Hackaday Prize Entry: Giving Phones Their Tactile Buttons Back

In the before-times, we could send text messages without looking at our phones. It was glorious, and something 90s Kids™ wish we could bring to our gigantic glowing rectangles stuck in our pocket. For his Hackaday Prize Entry, [Kyle] is bringing just a little bit of this sightless functionality back to the modern smartphone. He’s building a tactile remote control for smartphones. With this device, you can navigate through icons, push buttons, and even zoom in on maps with real, physical controls.

This keyboard is built around a handful of Cherry MX mechanical key switches for a great tactile feel, and a single capacitive touch strip for zooming in and out on the screen. This is pretty much exactly what you want for real, mechanical buttons for a smartphone — a satisfying click and a zoomy strip. The microcontroller used in this device is the BGM111 Bluetooth LE module from Silicon Labs. It’s an extremely low-power module that is able to read a cap touch strip and a few button inputs. Power is provided by a 2032 coin cell, giving the entire device a low profile form factor (except for the MX switches, but whatever), and more than enough run time.

It should be noted that [Kyle] is building this as a solution to distracted driving. True, looking down to send a quick text while driving is the cause of thousands of deaths. However, while typing out a quick note with a T9 keyboard on your Nokia seems like it’s less dangerous, it’s really not. Doing anything while driving is distracted driving, and there are volumes of studies to back this up. Outside the intended use case, this is a fantastic project that uses a neat little Bluetooth module we don’t see much of, and there are some pretty cool applications of a tiny wireless mechanical keyboard with cap touch we can think of.

10 thoughts on “Hackaday Prize Entry: Giving Phones Their Tactile Buttons Back

  1. IMO the current laws against texting and driving are anti safety…. because people are gonna do it, and it was safer when you could hold your phone way up, rest your hand on the dash and AT LEAST have traffic in your field of view, and have brake lights impinge on your consciousness.

    Likewise, law enforcement going on about how “It’s like shooting fish in a barrel” when they ticket a bunch of people for doing it stopped in traffic or waiting at a light. Yes it’s illegal, but it’s also far less unsafe than doing it holding your phone in your crotch when you’re barrelling down the highway.

    Mind you, “in the day” I’d only be sending a quick OK when road conditions allowed, and I had a nokia so if traffic got mildly “interesting” I’d just drop it in passenger footwell.

    I think the reason for relatively long period of tolerance, before it was cracked down on, was that a lot of ppl had minimum 5 years road experience, and knew what level of concentration necessary to not crash, and added phones to that. Whereas when kids began to get phones and go straight on the road with them as inexperienced drivers, then more incidents began to happen.

    1. “IMO the current laws against texting and driving are anti safety…. because people are gonna do it”

      If you text when you’re driving you’re a danger to those around you. You could make the same arguments about drink driving. If you’re texting, drunk, etc… and you end up in a car crash that kills someone, the end result should not be a slap on the wrist, the end result should be jail. Good luck getting out of that one.

      1. I’m saying the incentivisation is wrong, and the way it’s enforced makes people do it more dangerously. It’s got people more afraid of a fine than killing someone. That’s ass backwards.

        Killing people was always wrong, I don’t know why that’s never emphasised rather than the particular brand of carelessness, inattention or deliberate act that leads to it.

        Problem is, people adjust to certain levels of risk, so in order to make people NOT do something, you’ve got to make it seem more scary, however, when you make it more scary, some section of the populace gets unreasonably frightened and demands politicians save them from it. Politicians are eager to oblige and pass laws, stupid ones, like thou shalt drive at a speed likely to cause boredom and inattention, also blood and guts shouldn’t be shown on TV so graphically… so then people feel safer, but aren’t.

      2. >”You could make the same arguments about drink driving”

        No, you couldn’t, because you can’t suddenly switch to sober when already drunk. Trying to enforce the law on cellphone usage is futile, while enforcing DUI limits is not, which is why the latter works and the former doesn’t.

    1. I saw in some psychological journal as an example of clinically significant hyperfocus issues, that focus on driving without being able to do anything else was a problem, LOL.

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