The desk of any self-respecting technology enthusiast in the 2020s is not complete without a special keyboard of some sort, be it a vintage IBM Model M, an esoteric layout or form factor, or just a standard keyboard made with clacky mechanical switches. But perhaps we’ve found the one esoteric keyboard to rule them all, in the form of [HIGEDARUMA]’s 8-bit keyboard. You can all go home now, the competition has been well and truly won by this input device with the simplest of premises; enter text by setting the ASCII value as binary on a row of toggle switches. No keyboard is more retro than the one you’d find on the earliest microcomputers!
Jokes aside, perhaps this keyboard may be just a little bit esoteric for many readers, but it’s nevertheless a well-executed project. Aside from the row of binary inputs there is a keypress button which sends whatever the value is to the computer, and a stock button that allows for multiple inputs to be stored and sent as one. If you pause for a moment and think how often you use Ctrl-C and Ctrl-V for example, this is an essential function. There’s more information on a Japanese website (Google Translate link), which reveals that under the hood it’s a Bluetooth device running on an ESP32.
We can imagine that with a bit of use it would be possible to memorize ASCII as binary pretty quickly, in fact we wouldn’t be at all surprised to find readers already possessing that skill. But somehow we can’t imagine it ever being a particularly fast text input device. Take a look for yourselves, it’s in the video below the break.
37 thoughts on “Mechanical Keyboards Are Over, This Device Has Won”
UTF-16 is ok
i hate UTF-8 and 3 or 4 chars as one
UTF-16?! Do you know how annoying it is to have two characters when you wildly alternate codepages? UTF-32 or GTFO!
I’d love to see this combined with a ‘useless machines’ that keeps trying to spell out ‘help me’ or something.
Most self-respecting technology enthusiasts would have something much more useful on their desks that this clumsy device.
Like a clay tablet and Reed stylus?
no, just a few butterflies.
Or just “good old C-x M-c M-butterfly” ;-)
Clumsy isn’t in the device; it’s in the fingers.
hmmm – this seems perfect for those finger(?) keyboards?
8 fingers + 2 thumbs, should be possible to just enter any byte by flexing a few joints in the correct order/sequence…
I believe you mean chording keyboards.
And yeah, that was my first thought too. You could probably already configure existing chording keyboards to work this way (based on binary ASCII codes). I don’t suspect this would be particularly ergonomic, though.
I believe limroh actually means those keyboards that have switches worn on the fingers. And yes, I can see that.
Reminiscent of Steve Robert’s handlebar keyboard – https://microship.com/computing-across-america/
Wouldn’t be a bad addition for your SIMH emulation suite though.
A little bit of code to link it to your virtual PDP8
PDP-8 and PDP11 front panels have flat rocker switches for a reason: those chrome toggle switches will cause blisters on your fingers after not much use. Yes, I have seen people get blisters from toggling in the tape bootloader on chrome plated front panel switches, after just a few days. And I have also seen people boot up a PDP8 every day for months with no issues.
I know I’m dating myself … I spent many 100’s of hours booting PDP-8 using those flat micro switches in the front panel just to get to point in which the paper tape reader could load the op-code.
You are right these metal switches will be hard on the fingers.
The project is a nice tour of memory lane.
I think I was being a little silly in the above comment. Of course this is even a bit too practical! Even better would be Morse Code to spell out the words “one” and “zero” of the binary of the ASCII.
So, the letter “a” would be DASH DASH DASH / DASH DOT / DOT, DASH DASH DASH / DASH DOT / DOT, DASH DASH DOT DOT / DOT / DOT DASH DOT / DASH DASH DASH, DASH DASH DOT DOT / DOT / DOT DASH DOT / DASH DASH DASH, DASH DASH DOT DOT / DOT / DOT DASH DOT / DASH DASH DASH, DASH DASH DOT DOT / DOT / DOT DASH DOT / DASH DASH DASH, DASH DASH DASH / DASH DOT / DOT
ASCII you say? Got one too many switches for that!
Actually you need one toggle switch to ‘toggle in the 7 bits’ when your happy with the setting ;) .
Looks right to me – eight switches to set the bits and a ninth to send the sequence.
Have you looked at an ASCII table recently?
Morse code to keystroke conversion seems a better concept.
Or other one-button keyboards. An even more primitive version of this keyboard would be a single-button one that sends a space state when pushed (i.e., normally mark), requiring you to send the start bit, optional parity bit, 7 or 8 data bits, and 1 or more stop bits. Of course, this would have to be somewhere in the two- to five-baud range to be even slightly possible. An LED or small speaker marking the clock rate would of course be provided. Errors would be corrected with the delete code, which fortunately needs only the start bit to be keyed.
Kids these days with their EIGHT WHOLE bits.
In my day we had ONE bit and we liked it that way!
Yes, very normal. My first computer I learned on (a mainframe) was an RCA (remember them?) which had a punchcard reader for input, a chain printer for output and required a word of 6 (x) 8 bit inputs which were toggle switches with an “enter” pushbutton as a bootloader to start the punchcard reader.
As an additional training exercise, the card reader would completely shred the punchcards in about 1 out of every 5 jobs, so it encouraged you to keep good documentation, a good habit I have kept with me through my career. Because it was the electronics curriculum, all we could program in was straight machine language. (not assembly) So a shredded card was significant.
The college had 8 card punch machines shared across the electronics department, the proto-IT department (accounting, etc) and the college’s business office. The wait to access a card punch machine was about an hour on a good day and there was a line of people behind you constantly telling you to hurry up. They did have a card punch duplicator but it wasn’t avaialble to students.
In all honesty, the colleges and businesses running DEC PDPs weren’t *that* much more advanced.
“Yeah, yeah, Dad and you had to walk 5 miles to school in the snow wearing burlap bags instead of shoes on your feet” …..
Anyway, Imagine just how appreciative I was only 7 years (!!!!!) later when I bought an Atari 400 which ran BASIC, eventually Visicalc and had graphics. I love disruptive technologies.
They eventually sold the RCA as scrap metal by the pound.
I used to work at the old RCA building where the Spectrums where made in Palm Beach Gardens , FL. Of course it was not for RCA but one of the many companies that moved in when RCA left many many years ago. It was a very cool Building. Very much in that cool Hi-Tech style from the 50 and 60s.
It is still not clear from the video how he alternates between character codes and key codes…
Has anyone built a keyboard with spring loaded toggle switches? Use the ones with flat paddle style levers and put them in angled and staggered rows like a multi level organ keyboard.
I assume by ‘anyone’, you mean anyone here. The original Baudot keyboard used five paddle keys, corresponding to each bit position in the Baudot code. The keys had to be pressed simultaneously, since pressing any of them engaged the selector clutch to sequentially connect each switch to the telegraph line.
Try a 3×3 grid of buttons that click down but are mechanically resettable. Select your byte of bits with the outer ring then clock the device with the center button which also serves to mechanically reset the other buttons. A boisterous slap on the back for the first ubergeek to fabricate it, from scratch.
Oh this brings back nightmares. Reminded me of programming a 6800 board with a hexadecimal keypad, so that you could (with latches) push the reset button which would set the program counter to the beginning of memory and then you programmed it one nibble at a time. I think that it had a six red 7 segment display, four for the memory address in hexadecimal. and two for the memory contents also in hexadecimal.
I remember hand assembly (no compilers), and you did triple checking your code before converting it into machine code. And then double checking even nibble of RAM for typos, putting ticks beside your assembly code.
Young people don’t properly appreciate what their elders had to go through …. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VKHFZBUTA4k
“Young people don’t properly appreciate what their elders had to go through ….”
I think in my day, snow and hills got invented. :-D
So, you’re older than dirt!
I can do 9001 WPM on this board
Back in the late 60s, a buddy of mine in Jr. High school was bnuilding some sort of basic computer for a science fair project. I never saw the completed project, but he did once show off his input device. It was the dial mechanism from a rotary phone, which he’d scored from the local Ma Bell office.
As has been mentioned here in the past, there was such a project in Electronics Illustrated. And the last time I.mentioned this, someone had the date.
Eight bits is only a dollar.
So I can get a “Shave and a haircut..” ( 2 bits)… You’re old if you know the reference.
If you have an old Spanish piece of eight it’s worth a lot more than a dollar.
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