Solar Powered Split Wireless Mechanical Keyboard

When thinking about a perfect keyboard, some of us have a veritable laundry list: split, hot-swapping, wireless, 3d printed, encoders, and a custom layout. The Aloidia keyboard by [Nguyen Vincent] has all that and more.

One of the first things to notice is a row of solar panels on the top, which trickle charge the keyboard. The keyboard uses 65uA in idle and 30uA when in a deep sleep. With the solar panels providing anywhere between 600-1200uAh a day, the battery should last a year and a half under even harsh conditions. The encoders were specially chosen to reduce pull-up power consumption. Given the focus on power and the lack of wires between the halves, you might wonder how the connection to the computer is handled. Does one-half handle the connection and use more power? The answer is that both talk to a dongle based around an nRF52840. This lets the keyboard halves idle most of the time and enables the dongle to handle the expensive communications to the host PC.

Instead of an e-paper screen in the top left, [Nguyen] placed a Sharp memory display. The 3D-printed case is stunning, with no visible screws on the top and tenting feet on the bottom. The two halves snap together very satisfactorily with the power of magnets (the printed palm rests also magnetically attach). Overall it is an incredibly well-thought-out keyboard with all sorts of bells and whistles.

There are project logs with detail to dig into and more videos and photos. We love a good keyboard journey like this one that went for a more ergonomic shape that meant more custom wiring.

Schematics are up on in the files section—video after the break.

Thanks [Shantanu] for the tip!

22 thoughts on “Solar Powered Split Wireless Mechanical Keyboard

  1. I wonder if there’s a way of converting the kinetic energy of actually typing on a mechanical keyboard into an electrical charge, which can then be stored and reused, to make the keyboard entirely self-powering?

    1. Hm. Piezoelectric keyboard. Hm. Hmmmm. I mean, a voice-coil keyboard with neodymium magnets might work better, since you can put enough turns on each key that it can charge a capacitor through a diode. But then, peizoelectric igniters for torches and cigarette lighters manage to generate a few thousand volts from an impact, so maybe that works better. Though I don’t think those will stand up to hundreds of thousands of clicks. Either way, you have to manage the power scavenging in such a way that you can then detect where the impulse came from. Unless you take TacticalNinja’s approach.

    2. Yes. I think IBM holds the patent. I guess they tried it on a Thinkpad (when IBM was still building them), then it disappeared.

      And my google-fu is failing me here, I have no clue which search words I need to enter to find the patent. All I find are patents for keyboards where the key caps are displays which can change the markings for different layouts. Now that’s totally ridiculous. I remember such keyboards from the 1980s already, with LCDs in every key, ugly, clunky, and with a price tag where you’d be far better off with buying separate keyboards for each kayout. Also back in the days: some keyboards would come with stickers so you could change the keys if you didn’t like the default layout.

      Yes. There were times when the operating systems didn’t manage keyboard layouts across all applications, and where you might need to adapt to a US layout instead of your usual national one. Easier to change the letters on your keyboard than fixing it in software! Except that that issue is still around when you enter the BIOS on a modern computer; Germans still have to use their “z” key to answer with (y)es.

    1. I will need to retake some measurements, but as far as I can remember, I was getting around 30-40uA of current with artificial light. This is enough to keep the keyboard from discharging when in deep sleep (you can even charge it if you turn off the keyboard with the switch at the back, which lowers consumption to ~8uA)

      1. Shame it can’t quite increase the charge state in what sounds like a typical environment. Perhaps adding an extra set of solar and seamlessly transitioning them into the screen location to claw back a little of the bezel space so the whole thing doesn’t need to change scale much?

        Either way it does look good. I do like the idea of split keyboard (even if I’ve never actually managed to really get over my love of the Model M (and my even older terminal keyboard)… That it can potentially be charged even indoors is really a nice touch. Way better than coming back to the mouse/keyboard a day or two later and finding the battery have died on you, and no wires to clutter the desk at all!

    2. My replay might have been a been unclear, so I’ll just reformulate it:
      The current consumption with no solar panels is as follows:
      Off: ~8uA (off switch on the back of kb)
      Sleep: ~30uA (no keys pressed for 30 min)
      Idle: ~60uA (no keys pressed for 30s)
      With indoor lights, the solar panels produce a steady current of ~30-40uA. This is enough to compensate the first 2 cases, but not enough to completely prevent the battery from discharging when idle (or when active).

  2. From the Solar-Powered Keyboard FAQ:

    Q: My solar-powered keyboard doesn’t work when coding in Java.

    A: When coding in Java, make sure *not* to use the Eclipse IDE. Eclipse is where the sun doesn’t shine.

    Thanks, I’ll see myself out.

  3. That is definitely a slick keyboard, but for my desk the solar trickle charge wouldn’t work well. I’ve got plenty of sun, so much so that I use a thick curtain to keep it away so I can work so there’d be nowhere on my desk setup that reliably gets enough sun what with the azimuth change throughout the year. Totally not saying the idea is a design flaw though, having to recharge/swap batteries on near stationary devices has always felt clunky. Wish I could retrofit existing keyboards with power contacts so I could toss whatever my latest ergonomic keyboard was in a charging dock.
    I know there’s wireless charging but in my head the power loss is undesirable because my electricity isn’t the cheapest, I don’t know if the reality of small wireless charging is that lossy because I’ve been too lazy to ever pursue the idea past “wouldn’t it be cool”

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