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.
The Knobo is a small macro keypad with 8 mechanical Cherry-style keys and a clickable rotary encoder knob as its main feature. Each key and knob gesture can be customized to any macro, and with five gestures possible with the knob, that gives you a total of thirteen inputs. On top of that, the build and presentation look so sleek and clean we’d swear this was a product straight off of Teenage Engineering’s money-printing machine.
The actions you can do with those inputs range from simple media controls with a volume knob all the way to shortcuts to make a Photoshop artist’s life easier. Right now you can only reprogram the Knobo’s Arduino-based firmware with an In-Circuit Serial Programmer to change what the inputs do, but [Gary] is currently working on configuration software so that users without any programming knowledge will be able to customize it too.
Here on Hackaday, we like keyboard hacks. Given how much time we all spend pounding away on them, they’re natural hacks to come up with. If you’re pulling the circuitry from an existing keyboard then chances are the keys are pressed either by pushing down on rubber domes (AKA the membrane type), or on mechanical switches. [Jason Allemann] has just made it easier to do keyboard hacks using LEGO by building one for a circuit board with mechanical Cherry MX key switches. That involved designing parts to connect LEGO bricks to the switches.
For those custom parts, he recruited his brother [Roman], who’s a mechanical engineer. [Roman] designed keycaps with a Cherry MX stem on one side for snapping onto the key switches, and LEGO studs on the other side for attaching the LEGO bricks. The pieces also have a hole in them for any keys which have LEDs. Of the 100 which [Jason] ordered from Shapeways, around ten were a bit of a loose fit for the LEGO bricks, but only if you were doing extreme button mashing would they come off.
The easy part was the keyboard circuit board itself, which he simply removed from an old Cooler Master Quick Fire Rapid keyboard and inserted into his own LEGO keyboard base.
We do like his creative use of bricks for the keys. For one thing, the letter keys have no letters on them and so is for toufh-typosts touch-typists only. The Caps Lock is a baseball cap, which would be awkward to press except that no one ever does anyway. ESC is a picture of a person running from a dinosaur and F1, which is often the help-key, is the Star of Life symbol for medical emergency services such as ambulances. Scroll Lock is, of course, a scroll. And to make himself type faster, he incorporated blue racing stripes into the frame, but you can judge for yourself whether or not that trick actually works by watching his detailed build-video below.
Mechanical keyboards are the in thing right now and building your own is at least two extra levels of nerd cred. This project, entered in the Hackaday Prize, is a DIY keyboard unlike you’ve ever seen. It is a fundamental shift in the ideas of how a computer keyboard can work. It’s a double action keyboard. Press a key lightly, and one character will show up on the screen. Press hard, and a different character will show up on the screen. You’ve never seen anything like this before.
[Jaakob] designed this keyboard so that each keycap would have two switches underneath. He did this by taking regular ‘ol Cherry MX switches and modifying them so the ‘plunger’ would stick out of the bottom of the switch when it was fully depressed. These Cherry switches were mounted to a piece of perfboard, and a small tact switch soldered underneath. It’s an idea similar to what’s found in touch-sensitive MIDI controllers or the other type of keyboard. The difference here is that instead of using two switches to sense how hard a key is being pressed, it maps to two different functions.
Once [Jaakob] figured out how to put two switches under one keycap, he wired up a matrix, attached a Teensy, and took a crack at the firmware. The build isn’t quite done yet, but this is one of the most innovative DIY keyboards we’ve seen in recent memory. There’s a lot of potential here, and this method of ganging two switches together still allows for the fantastic clack and great feel of a mechanical switch.