For some power users, the one-hundred-and-something keys on regular keyboards just aren’t enough for their everyday tasks. Macro keypads are a popular way of extending one’s input capabilities, and there are almost as many examples as there are power users. [Ulrich]’s latest project, dubbed the LowPow E-Ink ShortKeyboard, is a beautiful and meticulously documented design for a macro pad that includes several unusual features.
Built around an ESP32-S3 microcontroller, the ShortKeyboard features nine programmable function keys plus an analog joystick and a rotary encoder. The keys are based on Cherry MX RED types commonly seen in mechanical keyboards, illuminated from below by by miniature RGB LEDs. A big e-ink display in the middle can be used to show the function of each key.
That’s neat, but it’s the additional features that really make this device stand out from the crowd. One of those is connectivity: communication with the host PC can go through a regular USB-C cable, but thanks to the built-in wireless features of the ESP32 it can also communicate through BlueTooth Low Energy or even through WiFi. There’s even an 868 MHz LoRa radio that makes it usable as a remote control for outdoor gadgets.
The ShortKeyboard can used on battery power thanks to a charger chip that keeps a lithium battery topped up whenever the USB cable is connected. A clever power management system ensures the keyboard stays in sleep mode as much as possible when powered from the battery; according to [Ulrich]’s calculations its current consumption should drop to around 50 nA when not in use.
The keyboard also has space to connect environmental sensors via I2C. The idea is that the system can keep track of the air quality at your desk, which is where you’re likely to be spending a lot of your time. We can also imagine some use cases for outdoor operation, such as pollution monitoring or meteorological projects.
Although the assembly of the ShortKeyboard is still a work in progress, what we’ve seen so far definitely looks promising. Hungry for more macro keypads? Check out this beautiful build or this cute little 3D-printed model.