Typewriter Is USB Keyboard, Also Awesome

If you’re a brooding author putting the finishing touches on the next Great American Novel™ while sipping a latte in Starbucks, a MacBook is far too common to impress uncultured proles guzzling caramel macchiatos. No, to impress the next [Joyce] or [T. S. Eliot] sitting at the table next to you, you’ll need something much more hip, like a kit to turn a typewriter into a USB keyboard.

This kit to turn an old Underwood into a USB keyboard comes from the drawing board of [Jack Zylkin], member of Philly hackerspace Hive 76. [Jack] managed to make the process of turning an old typewriter into a keyboard a relatively painless process.

[Jack] created a sensor board loaded up with 74HC595 shift registers that easily mounts to the frame of just about any typewriter. When a key on the typewriter is struck, the mechanical levers strike metal strips soldered to the sensor board. An ATMega microcontroller records these keypresses and sends them over a USB port just like any other USB keyboard.

Modifying a typewriter into a USB keyboard is one of those projects we’d dread; you’d think there would be far too much futzing about with a lot of small electrical contacts and dirty mechanical devices. [Jack] actually managed to put together a very nice kit to turn a typewriter into a keyboard here.

You can pick up a kit over at [Jack]’s etsy store, but doing the same thing with a bit of perf board isn’t out of the question. Awesome video after the break.

15 thoughts on “Typewriter Is USB Keyboard, Also Awesome

  1. Easier to mod certain models of IBM Selectric. They have (IIRC) six or seven levers that control the mechanism which spins and tilts the ball to bang the right character against the ribbon.

    That also made them simple to convert into terminals for late 1970’s and early 1980’s micro computers. Microswitches mounted so the levers would trip them made a keyboard, solenoids rigged to pull the levers made a printer.

    Sometime back HaD showed a Selectric that was made into a printer, but in a far more complicated way. Either the builder didn’t know the simple method or that was a model of Selectric that wasn’t made so simple to hack.

    The simplicity of the hack also made them easy to bug. Back when the Selectric ruled the office space, the FBI, CIA and other agencies concerned about security routinely inspected their typewriters for “3rd party” additions.

  2. Very sweet and fairly simple. The real beauty of this hack is in the mechanicals. Frankly, while he’s done a beautiful job on the active parts, I wonder if why this couldn’t be simplified even more.

    Inside every $6 USB kdeyboard is a circuit which does exactly what all the active electronics in this hack does. Is there no reason one couldn’t just map the keyboard matrix of one to connect to the mechanicals of this project?

    It would require a lot more wiring, to be sure, but everybody has an extra keyboard laying around with the requisite circuitry already assembled, debugged and ready to be connected to the switches installed in the typewriter.

  3. I know Jack personally. He is by no means a hipster. Jack may share some talking points with hipsters (and considering the hipster proclivity for co-opting obscure pop culture references and trendy ideologies in technology, we all do), but Jack puts his money where his mouth is and does things about the stuff he cares about.

Leave a Reply

Please be kind and respectful to help make the comments section excellent. (Comment Policy)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.