The Tiniest Mechanical Keyboard Ever

Owning a mechanical keyboard makes you a better person. It puts you above everyone else. Of course, owning a mechanical keyboard does come with some downsides. Carrying a mechanical keyboard around all the time to tell everyone else you’re better than them is usually impractical, but [cahbtexhuk Joric] has come up with a solution. It’s a miniature Bluetooth mechanical keyboard that’s also a keychain.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: A Double Action Keyboard

Mechanical keyboards are the in thing right now and building your own is at least two extra levels of nerd cred. This project, entered in the Hackaday Prize, is a DIY keyboard unlike you’ve ever seen. It is a fundamental shift in the ideas of how a computer keyboard can work. It’s a double action keyboard. Press a key lightly, and one character will show up on the screen. Press hard, and a different character will show up on the screen. You’ve never seen anything like this before.

[Jaakob] designed this keyboard so that each keycap would have two switches underneath. He did this by taking regular ‘ol Cherry MX switches and modifying them so the ‘plunger’ would stick out of the bottom of the switch when it was fully depressed. These Cherry switches were mounted to a piece of perfboard, and a small tact switch soldered underneath. It’s an idea similar to what’s found in touch-sensitive MIDI controllers or the other type of keyboard. The difference here is that instead of using two switches to sense how hard a key is being pressed, it maps to two different functions.

Once [Jaakob] figured out how to put two switches under one keycap, he wired up a matrix, attached a Teensy, and took a crack at the firmware. The build isn’t quite done yet, but this is one of the most innovative DIY keyboards we’ve seen in recent memory. There’s a lot of potential here, and this method of ganging two switches together still allows for the fantastic clack and great feel of a mechanical switch.

Wherein The Mechanical Keyboard Community Discovers Motorized Linear Potentiometers

Deep in the bowels of the Digikey and Mouser databases, you’ll find the coolest component ever. Motorized linear potentiometers are a rare, exotic, and just plain neat input device most commonly found on gigantic audio mixing boards and other equipment that costs as much as a car. They’re slider potentiometers with a trick up their sleeve: there’s a motor inside that can set the slider to any position.

The mechanical keyboard community has been pushing the boundaries of input devices for the last few years, and it looks like they just discovered motorized linear pots. [Jack] created a motorized sliding keycap for his keyboard. It’s like a scroll wheel, but for a keyboard. It’s beautiful, functional, and awesome.

The hardware for this build is just about what you would expect. A 60 mm motorized linear pot for the side-mount, or 100 mm mounted to the top of the keyboard, is controlled by an Arduino clone and a small motor driver. That’s just the hardware; the real trick here is the software. So far, [Jack] has implemented a plugin system, configuration software, and force feedback. Now, messing with the timeline in any Adobe product is easy and intuitive. This device also has a ‘not quite vibration’ mode for whenever [Jack] gets a notification on his desktop.

Right now, [Jack] is running a group buy for this in a reddit thread, with the cost somewhere between $55 and $75, depending on how many people want one. This is a really awesome product, and we can’t wait for Corsair to come out with a version sporting innumerable RGB LEDs. Until then, we’ll just have to drool over the video [Jack] posted below.

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The Custom Clicky Shortcut Keypad

You’re not cool unless you have a mechanical keyboard. Case in point: if you were to somehow acquire an identical keyboard to the one I used to type this, it would set you back at least seven hundred dollars. Yes, it’s mechanical (Topre), and yes, I’m cooler than you. Of course, you can’t be as cool as me, but you can build your own mechanical keyboard. [Robin] is, I presume, a pretty cool dude so he built his own keyboard. It’s the amazing shortcut keyboard, and it can be programmed graphically.

The idea for this keyboard came when [Robin] was studying as an engineer. We assume this is code for wearing out the Escape key on AutoCAD, but many other software packages have the same problem. The solution to [Robin]’s problem was a shortcut keypad, a 3 by 4 matrix of Cherry switches that could be programmed for any task.

The design of this keyboard started out as an Adafruit Trellis matrix keypad. This was combined with some software written in Processing that assigned macros to each button. This was a sufficient solution, but the switches in the Adafruit trellis look squishy. These are not the right switches for someone who craves a soft snap under every fingertip. It’s not the keyboard of someone who desires the subtle thickness of laser etched PBT keycaps. The Adafruit keypad doesn’t have the graceful lines of a fully sculpted set of keycaps. Oh my god, it’s doubleshot.

[Robin]’s completed keyboard has gone through a few revisions, but in the end, he settled on PCB-mounted switches and a very clever 3D printed standoff system to hold an Arduino Pro Micro in place. The enclosure, too, is 3D printed, and the end result is a completely custom keyboard that’s perfect for mashing key combos.

You can check out a video of this keyboard in action below.

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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.