Poly Keyboard Has Screens In Every Key

A left-hand side unit of a split keyboard. The keys are black with RGB lighting and the key legends are displayed on small OLED screens in each key.

Aspiring polyglots can be stymied by differing keyboard layouts and character sets when switching between languages. [Thomas Pollak]’s Poly Keyboard circumvents this problem by putting a screen in every key of the keyboard.

In his extensive build logs, [Pollak] details the different challenges he’s faced while bringing this amazing keyboard to life. For example, the OLED screens need glyph rendering to handle the legends on the keys. Since the goal is true universal language support, he used the Adafruit-GFX Library as a beginning and was able to extend support to Japanese, Korean, and Arabic so far in his custom fork of QMK.

The attention to detail on this build is really impressive. Beside the dedication to full glyph support, [Pollak] has measured the amount of extra force the flex cables from the OLEDs add to the actuation of the keyswitches. For the Gateron yellow switch he tested, the difference was about 62.2 g versus the initial 49.7 g.

In case you’re thinking you’ve seen other screen keyboard projects, [Pollak] includes a roundup of similar projects in his logs as well. This isn’t the first keyboard we’ve seen here at Hackaday with an OLED on top of a keyswitch, although [Voidstar Lab]’s MiRage only has three screen keys that were removed in a later iteration. If you’d like a more conventional fixed display in your keyboard, check out [Peng Zhihui]’s modular board with an e-ink display and haptic feedback knob.

18 thoughts on “Poly Keyboard Has Screens In Every Key

      1. I actually got one for 300 usd on eBay. Around 10 years ago. Very lucky buy.
        The way it was working was quite interesting actually, when you plug it in mounts a storage device on your machine, each key is represented as a file in some tiff like format. It was then easy to just put any image on any key. Refresh was actually not that bad, I was able to watch short videos on it.

    1. I also have a memory of such a keyboard, but it was probhibitively expensive. It’s also not much use to me, as I type with all fingers and don’t even look at the keyboard while typing.

      I also do think there were plans for macro keyboard with this setup, and for those it makes a lot more sense. First, you need less keys and displays, which makes it cheaper, and secondly you can change the key assignments for different programs, and a visual indication of what the keys do for each program is more useful.

      1. Saitek made two different programmable keypads. The older one can still work with anything that a PS/2 keyboard can be adapted to. For programming it, there’s software to design and print overlay sheets that fit between the base with the membrane switches and a clear cover. At the back there’s a barcode reader which the user slides across the codes the software prints onto the paper.

        The second version was USB and programmed via the USB connection. Of course there aren’t drivers for anything newer than Windows XP, or possibly Windows Me. Thus the older model is compatible with a lot more systems.

        I have one of the original version somewhere. The problem is the size of it and I’ve never had a desktop with room for it, or the Microsoft Strategic Commander.

  1. I too spent many hours staring at that 1500 bucks ‘Optimus Maximus’ keyboard as a child wondering how cool that would be in person, so it’s great to see diy keyboards using a similar tricks now, would love to be able to buy some “keycap-displays” (plus hardware to control it) from some ‘hacker’ at one point, somebody please jump on this thanks ^_^ I got the funds, just don’t wanna pay that full price for something thats said to type pretty poorly, would much rather have just a few of these on my fav keyboard that I already know types very comfortably :)

  2. I got a Goodwill keyboard with yellow keys and BIG black letters filling the entire key surfaces. I loved it. Unfortunately the build was cheap and got sticky. In art class we are always told to fill the page not just to put something in the corner. All that display and what a waste of space. Just like some labeling on appliances and such along with sliver buttons and other “designer” affronts to utility. What is so special about that upper left corner for one letter. Some dingbat will compose an ad that will do this and not get read, or use center justification on lengthy text.

  3. Anyone knows what kind of oled is being used here? Like the size of it. The creator of this project should also try to find some professional manufacturers from China.
    There’s also a Chinese hardware engineering website (16rd.com), guys from there could give some ideas.
    I bet that there are some professional unheard of manufacturers for LCD/OLED precisely made for keyboards that are super low cost which can only be found by Chinese search engines and websites. I know this because the search engine we use in USA (google/bing) doesn’t contain any information that is in China.
    I would spend few days doing heavy research to find a specific application keyboards manufacturer from China rather than using common oled displays and forcefully make them to be used for keyboards. Need to do searches in baidu.com

    1. There are a couple e-ink-based boards listed if you follow the similar projects link in the article. Also another board that predates the Optimus by several decades that’s monochrome LCD!

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