Launching An Open Source Keyboard; System76 Has Published Their Design Files

System76, a computer manufacturer known for selling machines which run Linux, recently unveiled the complete sources for their forthcoming Launch mechanical keyboard. Made with familiar tools, mass produced, and backed by a stable company it looks like the Launch will be a compelling entrant into the world of mechanical keyboards.

Back in March of 2020 System76 published a blog post about a new project they were embarking on; a mechanical keyboard with an unusual layout. At the time there was scant information available besides a summer 2021 target and little was heard until last week when they opened up access to the Launch repository. Everything should be recognizable if you’ve ever looked at the sources for a customized mechanical keyboard before, which is what gets our attention. Electrical sources are authored with KiCad and should be easy to tweak or fabricate. And mechanical components are provided in STEP files with mechanical drawings, presumably because they intend to actually manufacture these.

launch-chassis.pngFeature wise all the usual hallmarks of a well designed keyboard are here. The Launch uses hostswap sockets to make it easy to install the usual Cherry MX compatible switch options, and includes per-key RGB backlighting courtesy of SK6805 LEDs. The ATmega32U4 runs the popular and extremely capable QMK firmware instead of something bespoke, so it should be easy to customize to the user’s desire.

System76 touts an unusual key layout, but if you’ve seen a 75% keyboard before it shouldn’t be too threatening (though we do wonder about that shrunken right shift). The most unusual feature is that it features a USB hub capable of full speed 10 gigabit USB 3.1 Gen 2 on two USB-C and two USB-A ports. It’s worth checking out the schematic to appreciate how much more complicated the hub design is than the rest of the keyboard, which is practically vestigial in comparison.

The remaining unknown is how the Launch integrates with Pop!_OS, System76’s awkwardly named remix of Ubuntu. They promise deep, compelling integration and we’re excited to see how that manifests.

Dynamic Macro Keyboard Controls All The Things

Keyboard shortcuts are great. Even so, a person can only be expected to remember so many shortcuts and hit them accurately while giving a presentation over Zoom. [Sebastian] needed a good set of of shortcuts for OBS and decided to make a macro keyboard to help out. By the time he was finished, [Sebastian] had macro’d all the things and built a beautiful and smart peripheral that anyone with a pulse would likely love to have gracing their desk.

The design started with OBS, but this slick little keyboard turned into a system-wide assistant. It assigns the eight keys dynamically based on the program that has focus, and even updates the icon to show changes like the microphone status.

This is done with a Python script on the PC that monitors the running programs and updates the macro keeb accordingly using a serial protocol that [Sebastian] wrote. Thanks to the flexibility of this design, [Sebastian] can even use it to control the office light over MQTT and make the CO2 monitor send a color-coded warning to the jog wheel when there’s trouble in the air.

This project is wide open with fabulous documentation, and [Sebastian] is eager to see what improvements and alternative enclosure materials people come up with. Be sure to check out the walk-through/build video after the break.

Inspired to make your own, but want to start smaller? There are plenty to admire around here.

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Rhythm Game Controller Can’t Be Beat

There’s this whole class of vertically scrolling rhythm games that take both hands and look really fun to play, albeit hard on the joints. You can buy specialized controllers for them, but they’re ridiculously expensive for what they are — just a handful of switches and two knobs. It’s exactly the kind of thing you should build to your taste for far less money.

Inspired by a pocket version of the Voltex controller that is also pretty darned expensive, [OmniSaiRen] set out to make their own on the cheap by building an awesome little macro keyboard that’s smaller and easier to use than the specialized controller. Inside there’s an Arduino Pro Micro taking input from eight Cherry MX switches and two optical encoders. The game treats the encoders as vertical and horizontal mouse movements, so [OmniSaiRen]’s code scans the encoders for their positions.

[OmniSaiRen] wrote their own matrix code and says it’s ugly, but it works well enough to play the game. What more can you ask for? A cool sticker to go on the top? Done. It’s too cold outside to paint, anyway. If it’s a one-handed game pad you need, check out this sweet little thing.

Via r/duino

Clacker Hacker: Hot Rod Switch Mods

Whether you’re a programmer, gamer, writer, or data entry specialist, the keyboard is an extension of your nervous system. It’s not so much a tool as it is a medium for flow — for being in the zone. So I think it’s only natural that you should care deeply about your keyboard — how it looks, how it sounds, and above all, how it feels to finger-punch those helmeted little switches all the live-long day. That’s my excuse, anyway.

It might surprise you that mechanical keyboard switches can be modified in a number of ways. Depending on what you want from your keyboarding experience, you can make switches feel lighter or less scratchy, quiet them down, or tighten up any wobble in the housing. Why would you want to do this? Because customization is fun. Because electromechanical things are awesome, and because it’s fun to take switches apart and put them back together again. Because it’s literally hacking and this is Hackaday.

This is a pair of plates from a macro keeb I’m making that will sit directly in front of my trackball.

I got into switch modding because I wanted to put Cherry clears in my dactyl, but worried that they would take too much force to actuate and wear my fingers out. So I bought some really light (39g) springs and was really looking forward to swapping them into the clears, but they just don’t work. Like, physically. Slider goes down, slider gets stuck. It will come back up, but only if I hit it again and smear my finger to the side a bit at the same time. Those springs must be too weak to return clear sliders.

I took this as a sign that I should suck it up and use browns instead. After all, no one else has to know what my sliders look like. While I was opening switches, I tried out one of these super-light springs in a brown, thinking maybe they wouldn’t have to go to waste. Not only did the lighter spring work in the brown, it felt pretty nice. It’s hard to imagine how a whole keeb would feel based on a single switch, but if you can gather a handful and snap them into a plate to riffle your fingers over them, well, it’s probably close enough to a full keyboard to get a good feel for whatever mod you’re doing.

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Greatest Keycaps And Where To Find Them

Look at your keyboard. Do the keycaps excite you? That’s what we thought. You pound on that thing day in and day out. Shouldn’t it at least be attractive? Or even happiness-inducing? You don’t necessarily have to replace every single keycap to spark joy. When it comes to artisan keycaps, the point is to have something that stands out.

How about an Escape key that looks like a tall stack of flapjacks or a tiny, intricate cream puff? From a practical standpoint, how about a spiky Escape key that makes you think twice about rage quitting?

If you’re into games or anime, chances are good that there are more than enough artisan keycaps out there to keep you cash-poor for a while. The same goes for scrumptious foodstuffs with Cherry MX-compatible stems.

In this day and age, you can get just about any type of keycap you want, especially those encapsulating pop culture phenomena and fads. Yes there’s a fidget spinner keycap, and it’s adorable.

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Custom Reddit Keyboard Only Needs One Hand

Sometimes you might want to browse your favorite social media site while eating a sandwich, or throwing darts, or fending off an attacker with a sword. You know, normal things that might occupy only one of your hands. If you’ve ever found yourself in such a situation, then this custom Reddit keyboard could be for you.

Built by [jangxx], this little board is about as simple as it gets. Even if you aren’t looking for a way to browse /r/cooking while practicing your single-handed egg cracking technique, the same principles could be used to quickly throw together a macro keyboard for whatever your particular needs might be.

Inside the 3D printed enclosure is nothing more exotic than an Arduino Pro Micro and five Cherry MX Red switches. The switches have been wired directly to the GPIO pins on the Arduino, and a simple Sketch takes care of the rest. [jangxx] has written the code in such a way that you can easily define the mapping of USB HID keys to physical switches right at the top of the file, making it easy to reuse for your own purposes.

As simple as this project is, we really like the trouble that [jangxx] went through on the 3D printed key caps. The white up and down arrows allow you to navigate through the posts, and the center key selects the one you want to view. Since it’s for Reddit, naturally the red and blue buttons for rapid voting. When you want to go back to the list of posts, just hit the center button again.

Back in 2011 we saw a dedicated Reddit voting peripheral, but we think the addition of simple navigation keys makes this project a bit more compelling. Incidentally, if you can think of any other reason you might want a one-handed keyboard for browsing Reddit…we definitely don’t want to hear about it.

Optical Keyboards Have Us Examining Typing At Light Speed-ish

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.

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