Douglas Engelbart’s 1968 “Mother of all Demos” introduced the world to a whole range of technologies we take for granted today, the most prominent being his great invention, the computer mouse. However, the MOAD also showcased things like cut-and-paste text editing, a point-and-click interface, video conferencing, and even online collaboration à la Google Docs. One of the innovations shown that for some reason didn’t stand the test of time was the chorded keyboard: an input device with five keys that can be pressed simultaneously in different combinations, the same way you would play chords on a piano.
It’s important to note that the chorded keyboard was not meant to be just an additional set of five keys. Instead, Engelbart showed the clever interplay between the chorder and the mouse: the five keys under his left hand and the three mouse buttons under his right could be combined to create a full 8-bit input device. [Russ]’s device therefore includes a USB host interface to connect a USB mouse as well as a USB client interface that presents itself as a combination mouse/keyboard device to the PC.
The brains of the device are formed by a Teensy 4.1, which reads out the codes sent by the mouse as well as the five keys on top. If one or more of those keys are pressed together with a mouse button, then a keyboard code is generated corresponding to Engelbart’s original keycode mapping. We’re wondering how practical this whole setup would be in real life; it looks like something you’d have to try hands-on to find out. Fortunately, all the schematics, code and STL files are available on the project page, so with just a bit of work you can have your own MOAD setup on your desk today.
On paper, chording — that’s pressing multiple keys to create either a single character or a whole word — looks like one of the best possible input methods. Maybe not the best for speed, at least for a while, but definitely good for conserving the total number of keys. Of course, fewer keys also makes for an easier time when it comes to building keyboards (as long as you don’t have to code the chording software). In fact, we would venture to guess that the hardest part of building your own version of [CrazyRobMiles]’s Pico Chord Keyboard would be teaching your fingers how to work together to chord instead of typing one at a time.
[CrazyRobMiles] took inspiration from the Cykey chording design used for the Microwriter and later, the Microwriter Agenda that also featured a qwerty blister keyboard. Both featured small screens above the six keys — one for each finger, and two for the thumb. While the original Microwriter ran on an 8-bit microprocessor, Pico Chord Keyboard uses — you guessed it — the Raspberry Pi Pico.
We love that [CrazyRobMiles] went with four 14-segment displays, which gives it a nice old school feel, but used transparent keycaps over Kailh switches. This is actually important, because not only do the LEDs show what mode you’re in (alpha vs. numeric vs. symbols), they also teach you how to chord each letter in the special training game mode. Be sure to check it out in the video after the break.
We interrupt the flow of Keebin’ with Kristina to bring you this special bulletin. When three different people alert you to a keyboard within 48 hours or so, it calls for more than just a paragraph in the roundup column. So here are several paragraphs, an animated GIF, and some extended commentary about the Charachorder, a new kind of input that came up through Kickstarter in 2021.
Driving this hype train are some short viral videos that show the founder hitting 500+ WPM on this crazy thing. FYI, that is fast enough to get you banned from typing competitions, including the monkeytype leaderboard. Those apes forbid chorded input altogether, and automatically throw out entries above 300 WPM. It acheives these insane speeds through clever mechanical design and, of course, firmware.
The core of this build is a ‘grip-strengthening’ device that’s sold to guitarists. While the actual benefit of these devices for guitarists is questionable — there are a few anecdotes any music teacher will tell you about classical pianists ruining their hands with similar devices — the device itself can be converted into a fantastic chording keyboard. All you really need for a full-functioned keyboard is a few buttons in a rugged shell, and this ‘grip strengthener’ has that going in spades.
Underneath the plungers for each button [Shervin] installed a magnet and a magnetic sensor, meaning these buttons are analog, and shouldn’t wear out ever. With just a little bit of code on a Tiny BLE board these analog sensors can become a keyboard, a quadcopter controller, an interface for your VR setup, or anything else that can be controlled with a bunch of buttons.
Not to outdo himself, [Shervin] also managed to add some cursor control functionality to this build. This is done via the IMU onboard the Tiny BLE board, and by all accounts it works great. You can check out a video of this build pretending it’s both a keyboard and a mouse below.
What is a chording keyboard, you ask? Instead of entering keystrokes one at a time, a much smaller set of keys are mashed in meaningful combinations called chords. Once you know what you’re doing, it’s much faster than a standard keyboard. If you’ve ever seen a court reporter hammering away on a tiny machine, you have seen a chording keyboard in action. Our own [Elliott Williams] covered the topic in detail over the summer.
[Brian]’s keyboard has seven keys, one for each finger and three for the thumb. Any key found on a standard 104-key can be made by pressing a combination of keys with the fingers in relation to the center, near, or far thumb keys. We’re pretty impressed that he was able to stuff all of that hardware in such a small 3D-printed package. It’s based on an Arduino micro and uses an Adafruit EZ Key for Bluetooth communication with a phone or tablet.
The ultimate plan is to make this into a wrist-mounted chording keyboard that extends or retracts with the flick of your wrist. [Brian] has made some progress on this, having developed and printed the mechanism. But as you can see in the video after the break, adding the keyboard to it is just too much for the hobby servos he chose to move. Still, if he can dial it in this is going to be awesome!
The keyboard also has an ADXL335 accelerometer breakout, which means it can function as a tilt mouse. Neither the Bluetooth nor the tilt mouse functionality are imperative, though—if you want to make your own and leave either of these out, there is no need to alter the code.
Last July was when we first heard about ASETNIOP. It’s a chorded typing system which at the time was aimed at, but not limited to, touch screen devices. This version gives a pretty good idea of how the system actually works. Your fingers and thumbs are each assigned a key and they never move away from it. To type more than just the ten letters, combinations of keys are assigned the rest of the alphabet. You can see the piano example of the system after the break. But better yet would be hooking your own MIDI keyboard up to the computer and trying it in a browser.
[Autuin] picked up the drums at the age of 18, but by his own admission he’s no [Bonzo], [Buddy Rich] or [Ringo]. Practicing always seems to fall off the end of his to-do list, and there really is only one way to Carnegie Hall. One thing [Autuin] is really fast at is typing, so he figured he could improve his drumming skills by banging a few paragraphs out.
The core of the build is a Yamaha DTX drum module, a MIDI-to-USB adapter, and little light coding. Basically, [Autuin] made a chorded keyboard out of his drums; by hitting one (or two, or three) drum heads at the same time, he can type characters in Open Office.