Deepdeck: Going Beyond The Macro Pad

We’re used to the idea of a macropad, a small extension keyboard for your computer whose keys can be programmed to the functions of your choice. They can be made in many ways, but they all follow a similar functionality. Deepdeck from [Nick Velasquez] is another matter, an attempt to make a macropad with functionality that goes way beyond simply pressing keys.

At its heart is an ESP32 module, and it makes full use of both Bluetooth and wireless networking capabilities. It can use Bluetooth when connecting to the host computer, and the wireless connection hosts both the configuration interface via a web server and an Internet connection from which it derives those special powers.  This is a macropad with programmable keys just like all the others, but it also has the ability to connect to online APIs programmed by the user. This allows it to automate complex queries involving other sources into a keypress, which gives it many more possibilities.

A tool such as this one is one of those things which requires a bit of thought as to exactly how it might be used. A normal API connected device might display the weather on a screen for instance, but how often does one need to type the weather forecast? However we can see that this extra online dimension will find as yet unseen applications, and we look forward to the idea being taken up with other macropads.

Odd Inputs And Peculiar Peripherals: A MacroPad With A Handy Layout Screen

The idea of a macro keypad is a great one, a set of keys programmable with frequent but complex tasks. But once programmed, how can the user keep track of which key does what? To save the world from grubby, hand-written sticky labels, here’s [Andreas Känner] with the Badger 2040 keypad — a macro pad with a display to show keymap info that’s fully programmable using CircuitPython.

At its heart is a Pimoroni Badger 2040 e-ink screen and RP2040 board which sits in a 3D-printed enclosure which in turn magnetically attaches to a 3D-printed keyboard enclosure. Inside is an I/O expander board, which is hand-wired to the switches. The firmware allows for easy configuration and even extension of the keypad itself, and presents itself to the host computer through USB. It’s even possible to have multiple different layouts on the same device.

Full details can be found in a comprehensive write-up on his website, and all the files are in a GitHub repository. If this doesn’t satisfy your need for customisable input goodness, then it’s not the first macro keypad we’ve shown you.

Number Like It’s 1234 AD With This Cistercian Keypad

Don’t feel bad if you don’t know what Cistercian numbers are. Unless you’re a monk of the Order of Cistercia, there’s really no reason for you to learn the cipher that stretches back to the 13th-century. But then again, there’s no reason not to use the number system to make this medieval-cool computer number pad.

If you haven’t been introduced to the Cistercian number system, it’s actually pretty clever. There are several forms of it, but the vertical form used here by [Tauno Erik] is based on a vertical stave with nine glyphs that can be attached to or adjacent to it. Each glyph stands for one of the nine numerals — one through nine only; there’s no need for a zero glyph. There are four quadrants around the stave — upper right, upper left, lower right, and lower left — and where the glyph lies determines the multiplier for the glyph. So, if you wanted to write the number “1234”, you’d overlay the following glyphs into a single symbol as shown.

[Tauno]’s Cistercian keypad, admittedly more of an art and history piece than a useful peripheral, somehow manages to look like it might have been on the desk of [Theodoric of York, Medieval Accountant]. Its case is laser-cut birch plywood, containing a custom PCB for the 20 keyboard switches and the Xiao RP2040 MCU that runs the show. Keycaps are custom made from what looks like oak combined with a 3D-printed part, similar to his previous wooden keycap macro pad. Each of the nine Cistercian glyphs is hand-carved into the keycaps, plus an imaginary glyph for zero, which wasn’t part of the system, as well as operators and symbols that might have baffled the medieval monks.

The native Cistercian system is limited to numbers between 1 and 9,999, so we’ll guess that the keypad just outputs the Arabic numeral corresponding to the Cistercian key pressed and doesn’t actually compose full Cistercian numbers. But the code to do that would be pretty easy, and the results pretty cool, if a bit confusing for users. Even if it’s just for looks, it’s still a cool project, and we doff the hood of our monkish robe to [Tauno] for this one.

Improved Technique For Resistive Divider Keypads

[Lauri Pirttiaho] from the [Swiss Knife of Electronics] channel explains how to simplify your resistive divider keypad design on Hackaday.io.

The usual method involves building a resistive ladder that gives unique and equally spaced voltages for each keypress. If you have just four or five discrete buttons, it isn’t terribly difficult, but if you have a 12- or 16-keypad matrix, things get complicated. [Lauri] looked into the past to come up with a better way, specifically a 646 page, 1 kg textbook from 1990 — Analogue Ic Design: The Current-Mode Approach by Toumazou, Lidgey, and Haigh. He learned that sometimes what’s hard to do in the voltage domain is easy in the current domain.

Normally you’d throw in some resistors to form different voltage dividers depending on which key is pressed, and read the resulting voltage off of a voltage divider with an ADC. But that means using the voltage divider equation, and the difference in voltage between keys can get very small. Dropping the voltage divider and measuring the current through a current mirror generates a linear voltage across its output load resistor that can be easily read by your microprocessor. And [Lauri] has posted an example of just such a program on his GitHub repository for an Arduino.

Heavy analog electronics, for sure, but something to keep in mind if you’re reading more than 12 keys. Do you have any examples of solving problems by looking into old and/or less-common techniques? Let us know in the comments below.

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Miss The Predictive Text From Your Old Nokia? Build Your Own T9 Keypad

Do you miss the mind-blowing typing speed of your old Nokia brick with predictive text turned on? Well, so did [Guy Dupont], so he created a USB keypad with T9 predictive text built-in to turn typing into a one-handed affair. Video after the break.

T9 was the first predictive text technology to gain widespread use in the late ’90s and early 2000s. The goal was to minimize the number of keypresses required for typing on multi-press keypads by matching key sequences to a dictionary of the possible words. It prioritizes words based on the frequency of use and can adapt to user preferences. [Guy] implemented T9 in Circuit Python, mainly for the RP2040 microcontroller used on the Raspberry Pi Pico, which will appear as a normal USB keyboard when plugged into any device. The dictionary is stored in the flash memory and can be updated using a tool also created by [Guy]. It can also change modes for old multi-press typing, numeric pad, or macro pad.

We would be interested to see just how fast it’s possible to type one handed with T9, and what application our readers can imagine. It doesn’t look like this implementation can learn the user’s preferences, which we think would be a worthy feature to add.

We’ve covered several unique custom keyboards recently, some more practical than others. On the silly side, these include a grenade-shaped function pad, a five-button chording keyboard, and a tiny two-key keyboard. Continue reading “Miss The Predictive Text From Your Old Nokia? Build Your Own T9 Keypad”

Adaptive Macro-Pad Uses Tiny OLED Screens As Keycaps

When we first laid eyes on Keybon, the adaptive macro keyboard, we sort of wondered what the big deal was. It honestly looked like any other USB macro keyboard, with big icons for various common tasks on the chunky keys. But looks can be deceiving, and [Max Kern] worked a couple of surprises into Keybon.

First of all, each one of Keybon’s buttons is actually a tiny OLED display, making the keycaps customizable through software. Each of the nine 0.66″ displays has a resolution of 64 x 48 pixels, which is plenty for all kinds of icons, and each is mounted over an SMD pushbutton switch. He had to deal with the problem of the keycaps just wobbling around atop the switch button without depressing it; this was solved with a 3D-printed cantilever frame that forced the keycaps to pivot only in one axis, resulting in clean, satisfyingly clicky keypresses.

The other trick that Keybon has is interactivity. By itself, it boots up with a standard set of icons and sends the corresponding keystrokes over USB. But when used with its companion Windows application, the entire macro set can be switched out to accommodate whatever application is being used. This gives the users access to custom macros for a web browser, EDA suite, CAD applications, or an IDE. The app supports up to eight macro sets and can be seen in action in the video below.

We love the look and the functionality [Max.K] has built into Keybon, but we wonder if e-ink displays would be a good choice for the keycaps too. They’re available for a song as decommissioned store shelf price tags now, and they might be nice since the icon would persist without power.

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A Microwave Repair Even Mechanical Keyboard Fans Will Love

Microwave oven design and manufacturing have been optimized to the point where the once-expensive appliances are now nearly disposable. Despite the economics, though, some people can’t resist fixing stuff, especially when you get a chance to do it in style. Thus we present this microwave repair with its wholly unnecessary yet fabulous adornments.

The beginning of the end for [dekuNukem]’s dirt cheap second-hand microwave started where many of the appliances begin to fail first — the membrane keyboard. Unable to press the buttons reliably anymore, [dekuNukem] worked out the original keypad’s matrix wiring arrangement and whipped up a little keypad from some pushbutton switches and a scrap of perfboard. Wired into the main PCB, it was an effective and cheap solution, if a bit on the artless side.

To perk things up a bit, [dekuNukem] turned to duckyPad, a hot-swappable macropad with mechanical switches and, of course, RGB LEDs. Things got interesting from here; since duckyPad outputs serial data, an adapater was needed inside the microwave. An STM32 microcontroller and a pair of ADG714 analog switches did the trick, with power pulled from the original PCB.

The finished repair is pretty flashy, and [dekuNukem] now has the only microwave in the world with a clicky keypad. And what’s more, it works.

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