Building A Cyberpunk Multi-Touch Input Device

This multi-touch touch panel built by [thiagesh D] might look like it came from the retro-futuristic worlds of Blade Runner or Alien, but thanks to a detailed build video and a fairly short list of required parts, it could be your next weekend project.

The build starts with a sheet of acrylic, which has a grid pattern etched into it using nothing more exotic than a knife and a ruler. Though if you do have access to some kind of CNC router, this would be a perfect time to break it out. Bare wires are then laid inside the grooves, secured with a healthy application of CA glue, and soldered together to make one large conductive array. This is attached to a capacitive sensor module so it’ll fire off whenever somebody puts a finger on the plastic.

With RGB LED strips added to the edges, you could actually stop here and have yourself a very cool looking illuminated touch sensitive panel. But ultimately, it would just be a glorified button. There’s plenty of interesting applications for such a gadget, but it’s not going to be terribly useful attached to your computer.

To turn this into a viable input device, [thiagesh D] is using a Raspberry Pi and its camera module to track the number and position of fingertips from the other side of the acrylic with Python and OpenCV. His code will even pick up on specific gestures, like a three finger drag which changes the colors of the LEDs accordingly in the video below. The camera’s field of view unfortunately means the box the panel gets mounted to has to be fairly deep, but if recessed into the surface of a desk, we think it could look incredible.

Custom multi-touch panels have been a favorite project of hackers for years now, and we’ve got examples going all the way back to the old black and white days. But larger and more modern incarnations like this one have the potential to change how we interface with technology on a daily basis.

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A Classy USB Knob For The Discerning Computerist

The keyboard and mouse are great, we’re big fans. But for some tasks, such as seeking around in audio and video files, a rotary encoder is a more intuitive way to get the job done. [VincentMakes] liked the idea of having a knob he could turn to adjust his system volume or move forward and backwards through a stream in VLC, but he also wanted to be able to repeatedly enter keyboard commands with it; something commercial offerings apparently weren’t able to do.

So he decided to build his own USB knob that not only looks fantastic, but offers the features he couldn’t find anywhere else. It’s another project which proves that DIY projects don’t have to look DIY. In fact, they can often give their commercial counterparts a run for their money. But this “Infinity USB Knob” isn’t just a pretty face, it allows the user to do some very interesting things such as quickly undo and redo changes to see how they compare.

As you might imagine, the electronics for this project aren’t terribly complex. The main components are the Adafruit Trinket M0 microcontroller and the EC11 rotary encoder itself. To provide nice visual feedback he added in a NeoPixel ring, but that’s not strictly necessary if you’re trying to rig this up yourself. Though we have to say the lighting effects are a big part of what makes this build look so good.

Though certainly not the only part. The aluminum enclosure, combined with the home theater style knob on the encoder, really give the finished product a professional look. We especially like his method of drilling out the top of the case and filling in the holes with epoxy to create easy and durable LED diffusers. Something to keep in mind for your next control panel build, perhaps.

[VincentMakes] has done an excellent job of documenting the hardware and software sides of this build on Hackaday.io, and gives the reader enough information that replicating this project should be pretty straightforward for anyone who’s interested. While we’ve seen several rotary encoder peripherals for the computer in the past, we have to admit this is one of the most compelling yet from a visual and usability standpoint. If this build doesn’t make you consider adding a USB knob to your arsenal, nothing will.

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Trackball Gets Bolt-On Button Upgrade

The question of whether to use a mouse versus a trackball is something of a Holy War on the level of Vi versus Emacs. We at Hackaday want no part of such things, use whatever you want, and leave us out of it. But we will go as far as to say that Team Trackball seems to take things mighty seriously. We’ve never met a casual trackball user: if they’ve got a trackball on their desk then get ready to hear all about it.

With that in mind, the lengths [LayeredDesigns] went to just to add a couple extra buttons to his CST trackball make a bit more sense. Obviously enamored with this particular piece of pointing technology, he designed a 3D printed “sidecar” that you can mount to the left side of the stock trackball. Matching the shape of the original case pretty closely, this add-on module currently hosts a pair of MX mechanical keys, but the plans don’t stop there.

[LayeredDesigns] mentions that all the free room inside the shell for this two-button modification has got him thinking of what else he could fit in there. The logical choice is a Teensy emulating a USB HID device, which could allow for all sorts of cool programmable input possibilities. One potential feature he mentioned was adding a scroll wheel, which the Teensy could easily interface with and present to the operating system.

We’ve seen our fair share of 3D printed keyboards and keyboard modifications, but we can’t say the same about the legendary trackball. Ones made of cardboard, sure. Pulled out of a military installation and hacked to add USB? You bet. This project is just more evidence of what’s possible with a 3D printer, a caliper, and some patience.

[via /r/functionalprint]

Roll Your Own Rotary Encoders

[miroslavus] hasn’t had much luck with rotary encoders. The parts he has tested from the usual sources have all been problematic either mechanically or electrically, resulting in poor performance in his projects. Even attempts to deal with the deficiencies in software didn’t help, so he did what any red-blooded hacker would do — he built his own rotary encoder from microswitches and 3D-printed parts.

[miroslavus]’s “encoder” isn’t a quadrature encoder in the classic sense. It has two switches and only one of them fires when it turns a given direction, one for clockwise and one for counterclockwise. The knob has a ratchet wheel on the underside that engages with a small trip lever, and carefully located microswitches are actuated repeatedly as the ratchet wheel moves the trip lever. The action is smooth but satisfyingly clicky. Personally, we’d forsake the 3D-printed baseplate in favor of a custom PCB with debouncing circuitry, and perhaps relocate the switches so they’re under the knob for a more compact form factor. That and the addition of another switch on the shaft’s axis to register knob pushes, and you’ve got a perfectly respectable input device for navigating menus.

We think this is great, but perhaps your project really needs a legitimate rotary encoder. In that case, you’ll want to catch up on basics like Gray codes.

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Arduino Keyboard Is Gorgeous Inside And Out

While the vast majority of us are content to plod along with the squishy chiclet keyboards on our laptops, or the cheapest USB membrane keyboard we could find on Amazon, there’s a special breed out there who demand something more. To them, nothing beats a good old-fashioned mechanical keyboard, where each key-press sounds like a footfall of Zeus himself. They are truly the “Chad” of the input device world.

But what if even the most high end of mechanical keyboards doesn’t quench your thirst for spring-loaded perfection? In that case, the only thing left to do is design and build your own. [Matthew Cordier] recently unveiled the custom mechanical keyboard he’s been working on, and to say it’s an elegant piece of engineering is something of an understatement. It may even look better inside than it does on the outside.

The keyboard, which he is calling z.48, is based around the Arduino Pro Micro running a firmware generated on kbfirmware.com, and features some absolutely fantastic hand-wiring. No PCBs here, just a rainbow assortment of wire and the patience of a Buddhist monk. The particularly attentive reader may notice that [Matthew] used his soldering iron to melt away the insulation on his wires where they meet up with the keys, giving the final wiring job a very clean look.

Speaking of the keys, they are Gateron switches with DSA Hana caps. If none of those words mean anything to you, don’t worry. We’re through the Looking Glass and into the world of the keyboard aficionado now.

Finally, the case itself is printed on a CR-10 with a 0.3 mm nozzle and 0.2 mm layers giving it a very fine finish. At 70% infill, we imagine it’s got a good deal of heft as well. [Matthew] mentions that a production case and a PCB are in the cards for the future as he hopes to do a small commercial run of these boards. In the meantime we can all bask in the glory of what passes for a prototype in his world.

We’ve seen some exceptionally impressive mechanical keyboards over the years, including the occasional oddity like the fully 3D printed one and even one that inexplicably moves around. But this build by [Matthew] has to be one of the most elegant we’ve ever come across.

[Thanks to DarkSim905 for the tip]

Arcade Style Computer Hotkeys

Prolific maker [Sean Hodgins] has taken the wraps off of his latest one-day build, and as usual, it takes the kind of spare parts most people reading Hackaday will have in their parts bins and turns it into something fun and useful. This time around, he takes a bunch of spare arcade-style buttons he had from a previous project and combines them with an Adafruit Trinket (SAMD21 flavor) to make a USB input device for his computer.

[Sean] uses 1/4 inch acrylic to make the case, though he does mention that it could just as easily be 3D printed. But using the acrylic is easy and gives a nice glossy look to the final hardware. With a saw and a drill press you can make some very professional cases out of acrylic, which goes to show that you don’t necessarily need to have a high end 3D printer to create great looking enclosures.

As explained in the video, the Adafruit Trinket is not strictly necessary for this build, it’s just what [Sean] had lying around. Any microcontroller that can present itself to the operating system as a USB Human Interface Device (HID) will work fine for a project like this.

Software wise, a modified Arduino demo program is used to equate the states of the digital pins to pre-defined key combinations to be sent to the computer. In this simple example the key combinations are hard-coded into the Trinket’s source code, but a future enhancement could be adding a method of setting up new key combinations with a configuration tool.

We’ve covered our fair share of non-traditional USB input devices, all operating on largely the same principle. As it turns out, hackers have quite a pension for making oddball input devices.

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Unholy Mashup Of SpaceMouse And Sculpt Keyboard Is Rather Well Done

What do you do if you have a pair of input device peripherals for your computer, but they are from different manufacturers and thus not available as a single unit? If you are [Marco van Nieuwenhoven], you combine the two to make a mashup single peripheral.

[Marco]’s two peripherals were a 3Dconnexion SpaceMouse Wireless, and a Microsoft Sculpt Keyboard. His mashup isn’t featured here because it simply is a mashup, after all anyone with a hot glue gun could combine the two, instead he’s created a single peripheral that almost looks as though it could have been manufactured that way. It’s not complexity we’re looking at here, but elegance!

The Sculpt keyboard fortunately has a large palm rest in which the electronics and batteries sit, and he’s carefully measured the footprint of the top half of the SpaceMouse before hand cutting a very neat aperture to take it. The SpaceMouse PCB is attached below the aperture, and the bottom of the palm rest is attached with a little bit of padding to ensure a snug fit. The result: a combined input device to be proud of!

Of course, if this keyboard isn’t special enough for you, how about a typewriter?