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.

11 thoughts on “Handmade Keyboards For Hands

  1. Main problem I have with all of these and my keyboards:

    * how to keep them clean?
    * must they really be black?

    If I eat and drink heavy while working, after 6 month they change color. I found a waterproof Logitech, easy the clean. It’s true. But the keyboard feeling is awful. So unusable. How to clean a, say, Fujitsu KB-520?

    As much as I love black chocolate I dislike it as color for devices on my desk. Total disaster. Keyboard manufactures seem to love black.

    1. You could probably put some polyurethane varnish on the 3D print to make the surface easy to clean. Though if you are messing up so much that a black keyboard changes color, you’ll probably need waterproof switches also.

    2. Perhaps you should buy a different colour keyboard? One quick look on Amazon brings up a whole host of colours to choose. Regardless, good job he didn’t make it for you. You should focus more on learning how to consume food like an adult rather than whinge about others colour preferences, I don’t think the colour of your peripherals will help with your terrible hygiene. Also there is no such thing as black chocolate.

    1. I dunno if it was that brand, but I remember seeing that style of keyboard at the science museum when I was a kid. Late 80s, early 90s maybe. Trying to play Odell Lake, or what ever that dinosaur game was, with a keyboard that advanced was crazy. They were very comfotable to type on, but too pricy for me to ever own.

  2. Smash like to save the thinkpad race. Huh?
    The bowl doesn’t make as much sense as tilting the plane of keys down slightly, or just don’t tilt the plane up as much is common. A common piano teacher rap is “lift your hands” because the wrist is not held high enough relative to the keys. Those 120 buttons on the left hand of a full accordion have been put on a synth-organ by Wersi and they are tilted away 20-30 degrees.

    If any of these radical designs have something in common it’s not having to move hands much just fingers definitely not arms. So support now becomes possible and the fingers can hang down some to work.

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