Advancing The State Of Cyberdeck Technology

It’s somewhat rare to be able to witness the birth and subsequent evolution of a technology, at least on a short enough time scale to appreciate it, but right now we’re lucky enough to see it happening within the burgeoning community of cyberdeck builders. We’ve seen an absolute explosion of cyberdeck projects in the last year or so, but this latest entry from [Tinfoil_Haberdashery] truly pushes the state of the art forward. Short of actually transmitting your consciousness into the Matrix, we’re not sure how much closer you could get to William Gibson’s original vision.

The design is based around a split ergonomic keyboard, with an Intel NUC in the center and a 1920×1200 IPS panel on a tilting mount off to one side. Since the display started its life as a DSLR monitor it doesn’t have a touch panel, but those who’ve yet to master a mouse-free workflow will be happy to know there’s a touch pad built into the lid of the NUC. Thanks to a clever dovetail joint, the deck also separates in half if you want to put some more space between your hands, or just to make the whole thing slightly less intimidating while carrying it on your back through the Sprawl.

Power is provided by a custom 18650 battery pack running at 18 V that [Tinfoil_Haberdashery] (naturally) assembled with a homemade spot welder. He’s included both buck and boost converters so the cyberdeck can be powered with a wide array of voltages should he find himself in need of some juice in the field. To maximize battery life he’s also worked in a relay to cut power to the monitor when the NUC is sleeping, and there’s a physical master switch that can completely disconnect everything for long periods of inactivity.

The very first cyberdeck featured on Hackaday was built by [Tinfoil_Haberdashery], and we’re glad to see he’s not resting on his laurels. While that first deck was certainly impressive in its own right, this build takes inspiration from the incredible work we’ve seen from other hardware hackers and raises the bar on what’s possible from this dedicated community.

Patrol The Sprawl With This Battle Ready Cyberdeck

The recent crop of cyberdeck builds are inspired, at least tangentially, by William Gibson’s novel Neuromancer and its subsequent sequels. In the novels, the decks are used as mobile terminals to access the virtual reality of cyberspace. In our world, they’re usually just quasi-retro boxes with Raspberry Pis in them. Artistic license and all that. But the “XMT-19 Cutlass”, a deck built by [CaptNumbNutz], attempts to hew more closely to the source material than most builds we’ve seen.

Of course it won’t be transporting you into the matrix, and ultimately it’s still just a casemod for the Raspberry Pi. But at least it does a fantastic job of fitting the Neuromancer motif. The design is supposed to look like the XMT-19 was a piece of high-tech military hardware that was later co-opted by a cyberspace cowboy operating in the urban megatropolis that Gibson called the Sprawl, with exposed wiring and a visual mish-mash of components.

If you can believe it, the build started out as a locking clipboard of all things. From there, [CaptNumbNutz] started layering on the hand-cut foam greebles and spraying on the WWII inspired color scheme. We especially like the yellow tips on the antennas that invoke the propellers of vintage airplanes, and the serial number stenciled onto the bottom. In a departure from basically every other cyberdeck we’ve seen to date, there appear to be no 3D printed elements on the XMT-19; all the parts are hand made with nothing more than an a sharp knife and a heap of patience.

In terms of the electronics, the whole build has been greatly simplified by the use of a SmartiPi Touch case, which integrates the Pi and touch screen into a single hinged unit that just needed to get bolted to the top of the deck. Plus it gave him an excuse to put a big rainbow ribbon cable on the back of it to reach the Pi’s GPIO ports, which as you know, instantly makes everything look more retro-futuristic.

It might not be packing the raw power of the Intel NUC cyberdeck we covered last year, or have the convincingly vintage look of the VirtuScope, but we’d take the XMT-19 Cutlass into the matrix any day.

A Cyberdeck Built With Ergonomics In Mind

With a new decade looming over us, the hot new thing for hackers and makers everywhere is to build cyberdecks to go with the flashy black-and-neon clothing that the sci-fi films of old predicted we’d all be wearing come next year. [Phil Hagelberg] has been designing one based on his own ergonomic keyboard, prioritizing not only form but also function.

The Atreus mechanical keyboard has a split layout that foregoes the traditional typewriter-inherited staggered arrangement in favor of one that better fits the user’s hands. The reduced number of keys limits hand movement for a more comfortable writing experience, however if you use function keys often, the trade-off is that you’ll need to use an auxiliary key to access them.

The deck [Phil] documents for us here is built from the ground up around that same design and aims to be small enough for travel, yet pleasant enough for serious use. It’s gone through four revisions so far, including an interesting one where the keyboard is laid out on the sides for using while standing up. As for the brains of the machine, the past revisions have used different flavors of Raspberry Pi and even a Samsung Galaxy S4 phone, though the latest model has a Pine64 running the show. How much has changed between each finished prototype really goes to show that you don’t have to get it right the first time, and it’s always good to experiment with a new idea to see what works.

[Phil] is now moving onto a fifth prototype, and hopes to eventually sell kits for building the whole cyberdeck along with the kits already available for the standalone keyboard. We’ve been struck by the creativity shown in these cyberdeck builds, which range from reusing retro computer shells to completely printing out a whole new one for a unique look. We can’t say for sure if this custom form-factor will eventually surpass mass-produced laptops, but it sure would be hella cool if it did.

Hackaday Podcast 038: Cyberdecks Taking Over, Resin 3D-Printing Vs FDM, Silicone Injection Molding, And The Pickle Fork Fiasco

Hackaday Editors Tom Nardi and Mike Szczys comb through their favorite hacks from the past week. We loved Donald Papp’s article on considerations before making the leap from FDM 3D Printers to a resin-based process, and we solidify our thoughts on curing cement in low-gravity. Tom’s working on a Cyberdeck build, and he also found an ancient episode of an earlier and much different version of the Hackaday podcast. We’re impressed with a mostly 3D-printed useless machine, a thermal-insert press that’s also 3D-printed, and the Raspberry-Pi based Sidekick clone that popped up this week. A DIY wire-bending robot is an incredible build, as is the gorgeous wire-routing in a mechanical keyboard, and the filigree work on this playing card press. Plus you need to spend some time getting lost in this one hydrogen-line telescope project.

Take a look at the links below if you want to follow along, and as always tell us what you think about this episode in the comments!

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3D Printed VirtuScope Is A Raspberry Pi 4 Cyberdeck With A Purpose

William Gibson might have come up with the idea for the cyberdeck in 1984, but it’s only recently that technology like desktop 3D printing and powerful single board computers have enabled hackers and makers to assemble their own functional versions of these classic cyberpunk devices. Often the final product is little more than a cosplay prop, but when [Joe D] (better known on the tubes as [bootdsc]) started designing his VirtuScope, he wanted to create something that was actually practical enough to use. So far, it looks like he’s managed to pull it off.

Many of the cyberdeck builds we see are based around the carcass of a era-appropriate vintage computer, which looks great and really helps sell the whole retro-future vibe. Unfortunately, this can make the projects difficult and expensive to replicate. Plus there’s plenty of people who take offense to gutting a 30+ year old piece of hardware just so you can wear it around your neck at DEF CON.

[bootdsc] deftly avoided this common pitfall by 3D printing the entire enclosure for the VirtuScope, and since he’s shared all of the STLs, he’s even made it so anyone can run off their own copy. The majority of the parts can be done on any FDM printer with a 20 x 20 x 10cm build area, though there are a few detail pieces that need the resolution of an SLA machine.

Under the hood the VirtuScope is using the Raspberry Pi 4, which [bootdsc] says is key to the build’s usability as the latest version of the diminutive Linux SBC finally has enough computational muscle to make it a viable for daily computing. Granted the seven inch LCD might be a tad small for marathon hacking sessions, but you could always plug in an external display when you don’t need to be mobile. For your wireless hacking needs, the VirtuScope features an internal NooElec SDR (with HF upconverter) and a AWUS036AC long-range WiFi adapter; though there’s plenty of room to outfit it with whatever kind of payload you’d find useful while on the go.

Documentation for this project is still in the early stages, but [bootdsc] has already provided more than enough to get you started. He tells us that there are at least two more posts coming that will not only flesh out how he built the VirtuScope, but explain why it’s now become his portable SDR rig of choice. We’re excited to see more details about this build, and hope somebody out there is willing to take on the challenge of building their own variant.

In the past we’ve seen partially 3D printed cyberdecks, and at least one that also went the fully-printed route, but none of them have been quite as accessible as the VirtuScope. By keeping the geometry of the printed parts simple and utilizing commonly available components, [bootdsc] may well have laid the groundwork for hackerdom’s first “mass produced” cyberdeck.

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You Need A Cyberdeck, This Board Will Help

In 1984, William Gibson’s novel Neuromancer helped kick off the cyberpunk genre that many hackers have been delighting in ever since. Years before Tim Berners-Lee created the World Wide Web, Gibson was imagining worldwide computer networks and omnipresent artificial intelligence. One of his most famous fictional creations is the cyberdeck, a powerful mobile computer that allowed its users to navigate the global net; though today we might just call them smartphones.

While we might have the functional equivalent in our pockets, hackers like [Tillo] have been working on building cyberdecks that look a bit more in line with what fans of Neuromancer imagined the hardware would be like. His project is hardly the first, but what’s particularly notable here is that he’s trying to make it easier for others to follow in his footsteps.

There’s a trend to base DIY cyberdecks on 1980s vintage computer hardware, with the logic being that it would be closer to what Gibson had in mind at the time. Equally important, the brutalist angular designs of some of those early computers not only look a lot cooler than anything we’ve got today, but offer cavernous internal volume ripe for a modern hardware transfusion. Often powered by the Raspberry Pi, featuring a relatively small LCD, and packed full of rechargeable batteries, these cyberdecks make mobile what was once anchored to a desk and television.

[Tillo] based his cyberdeck on what’s left of a Commodore C64c, reusing the original keyboard for that vintage feel. That meant he needed to adapt the keyboard to something the Raspberry Pi could understand, for which some commercially available options existed already. But why not take the idea farther for those looking to create their own C64c cyberdecks?

He’s currently working on a new PCB specifically designed for retrofitting one of these classic machines with a Raspberry Pi. The board includes niceties like a USB hub, and should fill out some of those gaping holes left in the case once you remove the original electronics. [Tillo] has already sent the first version of his open source board out for fabrication, so hopefully we’ll get an update soon.

In the meantime, you might want to check out some of the other fantastic cyberdeck builds we’ve covered over the last couple of years.

Jazzberry Bakes The Pi Into A Mechanical Keyboard

If you hang around Hackaday long enough, pretty soon you’ll start to see some patterns emerging. As the nexus of all things awesome in the hacking world, our front page offers a unique vantage point by which you can see what’s getting folks excited this particular month, year, or decade. Right now we can tell you hackers love the Raspberry Pi, 3D printing, and perhaps above all, they can’t get enough mechanical keyboards.

So that makes the Jazzberry by [Mattis Folkestad] something of a perfect storm in the hacker world. The project uses a 3D printed enclosure to combine a Raspberry Pi 3B+ and an Ajazz AK33 mechanical keyboard into a single unit like the home computers of old. Honestly, we’re just glad he didn’t sneak an ESP8266 in there; as the resulting combination might have been enough to crash the site.

That being said, we can’t help but notice there’s a lot of open space inside the 3D printed enclosure. Right now there’s nothing inside but the Raspberry Pi, which only takes up a fraction of the internal volume. Adding a battery and hard drive would be the logical next steps, but it could also be outfitted with a suite of radios and various other hacking and security research accoutrements. We’ve seen an influx of such builds over the last few months, and the Jazzberry seems like it could make a very slick entry into this burgeoning category of mobile pentesting devices.

The STL files are designed specifically for the combination of hardware that [Mattis] used, but it shouldn’t be too difficult to modify them for your own purposes. Even if you stick with the same AK33 keyboard, an upgrade to the impressively powerful Raspberry Pi 4 would be more than worth the time fiddling with the STLs in your CAD tool of choice. If you really want to go all in, add a display and you’re well on the way to that cyberdeck you’ve always wanted.