Oh sure, Amazon can deliver any number of Logitech peripherals to your door in 48 hours, but where’s the fun in that? With open source hardware (OSHW) input devices like the Ploopy Adept Trackball, you not only get to say you built the thing yourself, but there’s also an opportunity to tune the gadget to your exacting specifications — even if that just means packing it full of RGB LEDs.
The trackball is powered by the Raspberry Pi Pico running QMK, features a high-accuracy PMW3360 sensor that can be found in commercial gaming mice, and uses a snooker ball for the business end. All the hardware is wrapped up in a 3D printed enclosure, and thanks to the VIA project, configuring the device can be done right in the browser through a web app.
Like the other devices in the (somewhat unfortunately named) Ploopy family, all of the design files for the Adept Trackball are released under the CERN license, which combined with the project’s fantastic documentation means you’ve got everything you need to build it from scratch. There are official parts kits if you don’t want to source or print all the components yourself, but as of this writing, the Ploopy Shop will only let you preorder them.
The goal was to build a customizable mouse that could match the performance of Logitech’s MX Master 3, but without the $100 USD price tag. In the end, [Tyler] says his mouse is around 10x as responsive thanks to a 1,000 Hz refresh rate, and the total cost is just a fraction of the retail price of the Logitech. Though as you might expect, there’s a catch or two.
For one thing, he says getting your hands on the PixArt PMW3389 mouse sensor in single quantities can be difficult. It seems like he was able to secure a sample because he’s a student, but you’ll have to figure out your own way to con secure one from the company. There’s also no friendly GUI to configure the mouse, and indeed, you’ll need to write some code should you want to modify any of its buttons. Oh, and despite the fact that the cheapo donor mouse you need to use for parts is wireless, the replacement guts you’ll be fitting it with currently only support wired operation.
Alright, we’ll admit it’s not perfect. But it’s still a huge step in the right direction if you care about being able to spin up your own input devices. With some refinement, and perhaps somebody willing to do bulk buy of the sensors, we could see this project becoming quite popular. In the meantime, you may have to settle for a macro stool.
Just as the Jedi youngling would have to build their light saber, so is it a rite of passage for a true geek to build their own computer interfaces. And nothing makes a personal computer more personal than a custom keyboard, a bespoke mouse, an omnipotent macropad, a snazzy jog wheel, or a fancy flight yoke.
In this contest, we encourage you to make your strangest, fanciest, flashiest, or most custom computer peripherals, and share that work with all the rest of us. Wired or wireless, weird or wonderful, we want to see it. And Digi-Key is sponsoring this contest to offer three winners an online shopping spree for $150 each at their warehouse! More parts, more projects.
A peek inside the enclosure reveals…well, not a whole lot. All that’s hiding inside that heavy-duty plastic box is the Pi Pico and some screw down terminals that let [Alberto] easily wire up the female bulkhead connectors for the pedals themselves. Incidentally, while you could certainly make your own pedals, the ones used for this project appear to be the sort of commercially available units we’ve seen used in similar projects.
With the hardware sorted, [Alberto] just needed to write the software. While he could have taken the easy way out and hard coded everything, we appreciate that his CircuitPython script loads its configuration from a text file. This allows you to easily configure which GPIO pins are hooked up to buttons, and what key codes to associate them with. He didn’t really need to go through this much effort for his own purposes, but it makes the project far easier to adapt for others, so our hats off to him.
Pen input has never really taken off in the computing mainstream, though it’s had somewhat of a renaissance in the last decade or so. Various smartphones and tablets are shipping with the technology, and some diehard users swear by it as the best way to take notes on the go. Recently, researchers at the Sensing, Interaction and Perception Lab at ETH Zurich have been working on Flashpen, a high-fidelity pen interface for a wide range of applications.
The fundamental technology behind the pen is simple, with the device using an optical flow sensor harvested from a high-end gaming mouse. This is a device that uses an image sensor to detect the motion of the sensor itself across a surface. Working at an update rate of 8 KHz, it eclipses other devices in the market from manufacturers such as Wacom that typically operate at rates closer to 200Hz. The optical sensor is mounted to a plastic joint that allows the user to hold the pen at a natural angle while keeping the sensor parallel to the writing surface. There’s also a reflective sensor on the pen tip which allows cameras to track its position in space, for use in combination with VR technology.
How many people still have a PS/2 keyboard kicking around in 2020? Admittedly asking such a question of the Hackaday audience is probably cheating (there’s a decent chance one of you will type a comment on one just to prove a point), but even the most pedantic reader has to admit that it’s a long dead standard. So we’re hardly surprised to hear that [Turbaned Engineer] didn’t have one handy when he tried to boot a motherboard so old that he couldn’t access the BIOS with a USB keyboard.
But rather than waiting for an adapter to show up in the mail, he decided to rig up an Arduino Nano to mimic a PS/2 keyboard just long enough for him to navigate the system configuration. Since that basically meant he only needed the arrow keys and Enter, he was able to rig up a handful of momentary buttons to serve as input. We wouldn’t recommend typing out your memoirs with such a spartan board, but it’s certainly good enough to juggle around the order of boot devices.
The fun didn’t stop there, though. [Turbaned Engineer] also had to clean some corrosion and fix a blown resistor on a bank of RAM to drag this old soldier over the finish line. He didn’t have a case handy, so he made a free-form one using the polycarbonate packaging that ICs ship in. The final machine isn’t exactly a sleeper, but it’s good enough to play Super Mario Bros. 3 on the TV.
At the end of the day, the minimal input device [Turbaned Engineer] put together isn’t so far removed from other homebrew keyboards we’ve seen recently. It seems that QMK even has some basic support for the PS/2 interface. Not that it would come up very often, but a “retro” mode might be an interesting addition to your next custom keyboard build.
The ThinkPad is generally considered the unofficial laptop of hackerdom, so it’s no surprise that we see plenty of projects focused on repairing and modifying these reliable workhorses. But while we usually see folks working on relatively modern incarnations of this iconic line of computers, this project by [Frank Adams] and [Brian Chan] shows that the hacker’s love affair with the ThinkPad stretches back farther than many might realize.
As explained on the project’s Hackaday.io page, the duo have produced an open hardware board that will allow you to take the keyboard and trackpoint from a late ’90s ThinkPad 380ED and use it as a standard USB input device on a modern computer. According to [Frank], the keyboards on these machines are notable for having full-size keys rather than the “chicklet” boards that are so common today.
Now you may be wondering why this is significant. After all, we’ve seen plenty of projects that hook up an old keyboard to a USB-equipped microcontroller to get them speaking the lingua franca. Well, the trick here is that the trackpoint on these older ThinkPads actually required additional circuitry on the motherboard to function. The keyboard features three separate FPC connections for the matrix, the trackpoint buttons, and the analog strain gauges in the trackpoint itself.
After a considerable amount of reverse engineering, [Frank] and [Brian] have developed a board that uses the Teensy 3.2 to turn this plethora of pins into something useful. In the video after the break, you can see the new composite USB device working perfectly on a modern Windows computer.