Crisp Clean Shortcuts

People always tell us that their favorite part about using a computer is mashing out the exact same key sequences over and over, day in, day out. Then, there are people like [Benni] who would rather make a microcontroller do the repetitive work at the touch of a stylish USB peripheral. Those people who enjoy the extra typing also seem to love adding new proprietary software to their computer all the time, but they are out of luck again because this dial acts as a keyboard and mouse so they can’t even install that bloated software when they work at a friend’s computer. Sorry folks, some of you are out of luck.

Rotary encoders as computer inputs are not new and commercial versions have been around for years, but they are niche enough to be awfully expensive to an end-user. The short BOM and immense versatility will make some people reconsider adding one to their own workstations. In the video below, screen images are rotated to get the right angle before drawing a line just like someone would do with a piece of paper. Another demonstration reminds of us XKCD by cycling through the undo and redo functions which gives you a reversible timeline of your work.

If you like your off-hand macro enabler to have more twists and buttons, we have you covered, or maybe you only want them some of the time.

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Portable Pi Teensy Thumboard

Even on the go, there is no substitute for a physical keyboard with buttons that move and click. Sure, you could solder a bunch of tactile switches to some perfboard, but how about going all out and making something robust as [Anthony DiGirolamo] did for his Teensy Thumboard. Everything is insertion-mount so it is an approachable project for anyone who knows the dangerous end of a soldering iron, and that also makes it easy to hack on.

Each pin of the Teensy has an adjacent empty hole tied to it for easy access, and the serial data pins are exposed at the top of the board. All the holes use standard 0.1″ (2.54mm) spacing. The I/O points used by the keyboard are labeled, and the rest of them can use the space under the controller where proto-board style holes add some extra space for an IMU or whatever sensors suit your slant.

Most impressive is the shell, which is freely available on Thingiverse, where you can also find a bill of materials with links to everything you will need in case you don’t have drawers full of those tactile switches.

If this looks familiar, you have probably seen the PocketCHIP, and it is no secret that this project is an homage to that versatile pocket computer. We appreciate this kind of love for PocketCHIP, especially since they are now a limited commodity.

Add A Trackpoint To A Mechanical Keyboard

People love their tech, and feel like something’s missing when it’s not there. This is the story of one person’s desire to have the venerable trackpoint in their new keyboard.

[Klapse] loves a Lenovo old-style non-chicklet keyboard, so, despite the cost, five were ordered. They very quickly ended up with keys that didn’t work, although the trackpoints still did. After buying a sixth which ended up the same, [Klapse] decided that maybe giving up on the Lenovo keyboards was the best idea. A quick stop at a local store scored a fill-in mechanical keyboard, but in the back of [klapse]’s mind the need for a trackpoint remained. Maybe one could be frankensteined in to the keyboard that was just purchased?

Underside of the trackpoint, fitted to the keyboard PCB

The keyboard’s circuit board had traces everywhere, with nowhere to drill through between the correct keys, typically between the G, H and Y keys. But there was a hole used for mounting the PCB nearby. between the H, J, U and Y keys. The trackpoint needed to be extended to reach all the way through the key caps, so [klapse] searched the house looking for something that might do. Turns out that a knitting needle fits perfectly.

At this point a side-hack emerged. [Klapse] found a drill bit small enough to make the necessary hole in the trackpoint shaft to fit the needle. But the bit was too small for the drill chuck. In true hacking style, the bit was wrapped with duct tape and held in the drill. Sure, it wobbled a lot and it was really difficult to get it to drill in the center of the shaft, but it worked, eventually. The needle was cut off and glued into the hole, the key caps were modified a bit to allow the trackpoint through and the rubber tip put back on.

They say, “desire to cram old tech into new is the mother of invention.” Or something similar, anyway. Check out how a Teensy liberated a Lenovo laptop keyboard trackpoint and all. Also, check out this custom keyboard with integrated trackpoint, of course.

Teensy Liberates the ThinkPad Keyboard

[Frank Adams] liked the keyboard on his Lenovo ThinkPad T61 so much that he decided to design an adapter so he could use it over USB with the Teensy microcontroller. He got the Trackpoint working, and along the way managed to add support for a number of other laptop boards as well. Before you know it, he had a full-blown open source project on his hands. Those projects can sneak up on you when you least expect it…

The first step of the process is getting your laptop keyboard of choice connected up to the Teensy, but as you might expect, that’s often easier said than done. They generally use a flexible printed circuit (FPC) “ribbon cable” of some type, but may also be terminated in any number of weirdo connectors. [Frank] goes over the finer points of getting these various keyboards connected to his PCB, from searching the usual suspects such as Aliexpress and Digikey for the proper connector to throwing caution to the wind and cutting off problematic nubs and tabs to make it fit.

You might be on your own for figuring out the best way to connect your liberated keyboard up, but [Frank] has done his part by designing a few PCBs which handle routing the appropriate connections to the Teensy LC or 3.2 microcontroller. He’s such a swell guy he’s even written the firmware for you. As of right now there’s currently a dozen keyboards supported by his software and hardware setup, but he also gives tips on how to get the firmware modified for your own board if you need to.

It should come as no surprise that it was a Thinkpad keyboard that got [Frank] going down this path; as we’ve documented over the years, hackers love their Thinkpads. From fitting them with more modern motherboards to going full on matryoshka and putting a second computer inside of one, it’s truly the laptop that launched a thousand hacks.

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A Fleet of Pressure Washers Powers This Interactive Public Fountain

Public art installations can be cool. Adding in audience interactivity bumps up the coolness factor a bit. Throw civic pride, dancing jets of water, music, and lights into the project, and you get this very cool pressure washer powered musical fountain.

The exhibit that [Niklas Roy] came up with is called Wasserorgel, or “water organ”, an apt name for the creation. Built as part of a celebration of industry in Germany, the display was built in the small town of Winnenden, home to Kärcher, a cleaning equipment company best known for their line of pressure washers in the distinctive yellow cases. Eight of the company’s electric pressure washers were featured in the Wasserorgel, which shot streams of water and played notes in response to passersby tickling the sturdy and waterproof 3D-printed keyboard. The show was managed by an Arduino with a MIDI shield, which controlled the pressure washers via solid state relays and even accepted input from an anemometer to shut down the show if it got too windy, lest the nearby [Frau Dimitrakudi] be dampened.

The video below shows how engaging the Wasserorgel was during its weeks-long run in the town market square; there’s also one in German with build details. And while we can’t recall seeing pressure washers in public art before, we do remember one being used as the basis of a DIY water-jet cutter.

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What’s the Cheapest Way to Scan Lots of Buttons?

So you’re building a new mechanical keyboard. Or attaching a few buttons to a Raspberry Pi. Or making the biggest MIDI grid controller the world has ever know. Great! The first and most important engineering question is; how do you read all those buttons? A few buttons on a ‘Pi can probably be directly connected, one for one, to GPIO pins. A mechanical keyboard is going to require a few more pins and probably some sort of matrix scanner. But the grid controller is less clear. Maybe external I/O expanders or a even bigger matrix? Does it still need diodes at each button? To help answer these questions the folks at [openmusiclabs] generated a frankly astounding map which shows, given the number of inputs to scan and pins available, which topology makes sense and roughly how much might it cost. And to top it off they link into very readable descriptions of how each might be accomplished. The data may have been gathered in 2011 but none of the fundamentals here have changed.

How do you read this chart? The X axis is the number of free pins on your controller and the Y is the number of I/Os to scan. So looking at the yellow band across the top, if you need to scan one input it always makes the most sense to directly use a single pin (pretty intuitive, right?). Scrolling down, if you need to read 110 inputs but the micro only has eight pins free there are a couple choices, keys E and F. Checking the legend at the top E is “Parallel out shift register muxed with uC” and F is “Parallel in shift register muxed with uC“. What do those mean? Checking the table in the original post or following the link takes us to a handy descriptive page. It looks like a “parallel out shift register” refers to using a shift register to drive one side of the scan matrix, and “parallel in shift register” refers to the opposite.

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Adding Analog Touch To (Nearly) Any Mechanical Keyboard

The new hotness for DIY electronics is mechanical keyboards, and over the past few years we’ve seen some amazing innovations. This one is something different. It adds an analog sensor to nearly any mechanical key switch, does it with a minimal number of parts, and doesn’t require any modification of the switch itself. It’s a reddit thread and imgur post, but the idea is just so good we can overlook the documentation on this one.

The key development behind this type of sensor is realizing that nearly every mechanical keyswitch (Cherry MX, Kalth, Gateron) has a spring in the bottom. A spring is just a coil of wire, and an inductor is just a coil of wire, too. By putting a spiral trace on the PCB of a mechanical keyboard underneath the keyswitch, you can sense the inductance of this spring. This does require a little bit of additional hardware, in this case an LDC1614 inductance to digital converter, but this is an I2C-readable part that can, theoretically, be integrated rather easily with any mechanical keyboard PCB and firmware.

The downside to using the LDC1614 is that sampling is somewhat time-limited, with four channels or individual keys being polled at 500 Hz. This isn’t a problem if the use-case is adding analog to your WASD keys, but it may become a problem for an entire keyboard. Additionally, the LDC1614 is a slightly expensive part, at about $2 USD in quantity 1000. A fully analog keyboard using this technique is going to be pricey.

Right now, the proof-of-concept for this analog mechanical keyswitch is just a 0.1 mm flexible PCB that is shoehorned inbetween a Cherry MX red and a (normal) mechanical keyboard PCB. The next step in the development will be a 2×4 keypad with analog sensors, and opening up the hardware and firmware examples up under a GPL license.