A Macro Keyboard In A Micro Package

Remember back in the early-to-mid 2000s when pretty much every cheap USB keyboard you could find started including an abundance of media keys in its layout? Nowadays, especially if you have a customized or reduced-sized mechanical keyboard, those are nowhere to be seen. Whenever our modern selves need those extra keys, we have to turn to external peripherals, and [Gary’s] Knobo is one that looks like it could’ve come straight out of a fancy retail package.

The Knobo is a small macro keypad with 8 mechanical Cherry-style keys and a clickable rotary encoder knob as its main feature. Each key and knob gesture can be customized to any macro, and with five gestures possible with the knob, that gives you a total of thirteen inputs. On top of that, the build and presentation look so sleek and clean we’d swear this was a product straight off of Teenage Engineering’s money-printing machine.

The actions you can do with those inputs range from simple media controls with a volume knob all the way to shortcuts to make a Photoshop artist’s life easier. Right now you can only reprogram the Knobo’s Arduino-based firmware with an In-Circuit Serial Programmer to change what the inputs do, but [Gary] is currently working on configuration software so that users without any programming knowledge will be able to customize it too.

Knobs are just one of those things that everyone wants to use to control their computers, much like giant red buttons. Alternative input devices can range from accessibility-designed to just downright playful. Whatever the inspiration is for them, it’s always nice to see the creativity of these projects.

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Jazzberry Bakes The Pi Into A Mechanical Keyboard

If you hang around Hackaday long enough, pretty soon you’ll start to see some patterns emerging. As the nexus of all things awesome in the hacking world, our front page offers a unique vantage point by which you can see what’s getting folks excited this particular month, year, or decade. Right now we can tell you hackers love the Raspberry Pi, 3D printing, and perhaps above all, they can’t get enough mechanical keyboards.

So that makes the Jazzberry by [Mattis Folkestad] something of a perfect storm in the hacker world. The project uses a 3D printed enclosure to combine a Raspberry Pi 3B+ and an Ajazz AK33 mechanical keyboard into a single unit like the home computers of old. Honestly, we’re just glad he didn’t sneak an ESP8266 in there; as the resulting combination might have been enough to crash the site.

That being said, we can’t help but notice there’s a lot of open space inside the 3D printed enclosure. Right now there’s nothing inside but the Raspberry Pi, which only takes up a fraction of the internal volume. Adding a battery and hard drive would be the logical next steps, but it could also be outfitted with a suite of radios and various other hacking and security research accoutrements. We’ve seen an influx of such builds over the last few months, and the Jazzberry seems like it could make a very slick entry into this burgeoning category of mobile pentesting devices.

The STL files are designed specifically for the combination of hardware that [Mattis] used, but it shouldn’t be too difficult to modify them for your own purposes. Even if you stick with the same AK33 keyboard, an upgrade to the impressively powerful Raspberry Pi 4 would be more than worth the time fiddling with the STLs in your CAD tool of choice. If you really want to go all in, add a display and you’re well on the way to that cyberdeck you’ve always wanted.

Tearing Apart Pulse Transformer Switches

If you like mechanical keyboards, you like switches. Historically, switches were weird, with strange capacitive rubber dome switches in Topre boards, buckling springs in the IBM Model M, and beamsprings in earlier IBM keyboards. This teardown of an HP signal generator has the weirdest keyboard switches ever. They’re being called pulse transformer switches, but they are the strangest, weirdest, and most complicated keyboard switch we’ve ever seen

Mechanically, these keys are mounted on a 1×5 plastic frame with a plunger that presses down on a (brass?) photoetched plate. Mechanically, this is effectively a metal dome keyboard that simply presses a springy bit of metal against a contact on a printed circuit board. That’s the mechanical explanation, the electrical theory of operation is much, much weirder.

Electrically, this keyboard consists of a printed circuit board with two coils underneath each key. The circuit is wired up so two keys are ‘read’ at the same time with a pulse from a multiplexer. This pulse induces a current in the ‘sense’ coil of two individual keys which is sent to a comparator. If both keys are not pressed, the comparator sees a positive and a negative voltage which cancels out, meaning no keys are pressed. If one key is pressed, the metal dome shorts out the transformer underneath the keyboard, meaning only one voltage is seen by the comparator, and that key is registered as being pressed.

This is some crazy keyboard circuitry, and I do not say that lightly. There are ‘acoustic’ keyboards out there which consist of a row of keys striking a metal bar with an acoustic transducer on each end. By measuring the time it takes for the sound of a keypress to reach either end of the metal bar, a keypress can be registered. This is weird and expensive to build, and it’s still simpler than a pulse transformer switch. Check out the video below.

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A Customizable Open Source Mechanical Numpad

Mechanical keyboards with reduced key counts are all the rage these days, but while those streamlined input devices might look cool on your desk, there are times when the traditional number pad or navigation keys are quite handy. Rather than just going without, [Mattia Dal Ben] decided to put together his own mechanical auxiliary input device for when the main board just isn’t cutting it.

[Mattia] is calling his creation the YamPAD, which stands for Yet Another Mechanical numPAD. One of the major goals for the project is to produce a design that’s easy for others to replicate and customize. His PCB has a socket designed to fit an Arduino Pro Micro, which combined with the QMK firmware, offers a wide array of configuration options. All that’s left is to add in the Cherry MX switches and some 1N4148 diodes.

But if you want to take things a little further, [Mattia] has that covered as well. The PCB design has provisions for RGB LED back-lighting should you find yourself in need of crunching some numbers in the dark. There’s even a spot for a 0.91″ OLED display if you really want to take things to the next level.

As of right now, the YamPAD is just a bare PCB, but [Mattia] is planning to design a 3D printed enclosure for it soon. The sketches he’s done so far depict a printed case which we think bears more than a passing resemblance to a Wii Fit Balance Board, but of course being a fully open source project, you’ll be free to design your own case based on the PCB’s dimensions. It would be interesting to see what other kind of customization the community might come up with once the design is finalized.

If you like the idea of the YamPAD, you might also want to check out the kbord we covered back in 2017. If you want to see the full keyboard done in this DIY open hardware style, there are already some choice entries into the field.

Need A Small Keyboard? Build Your Own!

If you want keyboards, we can get you keyboards. If you want a small keyboard, you might be out of luck. Unless you’re hacking Blackberry keyboards or futzing around with tiny tact switches, there’s no good solution to small, thin, customization keyboards. There’s one option though: silicone keyboards. No one’s done it yet, so I figured I might as well.

Unfortunately, there is no readily available information on the design, construction, or manufacture of custom silicone keypads. There is a little documentation out there, but every factory that does this seems to have copy and pasted the information from each other. Asking a company in China about how to do it is a game of Chinese Whispers. Despite this, I managed to build a custom silicone keypad, and now I’m sharing this information on how to do it with you.

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A Keyboard For Your Thumb

Here’s an interesting problem that no one has cracked. There are no small keyboards that are completely configurable. Yes, you have some Blackberry keyboards connected to an Arduino, but you’re stuck with the key layout. You could get one of those Xbox controller chat pads, but again, you’re stuck with the keyboard layout they gave you. No, the right solution to building small and cheap keyboards is to make your own, and [David Boucher] has the best one yet.

The Thumb Keyboard uses standard through-hole 4mm tact switches on a 10×4 grid, wired up in a row/column matrix. Yes, this is a mechanical keyboard, which is important: no one wants those terrible rubber dome keyswitches, and you need only look at the RGB gaming keyboard market for evidence of that. These tact switches fit into a standard perfboard, allowing anyone to build this at home with a soldering iron. After wiring up the keyboard and connecting it to an Arduino, [David] had a working keyboard.

There’s a lot going on with this build, not the least of which is the custom, 3D printed bezel for those tiny, tiny tact switches. This is a much simpler solution than building an entirely new PCB, which we’ve seen before. Since this is a 3D printed bezel, it’s easy to put labels or whatnot above the keys, or potentially print buttons. It’s great work, and one of the best small keyboards we could imagine.

Bonanza Of Keyswitch Datasheets Fills Our Decks With Clack

Mechanical keyboards use switches of a few different types. But even those types include myriad variations. How’s a hacker to know just exactly what equipment is out there?

For example, if you grab a fellow cube-farmer’s mechanical keyboard (possibly because they clacked on their Cherry Blue’s just one too many times) and angrily rip off a few keycaps to show you’re serious, what do you see? In most cases you expect to see the familiar color and stem shape of a Cherry MX switch or one of its various clones. But you may find a square box around it like a Kailh Box switch. Or the entire stem is a box (with no +) like a Matias switch. Or sometimes it looks like a little pig snout, making it a Kailh Choc.

There is a fairly wide variety of companies which make key switches suitable for use in a keyboard. Many hew to the electrical and mechanical standards implicitly created by the dominant Cherry GmbH’s common switches but not all. So if you’re designing a PCB for such a keyboard and want to use odd switches, you need to check out the Keyboardio keyswitch_documentation repo!

The keyswitch_documentation repo is an absolute treasure trove of hard to find keyswitch datasheets. Finding official information on Cherry MX switches isn’t too hard (keyswitch_documentation has 22 data sheets for MX series switches, and four for ML). But those Kailh Choc’s? Good luck (here it is in keyswitch_documentation). Did you know Tai-Hao made Matias-esque switches as well as weird rubber keycaps? Well they do, and here’s the datasheet.

We’re keeping this one handy until the next time we need data sheets for weird switches. Make sure to send a note if you find something interesting in here that’s worth noting!