If you’re what one might call unlucky, there comes a point in your life when you need to switch to a keyboard that’s more ergonomic than your average rectangle. A little prevention goes a long way, though, and there’s no time like the present to go ergo. Why not? You have everything to gain, from long-lasting comfort to satisfying key presses.
The only problem is that most severely ergonomic keyboards just aren’t portable. At this point, we all know how much I love my Kinesis Advantage, and how I wouldn’t be able to write the Keebin’ column or even a grocery list without it. I have two now, and I take the ugly, yellowed, sticker-bombed one with me out into the world. But as much as I love it, I would really dig a a slimmed-down version that’s just as comfortable, perhaps more so. Well, move over, Kinesis, because you’ve got stiff competition in the form of a flexible little two-piece called the Glove80.
You may recall that there was a Kickstarter for this keyboard about a year ago. I was pumped about it then, and I still am. Here’s why:
While most people don’t care whether they use one finger or ten, some people want to better themselves by learning how to touch-type. And honestly, there’s no easier way to do that than by getting into the ergo keyboard game. Even if you consider yourself a touch-typist already, an ortholinear or column-staggered keyboard may teach you otherwise, as you find yourself trying to type ‘c’ with your index finger (for example) and failing miserably.
[ebastler] chose the best of all routes and decided to build his own perfect keyboard, called the Osprey. It’s a wireless, column-staggered 40% that runs on ZMK firmware, which of course is open-source, as is the PCB itself and the thick and travel-ready printed enclosure. Although [ebastler] has yet to implement either one of these additional inputs, the Osprey also supports a thumbstick and a track pad.
Brain-wise, it’s a bare nRF52840 chip along with a TI BQ24075 for battery charging. The interesting thing about this implementation is that [ebastler] used and abused Nordic sample schematic #4, which utilizes both DC-DC converter stages of the chip. We can’t wait to see what this trailblazing build will mean for the community!
[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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”→
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.
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.