A Big Computer Needs A Big Keyboard

It seems like many keyboard aficionados have been gravitating towards ever smaller boards, but not [Ren]. He’s mostly completed a 433% keyboard with a whopping 450 distinct keys. Using two off the shelf PCBs and Teensy to control it all, this keyboard means you’ll never need to strain to make some awkward chord.

The PCBs have a diode matrix arrangement for 225 keys, which we would have thought was big enough. After all, a Scrabble board has 225 squares, so we assume that’s why the vendor calls them scrabbleboards. Honestly, we’re jealous someone has the desk space for this monster. We were also thinking what other sorts of switch-like sensors you could use with this board. Imagine a home system, for example, with 225 occupancy sensors, each with its own key you could easily read via USB.

There was a time when building your own keyboard of any sort would have been challenging. But now there’s a cottage industry supplying chips, switches, caps, and PCBs to those looking to craft their own custom input devices. The ready availability of 3D printers has also sparked a minor revolution in custom keyboard enclosures and keycaps.

If you’re a fan of the tiny keyboards, we’ve seen some impressive specimens that might catch your fancy. If nothing else, at least they require less soldering. Especially when they only have seven keys.

Thanks [ptkwilliams] for the tip!

36 thoughts on “A Big Computer Needs A Big Keyboard

    1. Yeah I like my old terminal keyboard for its extra row of function keys and 10 extra keys on the left hand edge, very useful, but its even bigger than the model M’s (no surprise there)… I think somehow its about as big as makes any sense as it fits on the desk and all those extra keys are touchtype useable – done by feel as even with my massive hands reaching them all from the home row is a challenge. This thing looks like you would have to look for every single key you wanted as there is no key blocks, or obvious keycap differences to give you a feel…

    2. To enter a smiley, hold alt+fn+ctrl+shift+cmd and press 1. For a frowny, hold alt+fn+ctrl+shift+cmd and press 2. For all other inquiries, stay in the line and a personal assistant will help you find your keystroke shortly.

  1. To reach the top keys you need to have fingers 6″ long or keep your hands in the air above the keyboard.
    So you can’t touch type without looking at the keyboard if your hands are drifting about the desk.

  2. “Oh, crud… I can’t remember what function keys F28 – F117 do, and I don’t remember where I put F1.”
    This is why memory impaired people like me can’t use custom keyboards like that. That being said, excellent keyboard build!

  3. I get that it’s an exercise, but what is it an exercise for? The key selection seems to be very random (I’m especially puzzled by the inclusion of a dozen random kanji and a dozen random kana, which does not give you anything close to a Japanese keyboard). What is it, then? An exercise in programming the controller (which *is* quite a task, from own experience diving ino the USB HID protocol)? Or an exercise in PCB manufacturing? An exercise in soldering?

  4. It has a certain appeal of madness and grandeur, like it belongs in the console of a doomsday machine.

    Just make the keys relegendable. I’d hate to blow up the lab because I mixed up my macros.

  5. Don’ forget the Symbolics LISP machine, a machine that had a CPU that directly ran LISP. Also sometimes called the “MIT Space Cadet Keyboard” it had 8 shift keys – shift, control, super, meta, hyper, top, gold and Greek. Some of which could be chorded to make even more combos.

    And the Emacs on that machine? It used -most- many of those combos directly.

    1. Those were not really “typewriters”, though. They were basically “assisted letterpress” machines, with huge trays of loose characters, and you would swing around an arm to pick up the correct character to whack it on the paper.

      The closest thing to a keyboard that came close to directly effect the multitude of characters of the Chinese or Japanese written language was probably the ALPS CP10SJ550A Kanji Keyboard, which I think is what IBM is referring to as the “IBM 5924 Kanji Keypunch”. And those were fairly rare, with only a few hundred ever produced. Still better than other similar efforts that never made it beyond prototypes.

  6. “It seems like many keyboard aficionados have been gravitating towards ever smaller boards,”

    Today’s coding kid picks Vi over Emacs because they don’t like all those complex key combinations.

    Then the kid picks a minimalist keyboard and so has to use all sorts of funky key combinations just to get characters that would have been a single press on a regular keyboard.

    Makes sense?

    My biggest problem with keyboards is that they don’t come with compose keys. Most compose key users remap the right winkey or the menu key for that. But My laptop doesn’t have that so I had to use the pause key. And since I want to train myself once and only once I did that on my work and home desktops too. But that’s a pretty far from center key to press and breaks up typing pretty bad.

    That kind of has me wondering. In regions of the world where being multilingual is more common is this less is more tiny keyboard craze less popular?

    So, yah. I like more keys. But maybe not this many more. That thing looks crazy!

    1. Smaller keyboards are nice for the DIYer b/c, well, lazy and cheap. Fewer buttons, less wiring, easier to make. (At least that’s my excuse.)

      Still, after now over a year with a completely custom 48-key build, that I intended to be a travel KB, but it’s become my daily driver, I’d say that more keys are better. The question is just how to get them all within reasonable reach of your fingers.

      And for that, maybe a multi-zone monster like this is kinda in the right direction. But maybe not this many.

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