There’s a newish development in the world of keyboards; the optical switch. It’s been around for a couple years in desktop keyboards, and recently became available on a laptop keyboard as well. These are not replacements for your standard $7 keyboard with rubber membrane switches intended for puttering around on your raspberry pi. Their goal is the gamer market.
The question, though, is are these the equivalent of Monster Cables for audiophiles: overpriced status symbols? Betteridge would be proud; the short answer is that no, there is a legitimate advantage, and for certain types of use, it makes a lot of sense.
Continue reading “Optical Keyboards Have Us Examining Typing At Light Speed-ish”
In the heat of the moment, gamers live and die by the speed and user-friendliness of their input mechanisms. If you’re team PC, you have two controllers to worry about. Lots of times, players will choose a separate gaming keyboard over the all-purpose 104-banger type.
When [John Silvia]’s beloved Fang game pad went to that LAN party in the sky, he saw the opportunity to create a custom replacement exactly as he wanted it. Also, he couldn’t find one with his desired layout. Mechanical switches were a must, and he went with those Cherry MX-like Gaterons we keep seeing lately.
This 37-key game pad, which [John] named Eyetooth in homage to the Fang, has a couple of standout features. For one, any key can be reprogrammed key directly from the keypad itself, thanks to built-in macro commands. It’s keyboard-ception!
One of the macros toggles an optional auto-repeat feature. [John] says this is not for cheating, though you could totally use it for that if you were so inclined. He is physically unable to spam keys fast enough to satisfy some single-player games, so he designed this as a workaround. The auto-repeat’s frequency is adjustable in 5-millisecond increments using the up /down macros. There’s a lot more information about the macros on the project’s GitHub.
Eyetooth runs on an Arduino Pro Micro, so you can either use [John]’s code or something like QMK firmware. This baby is so open source that [John] even has a hot tip for getting quality grippy feet on the cheap: go to the dollar store and look for rubber heel grippers meant to keep feet from sliding around inside shoes.
If [John] finds himself doing a lot of reprogramming, adding a screen with a layout map could help him keep track of the key assignments.
Mechanical keyboards with reduced key counts are all the rage these days, but while those streamlined input devices might look cool on your desk, there are times when the traditional number pad or navigation keys are quite handy. Rather than just going without, [Mattia Dal Ben] decided to put together his own mechanical auxiliary input device for when the main board just isn’t cutting it.
[Mattia] is calling his creation the YamPAD, which stands for Yet Another Mechanical numPAD. One of the major goals for the project is to produce a design that’s easy for others to replicate and customize. His PCB has a socket designed to fit an Arduino Pro Micro, which combined with the QMK firmware, offers a wide array of configuration options. All that’s left is to add in the Cherry MX switches and some 1N4148 diodes.
But if you want to take things a little further, [Mattia] has that covered as well. The PCB design has provisions for RGB LED back-lighting should you find yourself in need of crunching some numbers in the dark. There’s even a spot for a 0.91″ OLED display if you really want to take things to the next level.
As of right now, the YamPAD is just a bare PCB, but [Mattia] is planning to design a 3D printed enclosure for it soon. The sketches he’s done so far depict a printed case which we think bears more than a passing resemblance to a Wii Fit Balance Board, but of course being a fully open source project, you’ll be free to design your own case based on the PCB’s dimensions. It would be interesting to see what other kind of customization the community might come up with once the design is finalized.
If you like the idea of the YamPAD, you might also want to check out the kbord we covered back in 2017. If you want to see the full keyboard done in this DIY open hardware style, there are already some choice entries into the field.
There are a number of sticking points that can keep new players away from complex tabletop games such as Dungeons & Dragons. Some people are intimidated by the math involved, and of course others just can’t find enough friends who are willing to sit down and play D&D with them in 2019. While this gadget created by [Caleb Everett] won’t help you get more open minded friends, it will take some of the mental gymnastics out of adding up dice rolls.
In its current form the device saves you from the hassle of not only having to roll various combinations of physical dice, but adding up all the faces after the fact as well. In the future [Caleb] plans on adding more advanced software features which will allow for tricks not possible with real dice, such as increasing the likelihood of rolling numbers which haven’t been seen in awhile. Now that the hardware is put together, he’s free to dig into the software side of things and really get creative.
Inside the 3D printed case of his calculator there’s a Adafruit Feather M0 Express, a 128 x 32 OLED display, and a 2200 mAh lithium ion battery that lets him go mobile. The keys, which are Cherry MX clones, are wired directly to the digital pins of the Feather board as [Caleb] found that easier to wrap his head around than doing a matrix. This ended up working out as he had enough pins, but does stifle future expansion a bit.
Even if you aren’t into the sort of tabletop gaming which would benefit from an automatic dice roller and tabulator, we think [Caleb] has come up with a very neat form factor for similar pocket sized gadgets. It reminds us of the Handlink from Quantum Leap; before the prop department swapped it out for a jumble of gummy bears later on in the series, anyway. Since he’s shared the link to the OnShape project, you can even tweak the design a bit without having to suffer through modifying the STLs.
Many of the electronic dice we’ve seen in the past have tried to emulate the size and appearance of traditional dice, so it’s interesting to see this approach which goes in the opposite direction entirely. Critics might say that at some point you’d be better off just using a software application for your smartphone, but we’re not in the business of complaining when people produce interesting pieces of hardware.
To say that the Commodore 64 was an important milestone in the history of personal computing is probably a bit of an understatement. For a decent chunk of the 1980s, it was the home computer, with some estimates putting the total number of them sold as high as 17 million. For hackers of a certain age, there’s a fairly good chance that the C64 holds a special spot in their childhood; perhaps even setting them on a trajectory they followed for the rest of their lives.
At the risk of showing his age, [Clicky Steve] writes in to tell us about the important role the C64 played in his childhood. He received it as a gift on his fifth birthday from his parents, and fondly remembers the hours he and his grandfather spent with a mail order book learning how to program it. He credits these memories with getting him interested in technology and electronic music. In an effort to keep himself connected to those early memories, he decided to build a modern keyboard with C64 keycaps.
As you might expect, the process started with [Steve] harvesting the caps from a real Commodore, in fact, the very same computer he received as a child. While the purists might shed a tear that the original machine was sacrificed to build this new keyboard, he does note that his C64 had seen better days.
Of course, you can’t just pull the caps off of C64 and stick them on a modern keyboard. [Steve] found the STLs for a 3D printable C64 to Cherry MX adapter on GitHub, and had 80 of them professionally printed as he doesn’t have access to an SLS printer. He reports the design works well, but that non-destructively removing the adapters from the caps once they are pressed into place probably isn’t going to happen; something to keep in mind for others who might be considering sacrificing their personal C64 for the project.
[Steve] installed the caps on a Preonic mechanical keyboard, which worked out fairly well, though he had to get creative with the layout as the C64 caps didn’t really lend themselves to the keyboard’s ortholinear layout. He does mention that switches a bit heavier than the Cherry MX Whites he selected would probably be ideal, but overall he’s extremely happy with his functional tribute to his grandfather.
If you’re more of a purist, you can always adapt the C64 keyboard directly to USB. Or go in the complete opposite direction and put a Raspberry Pi into a C64 carcass.
The question of whether to use a mouse versus a trackball is something of a Holy War on the level of Vi versus Emacs. We at Hackaday want no part of such things, use whatever you want, and leave us out of it. But we will go as far as to say that Team Trackball seems to take things mighty seriously. We’ve never met a casual trackball user: if they’ve got a trackball on their desk then get ready to hear all about it.
With that in mind, the lengths [LayeredDesigns] went to just to add a couple extra buttons to his CST trackball make a bit more sense. Obviously enamored with this particular piece of pointing technology, he designed a 3D printed “sidecar” that you can mount to the left side of the stock trackball. Matching the shape of the original case pretty closely, this add-on module currently hosts a pair of MX mechanical keys, but the plans don’t stop there.
[LayeredDesigns] mentions that all the free room inside the shell for this two-button modification has got him thinking of what else he could fit in there. The logical choice is a Teensy emulating a USB HID device, which could allow for all sorts of cool programmable input possibilities. One potential feature he mentioned was adding a scroll wheel, which the Teensy could easily interface with and present to the operating system.
We’ve seen our fair share of 3D printed keyboards and keyboard modifications, but we can’t say the same about the legendary trackball. Ones made of cardboard, sure. Pulled out of a military installation and hacked to add USB? You bet. This project is just more evidence of what’s possible with a 3D printer, a caliper, and some patience.
A combination of cheap USB HID capable microcontrollers, the ability to buy individual mechanical keys online, and 3D printing has opened up a whole new world of purpose-built input devices. Occasionally these take the form of full keyboards, but more often than not they are small boards with six or so keys that are dedicated to specific tasks or occasionally a particular game or program. An easy and cheap project with tangible benefits to anyone who spends a decent amount of time sitting in front of the computer certainly sounds like a win to us.
But this build by [r0ckR2] takes the concept one step farther. Rather than just being a simple 3×3 keypad, his includes a small screen that shows the current assignments for each key. Not only does this look really cool on the desk (always important), but it also allows assigning multiple functions to each key. The screen enables the user to switch between different pages of key assignments, potentially allowing a different set of hot keys or macros for every piece of software they use.
The case is entirely 3D printed, as are the key caps. To keep things simple, [r0ckR2] didn’t bother to design a full enclosure, leaving all the electronics exposed on the back. Some might think it’s a little messy, but we appreciate the fact that it gives you easy access to the internals if you need to fix anything. Rubber feet were added to the bottom so it doesn’t slide around while in use, but otherwise the case is a pretty straightforward affair.
As for the electronics, [r0ckR2] went with an STM32 “Blue Pill” board, simply because it’s what he had on hand. The screen is a ST7735 1.44 inch SPI TFT, and the keys themselves are Cherry MX Red clones he got off of eBay. All in all, most of the gear came from his parts bins or else was only a couple bucks online.
If you’re looking for something a bit bigger, check out this gorgeous Arduino-powered version, or this far more utilitarian version. Both are almost entirely 3D printed, proving the technology is capable of more than making little boats.