Turning Tact Switches Into Keyboards

One of the great unsolved problems in the world of DIY electronics is a small keyboard. Building your own QWERTY keyboard is a well-studied and completely solved problem; you need only look at the mechanical keyboard community for evidence of that. For a small keyboard, though, you’d probably be looking at an old Blackberry handset, one of those Bluetooth doohickies, or rolling your own like the fantastic Hackaday Belgrade badge. All of these have shortcomings. You’ll need to find a header for the Blackberry keyboard’s ribbon cable, the standard Bluetooth keyboard requires Bluetooth, and while the Belgrade badge’s keyboard works well, it’s a badge, not a keyboard you would throw in a bag for years of use.

[bobricious] might have just cracked it. For his Hackaday Prize entry, he’s created a tiny USB keyboard out of tact switches. What’s the secret? An entire panel of PCBs. It looks great, and it might just hold up to the rigors of being tossed in a random bag of holding filled with electronics.

The electronics for the keyboard are simple enough; there are 56 standard through-hole tact switches, and an SAMD21 microcontroller. Connections to the outside world are through a micro USB port, serial, or I2C. it’s small, too, coming in at just under 5 cm by 10 cm.

The real trick here is using a stack of PCBs to label the buttons and provide a bit of mechanical support. The panel for this project consists of one base board holding all the electronics and a secondary board that gives the entire project a finished look while adding a bit of structural support.

If you’ve never looked at the options for small keyboards, there aren’t many. Blackberries are a thing of the past, and there’s no good way to add a QWERTY keyboard to small projects. This project does that in spades. Since the basic idea is, ‘put holes in a second PCB’, this idea is transferable to other keyboard layouts too.

Vintage Organ Donates Parts for Two New Instruments

It’s often hard to know what to do with a classic bit of electronics that’s taking up far too much of the living room for its own good. But when the thing in question is an electronic organ from the 1970s, the answer couldn’t be clearer: dissect it for its good parts and create two new instruments with them.

Judging by [Charlie Williams]’ blog posts on his Viscount Project, he’s been at this since at least 2014. The offending organ, from which the project gets its name, is a Viscount Bahia from the 1970s that had seen better days, apparently none of which included a good dusting. With careful disassembly and documentation, [Charlie] took the organ to bits. The first instrument to come from this was based on the foot pedals. A Teensy and a custom wood case turned it into a custom MIDI controller; hear it in action below. The beats controller from the organ’s keyboard was used for the second instrument. This one appears far more complex, not only for the beautiful, hand-held wooden case he built for it, but because he reused most of the original circuitry. A modern tube amp was added to produce a little distortion and stereo output from the original mono source, with the tip of the tube just peeking above the surface of the instrument. We wish there were a demo video of this one, but we’ll settle for gazing at the craftsmanship.

In a strange bit of timing, [Elliot Williams] (no relation, we assume) just posted an Ask Hackaday piece looking for help with a replacement top-octave generator for another 1970s organ. It’s got a good description of how these organs worked, if you’re in the mood to learn a little more.

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Motion-Controlled KVM Switch

Once upon a time, [hardwarecoder] acquired a Gen8 HP microserver that he began to toy around with. It started with ‘trying out’ some visualization before spiraling off the rails and fully setting up FreeBSD with ZFS as a QEMU-KVM virtual machine. While wondering what to do next, he happened to be lamenting how he couldn’t also fit his laptop on his desk, so he built himself a slick, motion-sensing KVM switch to solve his space problem.

At its heart, this device injects DCC code via the I2C pins on his monitors’ VGA cables to swap inputs while a relay ‘replugs’ the keyboard and mouse from the server to the laptop — and vice-versa — at the same time. On the completely custom PCB are a pair of infrared diodes and a receiver that detects Jedi-like hand waves which activate the swap. It’s a little more complex than some methods, but arguably much cooler.

Using an adapter, the pcb plugs into his keyboard, and the monitor data connections and keyboard/mouse output to the laptop and server stream out from there. There is a slight potential issue with cables torquing on the PCB, but with it being so conveniently close, [hardwarecoder] doesn’t need to handle it much.

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High-Effort Streaming Remote for Low-Effort Bingeing

There’s no limit to the amount of work some people will put into avoiding work. For instance, why bother to get up from your YouTube-induced vegetative state to adjust the volume when you can design and build a remote to do it for you?

Loath to interrupt his PC streaming binge sessions, [miroslavus] decided to take matters into his own hands. When a commercially available wireless keyboard proved simultaneously overkill for the job and comically non-ergonomic, he decided to build a custom streaming remote. His recent microswitch encoder is prominently featured and provides scrolling control for volume and menu functions, and dedicated buttons are provided for play controls. The device reconfigures at the click of a switch to support Netflix, which like YouTube is controlled by sending keystrokes to the PC through a matching receiver. It’s a really thoughtful design, and we’re sure the effort [miroslavus] put into this will be well worth the dozens of calories it’ll save in the coming years.

A 3D-printed DIY remote is neat, but don’t forget that printing can also save a dog-chewed remote and win the Repairs You Can Print contest.

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Spiral Laser Cut Buttons Make A Super-Slim USB MIDI Board

We see a huge variety of human-computer interface devices here at Hackaday, and among them are some exceptionally elegant designs. Of those that use key switches though, the vast majority employ off the shelf components made for commercial keyboards or similar. It makes sense to do this, there are some extremely high quality ones to be had.

Sometimes though we are shown designs that go all the way in creating their key switches from the ground up. Such an example comes from [Brandon Rice], and it a particularly clever button design because of its use of laser cutting to achieve a super-slim result. He’s made a sandwich of plywood with the key mechanisms formed in a spiral cut on the top layer. He’s a little sketchy on the exact details of the next layer, but underneath appears to be a plywood spacer surrounding a silicone membrane with conductive rubber taken from a commercial keyboard. Beneath that is copper tape on the bottom layer cut to an interweaving finger design for the contacts. An Adafruit Trinket Pro provides the brains and a USB interface, and the whole device makes for an attractive and professional looking peripheral.

You can see the results in action as he’s posted a video, which we’ve included below the break.

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A Keyboard To Stomp On

Macros are useful things. They allow one to execute a series of commands with a single keypress. There exists a wide variety of hardware and software solutions to create and use macros to improve your workflow, and now [Evan] has brought the open-source ManyKey into the fray, along with a build tutorial to boot.

The tutorial acts as a great introduction to ManyKey, as [Evan] walks through the construction of a macro keyboard designed to be operated by the feet. Based around the Arduino Leonardo and using off-the-shelf footswitches commonly used in guitar effects, it’s accessible while still hinting at the flexibility of the system. Macros are programmed into the keyboard through a Python app which communicates over serial, and configurations are saved into the Arduino’s onboard EEPROM. The ManyKey source is naturally available over at GitHub.

[Evan] tells us he uses his setup to run DJ software with his feet while his hands are busy on the turntables. That said, there’s all manner of other applications this could be used for. Efficiency is everything, and we love to see keyboard projects that aim to improve workflow with new ideas and custom builds – this shortcut keyboard makes a great example.


Ergonomic Keyboard Designed from the Ground Up

In 2011, [Fabio] had been working behind a keyboard for about a decade when he started noticing wrist pain. This is a common long-term injury for people at desk jobs, but rather than buy an ergonomic keyboard he decided that none of the commercial offerings had all of the features he needed. Instead, he set out on a five-year journey to build the perfect ergonomic keyboard.

Part of the problem with other solutions was that no keyboards could be left in Dvorak (a keyboard layout [Fabio] finds improves his typing speed) after rebooting the computer, and Arduino-based solutions would not make themselves available to the computer’s BIOS. Luckily he found the LUFA keyboard library, and then was able to salvage a PCB from another keyboard. From there, he programmed everything on a Teensy microcontroller, added an OLED screen, and soldered it all together (including a set of Cherry MX switches).

Of course, the build wasn’t truly complete until recently, when a custom two-part case was 3D printed. The build quality and attention to detail in this project is impressive, and if you want to roll out your own [Fabio] has made all of the CAD files and software available. Should you wish to incorporate some of his designs into other types of specialized keyboards, there are some ideas floating around that will surely improve your typing or workflow.