using the same basic circuit. If you need one just drop him a line or grab the gerbers and roll your own.

 

 

Custom Mechanical Keyboards

board

[Wyager] was shopping around for a mechanical keyboard, and after noticing custom PCB manufacturing had come down in price so much, he decided to build his own. The end result is a keyboard that’s so elegant in its design, that it could, with a little work, become a very interesting Kickstarter project.

The design had three requirements: cheap, mechanical switches, and extremely customizable. The cheap requirement was solved by splitting the keyboard into two parts with a master/slave arrangement. The boards are connected by a 1/8″ TRRS jack conveying an I2C bus. Since both boards are identical except for the code running on the Teensy dev boards, [Wyager] saved a bit of cash by using two of the three PCBs that came with his OSHPark order.

The mechanical switches – Cherry MX Blues – are rather expensive parts for a failed project. For fear of failure, [Wyager] first ordered a PCB containing the footprint of only one key. With the footprint correct, he graduated to a 2×2 matrix. Once that was verified, the 6×5 matrix was ordered. Everything worked perfectly the first time, something we can’t say about many of our projects.

The code, board files, and schematics are available over on the github

USB adapter for an old VT100 keyboard

VT100

Ah, the VT100, the first dumb terminal that was controlled with a microprocessor. This ancient beast from the late 70s is quite unlike the terminals you’d find from even five years after its vintage – the keyboard connects via a TRS quarter-inch jack – the electronic and code design of this terminal is a bit weird. [Seth] was up to the challenge of making this mechanical keyboard work as a standard USB device, so he created his own USB adapter.

On the little quarter-inch to USB adapter, [Seth] included an HD 6402 UART to talk to the keyboard, along with a Teensy dev board and a few bits of circuits stolen from DEC engineers. The protocol between the keyboard and terminal is a little weird – first the terminal sets a bit in a status word, then the keyboard scans all the key rows and columns in sequence before telling the terminal it’s done. Yes, this gives the VT100 full n-key rollover, but it’s just weird compared to even an IBM Model M keyboard that’s just a few years younger.

[Seth] finally completed his circuit and wired it up on a perfboard. Everything works just as it should, although a little key remapping was done to keep this keyboard adapter useful for Mac and Windows computers. It’s a wonderful bit of kit, and any insight we can get into the old DEC engineers is a wonderful read in any event.

Vidias below.

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