Adding USB To A Keyboard The Way It Used To Be Done

The world of custom keyboards has over the years developed its work into an art form, as mechanical key switches meet USB-HID capable microcontrollers for a plethora of designs as individual as their creators. This was however not always the case, and from the days of 8-bit home computers onwards making a custom keyboard often meant taking a surplus one from elsewhere and adapting its matrix to suit whatever controller interface was at hand. [Julian Calaby]’s USB conversion of an Apple Extended keyboard may be unusual in this day and age and was probably a late example even 15 years ago when he made it, but it remains a glorious piece of bodge-wire hardware hacking at its finest.

The task at hand with this type of conversion is to cut the matrix PCB tracks and replace them with soldered wires to create the new matrix required. This can then be wired to the controller, which in [Julian]’s case came from a cheap USB keyboard. He added a small USB hub to allow for a pair of USB sockets where Apple had put an ADB socket, making for quite a decent older keyboard with an unexpected USB interface.

Now older and wiser, he has plans to revisit his old keyboard with a modern microcontroller board, and needs to revisit the matrix again and give the peripheral new life. We still like the original though, as it captures a moment in time when keyboard matrix hacking made sense, and reminds us of our own youthful hardware follies.

Paging through Hackaday past it’s a testament to the old-school nature of this board that all we can find are microcontroller-based conversions. That’s not to say that cutting up old ‘boards is out of the question though.

Inputs Of Interest: Curves Are The Key To My Type

While I may have fallen in love aesthetically with the ErgoDox I built, beauty is only skin deep. And that’s funny, because you can see right through it. But the thing is, it’s just too big and knife-edged to be my daily driver. I keep missing the space bar and thumb-thumping the acrylic wasteland between the thumb cluster and the mainland.

The point was to make a nice portable keeb, even though all my trips for he foreseeable future are going to be limited to the bed or the couch. But it has to be comfortable, and the ErgoDox in its present state simply is not long-term comfortable. I’d take it over a rectangle any day, but it would probably end up being a half day.

Ergo isn’t so much a preference for me as it is a necessity at this point. I feel like I can honestly say that I might not be typing these words to you now if it weren’t for the Kinesis. I don’t want my fingers to do unnecessary legwork, or downgrade from the quality of typing life that concave keys have afforded me. So let me just say that using the ErgoDox made me want to build a dactyl even more than before.

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Tokyo Mechanical Keyboard Meetup Knocks Our Clacks Off

Just a few days ago, on the other side of the planet from this author, there was a mechanical keyboard meetup in Tokyo. Fortunately through the magic of the Internet we can all enjoy the impressive collection of devices people brought, and boy were there some interesting specimens. There were certainly the inevitable collections of strange artisan keycaps, unusual handmade switches, and keycap sets only available in one group buy five years ago in Nicaragua. But among the bright colors were some truly unique custom designs the likes of which we haven’t see before. A single source is hard to credit, you could check the hashtag #tokyomk6 on Twitter, or [obra]’s thread of photos, or this great blog post (video walkthroughs and photos included) from [romly].

Speaking of [romly], one of their designs stands out as particularly unusual. There are a few things to note here. One is the very conspicuous surface profile of the (clearly totally custom) keycaps themselves. Instead of flat or cylindrical or spherical, these are round. Round like the outside of a log. If we didn’t know better it might look like the entire thing was sculpted or extruded as a single unit. And just below the deck are the perpendicular thumb clusters. Frankly we aren’t sure how to refer to this design feature. The switches are mounted at right angles facing inward so the user places a thumb inside it in a style reminiscent of the DataHand. It’s quite interesting, and we’d be love to know more about what specific functionality it provides.

Another interesting entrant is this keyboard with unusually staggered switches and hexagonal caps (check out the individual markings!). Very broadly there are two typical keyboard layout styles; the diagonal columns of QWERTY (derived from a typewriter in the 1800’s) or the non slanted columns of an “ortholinear” or matrix style layout. By those metrics this is something like an ortholinear keyboard in that its switches overlap their neighbors by half, but the edge to edge close packed caps imply that it might be something else.  We’d be very interested to know how typing on this beast would be!

There were so many more awesome designs present at the meetup that this would never end if we tried to document them all. Take a look through the posts and call out anything else too excellent to go unnoticed!

Thanks [obra] for Tweeting about this so we could discover it.

Regrowing A Blackberry From The Keyboard Out

Here at Hackaday we’re big fans of device-reuse, and what [arturo182] has done with the Blackberry Q10’s keyboard is a fantastic example. Sometimes you’re working on a portable device and think to yourself “what this could really use is a QWERTY keyboard”. What project doesn’t need a keyboard?

Typically this descends into a cost benefit analysis of the horrors of soldering 60ish SMD tact switches to a board, which is no fun. With more resources you can use Snaptron snap domes like the [NextThingCo’s] PocketCHIP, but those are complex to source for a one off project and the key feel can be hard to really perfect. Instead of choosing one of those routes, [arturo182] reverse engineered the keyboard from a Blackberry Q10.

When you think of good, small keyboards, there has always been one standout: Blackberry. For decades Blackberry has been known for absolutely nailing the sweet tactile feel of a tiny key under your thumb. The Q10 is one example, originally becoming avalible in 2013 as one of the launch devices for their then-new Blackberry OS 10. Like most of Blackberry’s business the OS and the phone are long out of date, but that doesn’t mean the keyboard has aged.

[Arturo182] says he can find them from the usual Chinese sources for around $3 each, which is too cheap to not explore. Building on the work of [WooDWorkeR] (on and [JoeN] to reverse engineer the matrix and to find the correct connector, he integrated the keyboard into an easy to use breakout board that exposes the key matrix, per-row backlight controls, and even the MEMS mic! More excitingly, he has built a small portable device with all the trappings of the original Q10; a color LCD, joystick, function buttons, and more in a very small footprint.

KiCAD sources, including 3D models, for the keyboard and for the breakout board are available.

Now if only someone can find a way to salvage the unusual square, high-DPI displays from the Q10, we’d be in portable device nirvana.

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The Matrix Reloaded: Now Better Than The Movie

If you’re looking for a custom controller for a MAME cabinet build, CNC machine, or just want to control a robot build, you’re going to need to wire up some buttons. You could wire up a bunch of buttons to a microcontroller, but if you use an old computer keyboard the work is already done for you.

[Rupert] sent in a great tutorial on repurposing old keyboards. The build is very, very simple: just take a multimeter to each contact and measure the rows and columns for continuity. Once [Rupert] had the matrix codes for every button on the keyboard, he wired up a length of ribbon cable to the keyboard PCB. From there, a small breakout board provides all the connections that a MAME cabinet would need.

Opposed to a custom keyboard encoder like an I-PAC or a homebrew solution, [Rupert]’s build is very easy and can be built for only the dignity required to dumpster dive for a keyboard.