The keyboard, fully assembled, with black 3D printed body.

From Product To Burnout To Open-Source: The Ergo S-1 Keyboard Story

[Andrew] from [Wizard Keyboards] emailed us and asked if we were interested in his story of developing an ergonomic keyboard as a product. Many of us can relate to trying to bring one of our ideas to market. [Andrew], being a mechanical keyboard geek, knew a niche with no product to satisfy it, and had a vision he wanted to implement. He started meticulously going through steps for bringing his keyboard idea into life as a manufacturable product, and gave himself six months to get it done.

 Internals of the keyboard, showing the lower half with the mainboard on the left, and upper half of the keyboard with an FPC connecting keyswitches together on the right

After evaluating competing products and setting a price point, he designed the case, the keyboard’s mainboard, and even flexible circuit boards for wiring the keys up. The mechanical design alone had him go through many iterations and decisions, and he walks us through the different paths he’s faced. Whether it’s these insights, a story of a module with fraudulent FCC certification, or an approach to electronics design that led to him passing EMC tests with flying colors, there’s plenty to learn from [Andrew]’s journey.

Sadly, at some point, the project quickly outgrew the intended goal and became a drain. For instance, tuning the 3D printing processes alone took three months instead of one as planned. As the design was done, he got stuck on marketing material production – a field that turned out to be unexpectedly hostile to a hacker like him. After a year of work and five thousand hours of work spent on the project, he took a break, and afterwards, as he was trying to come back, [Andrew] realized that he has burned out. He took a few month long hiatus, and having recovered a bit, revisited the project. Still not thrilled about the product route, he decided that open-sourcing the keyboard would be the best outcome – doing justice to the time and effort spent working on it.

This is where the story ends – for now. [Andrew] has open-sourced everything one would need to create such a keyboard by yourself, designed assembly instructions, and even sells kit parts for those who’d like to take a shortcut. This wasn’t what he aimed for, but it’s a honorable ending – most commercial projects never get open-sourced even if they utterly fail to launch. Thanks to [Andrew], we got an insightful journey, a postmortem, and an open-source ergonomic keyboard project. Product stories grace our pages every now and then – here’s a similarly swerving story about a MIDI controller.

Toast Keyboard Raises A Glass To Short Index Fingers

Custom keyboards? They’re totally great. And we can keep telling you this, but you really won’t feel it until you try a few and find one or two that are right for you. If you’re already on board, we wonder: is there any limit to what custom keyboards can provide in terms of a good, comfortable time for your fingers, wrists, arms, shoulders, and neck? We think not, and as time goes on, there is more and more evidence to support this.

Take [vpzed]’s Toast keyboard for example. The beauty of customization is that as with any other human input problem, you’ll discover many more people who share your misery once you present a solution. In this case, it is the portion of the population whose index fingers are shorter than their ring fingers (which is evidently men in general). This is known as the 2D:4D ratio and is decided during gestation. At first, the phenomenon was thought to be due to high testosterone exposure in the womb, but subsequent studies have debunked this belief.

Toast aims to sate the need for a keyboard layout that accounts for a significantly shorter 2D than 4D by way of aggressively staggering the index finger’s key positions and staggering the columns overall. As you might imagine, there are no inner keys for length-challenged index fingers to grasp at — that would just be cruel. But there is another pinky column on each hand, which bring the key total to 34. We like the square boards, and frankly wish they were bread-shaped.

Not enough keys for you? Take a look at this many-keyed monoblock split with a numpad in the middle.

via KBD

A sandbox for ergonomic keyboard makers.

Dactyl Chimera Leaves The Learning Out Of The Curve

Have you been wanting to build your own keyboard, ergonomic or otherwise, but are hesitant to spend all that time and filament on something that may not be a good fit for your hands? Glad as we are that the dactyl is open-source, to get in there and really mess around with it requires intimate knowledge of either OpenSCAD or Clojure.

Well, not anymore. [WolfIcefang]’s dactyl chimera is an ergo sandbox, a test bench for column curvature, stagger, and height that should keep you from having to iterate all day and night. It was designed in FreeCAD and has three parts — the rack, the tenting foot, and the arches. The rack acts like a bottom plate and has slots for holding the columns (arches) in place. Underneath that is the tenting foot, which changes the lateral inclination. Thirdly are the arches, the business part where the switches go.

[WolfIcefang] says it’s sturdy but not portable, and for some reason feels the need to apologize for the looks. We think it’s beautiful, but then again are easily captivated by such practicality. It’s not quite a keyboard yet, as [WolfIcefang] has neither wired it up nor burned in any firmware. This is still in the early stages, and [WolfIcefang] wants to open it up to collaborators. Plans for the future include interchangeable thumb clusters and a complete build guide.

Even if you aren’t that fluent in OpenSCAD, you’ll have fun messing around on the keycap modeling playground.

Via r/ErgoMechKeyboards

Inputs Of Interest: SafeType™ Vertical Keyboard With Mirrors Puts Pain In The Rear-View

Yep, this keyboard is another ebay special. I can’t stay away! This is a SafeType™ V801 from probably the early 2000s, although there is no date on it anywhere. I’m basing my guess on the fact that there are so many media buttons. I’ve been eyeing these weirdo mirrored keebs for a while, and when I saw how cheaply this one was going for, I had to have it. That’s just how it goes. I was really excited to clack on it and I’m only marginally disappointed by it. But I can tell you that if my Kinesis were to suddenly die, I would probably reach for this keyboard until the new one showed up.

Yes, mirrors on a keyboard are weird. But if you can’t touch-type the numerals and F keys, they’re absolutely necessary.

So, why does it look like this? There are varying levels of ergonomics when it comes to keyboards. This one fights strongly against wrist pronation and forces you into a position that helps the shoulders and neck as well. You’d think it would be weird to hold your arms aloft at right angles, but it’s actually not that strange in practice because you’re pressing inward to type, kind of like playing an accordion or something.

The weird part is looking in the rear-view mirrors to accurately hit the numerals and F keys, though I’ll be honest: in my test drives, I found myself using the mirrors mostly to make sure my hands were on the home row. And that’s with three homing protrusions apiece on F and J! More about that later.

So yes, some of the keycap legends are backwards so you can read them in the mirror. If you don’t like using the numeral row, there’s a num pad in the center, along with the Home/End cluster, a quartet of comically large arrow keys, and a boatload of dedicated media and program launch buttons. All the buttons in the middle are fairly awkward to reach because you must either pull your hand down and around the bottom, or else go over the top. Continue reading “Inputs Of Interest: SafeType™ Vertical Keyboard With Mirrors Puts Pain In The Rear-View”

Avoiding Repetitive Stress Injury: Invest In Yourself Now, Or Pay Later

There I was, thirty years after I first sat down at an Apple IIe , and I suddenly found myself wondering if I would ever use a computer again without pain. How could I work if I couldn’t use a computer anymore? I had to seriously ask myself this question. It took a bit of a winding road to figure out what was going on and two EMGs to confirm it, but after all these years, it was clear to the medical community that I had developed a repetitive stress injury (RSI) called cubital tunnel syndrome in my left arm.

Yeah, it’s about like that. Image via Kinesis

Cubital tunnel syndrome is like carpal tunnel, but in your elbow instead of your wrist. What a misnomer! Sometimes my pain went all the way from my armpit to my fingertips and made me want to gnaw my own arm off. I don’t think you can really understand neuropathy unless you’ve felt this weird, annoying type of pain firsthand. I hope you never do.

Can you stop and seriously imagine not being able to use a computer for the rest of your life? Or at least feeling that way because doing so causes incredibly annoying pain? I feel like we’re all vaguely aware of the standard list of anti-RSI precautions, but let’s review:

  • maintain good posture — sit with feet flat on the floor, wrists straight, elbows at 90°
  • put the screen an arm’s length away at eye level
  • take frequent short breaks

Yes, those are all fine and good. But there are other things you can do to avoid computer-related RSIs, like using ergonomic inputs, and building a custom setup that fits you exactly. This isn’t a study kiosk at the university library we’re talking about — this is your battlestation! The problem is that many people are stubborn, and won’t go out of their way to do anything to proactively prevent these injuries. But you don’t have to cross a bridge when you come to it if you have a map that shows you a way around the body of water.

Continue reading “Avoiding Repetitive Stress Injury: Invest In Yourself Now, Or Pay Later”

Redox Redux: Split Keeb Gets A Num Pad

What’s the worst thing about split keyboards? If they have one general fault, it’s that almost none of them have a number pad. If you can fly on that thing, but struggle with using the top row numbers, you will miss the num pad terribly, trust us. So what’s the answer? Design your own keyboard, of course. [ToasterFuel] had enough bread lying around to cook up a little experiment for his first keyboard build, and we think the result is well done, which is kind of rare for first keebs.

This design is based on the Redox, itself a remix of the ErgoDox that aims to address the common complaints about the latter — it’s just too darn big, and the thumb clusters are almost unusable. We love how customized this layout is, with its sprinkling of F keys and Escape in the Caps Lock position. Under those keycaps you’ll find 100% Cherry MX greens, so [ToasterFuel] must have pretty strong fingers to pound those super clackers.

Everything else under the hood is pretty standard, with a pair of Arduino Pro Micros running the show. [ToasterFuel] had to wire up the whole thing by hand because of the num pad, and we’re impressed that he built this entire project in just three weeks. And that includes writing his own firmware!

Already found or built a split you love, but still miss the num pad? Why not build one to match your keyboard?

Spherical Keyboard Build Leaves Hacker Well-Rounded

Often times we as hackers don’t know what we’re doing, and we sally forth and do it anyway. Here at Hackaday, we think that’s one of the best ways to go about a new project, and the absolute fastest way to learn a whole lot as you go. Just ask [Aaron Rasmussen] regarding this spherical, standing 5×6 dactyl manuform keyboard build, which you can see in a three-part short video series embedded after the break.

[Aaron] gets right down to it in the first video. He had to get creative right away, slicing up the dactyl manuform model to fit on a tiny print bed. However, there’s plenty of room inside the sphere for all that wiring and a pair of Elite-C microcontrollers running QMK. Be sure to turn on the sound to hear the accompanying voice-overs.

The second video answers our burning question: how exactly does one angle grind a slippery sphere without sacrificing sheen or shine? We love the solution, which involves swaddling the thing in duct tape and foam.

You may be wondering how [Aaron] is gonna use any kind of mouse while standing there at the pedestal keyboard. While there is space for a mouse to balance on top, this question is answered in the third video, where [Aaron] learns the truth behind the iconic ThinkPad nubbin and applies this knowledge to build a force-feedback joystick/trackpoint mouse. Awesome answer, [Aaron]!

Not ready to go full-tilt, sci-fi prop ergo? Dip your toe in the DIY waters with a handy macropad.

Continue reading “Spherical Keyboard Build Leaves Hacker Well-Rounded”