Okay, so you want to build a keyboard — something crazy-curvy like the dactyl or dactyl manuform. The kind of keyboard that has to be hand-wired, because key wells and rigid PCBs do not play well together. You want to build this keyboard, but all that hand-wiring would mean that you can’t easily swap switches later. And it will means hours and hours of fiddly soldering. What do you do? You could buy or design your own switch PCBs, but again, those are rigid and space is limited inside of most of these designs.
We really like this idea, and it makes the end result feel more like a totally hand-wired keyboard than individual switch PCBs would As you can see, it involves little solder. The only downside is that you can only swap a few switches at a time, otherwise the matrix might fall apart. But that’s hardly even a downside.
Often times we as hackers don’t know what we’re doing, and we sally forth and do it anyway. Here at Hackaday, we think that’s one of the best ways to go about a new project, and the absolute fastest way to learn a whole lot as you go. Just ask [Aaron Rasmussen] regarding this spherical, standing 5×6 dactyl manuform keyboard build, which you can see in a three-part short video series embedded after the break.
[Aaron] gets right down to it in the first video. He had to get creative right away, slicing up the dactyl manuform model to fit on a tiny print bed. However, there’s plenty of room inside the sphere for all that wiring and a pair of Elite-C microcontrollers running QMK. Be sure to turn on the sound to hear the accompanying voice-overs.
The second video answers our burning question: how exactly does one angle grind a slippery sphere without sacrificing sheen or shine? We love the solution, which involves swaddling the thing in duct tape and foam.
You may be wondering how [Aaron] is gonna use any kind of mouse while standing there at the pedestal keyboard. While there is space for a mouse to balance on top, this question is answered in the third video, where [Aaron] learns the truth behind the iconic ThinkPad nubbin and applies this knowledge to build a force-feedback joystick/trackpoint mouse. Awesome answer, [Aaron]!
Whether we’re talking about Gibson’s Sprawl or our increasingly dystopian reality, one of the defining characteristics of a cyberdeck is that it can be easily customized and upgraded over time. While a few of the builds we’ve covered over the last couple of years have focused more on style than substance, we really appreciate the designs that embrace the concept of modularity to make sure the system can evolve to meet the changing demands of hacking on the go.
To that end, the M3TAL from [BlastoSupreme] is a perfect example of what a cyberdeck should be. Naturally it’s got the cyberpunk aesthetics we’ve come to expect, but more importantly, it’s designed so modifications and repairs are as quick and painless as possible. The trick is the use of a 2020 aluminum extrusion frame, which allows external panels and components to be attached anywhere along the length of the deck using T-Nuts. Similarly, by mounting internal components to “sleds” that ride between the pieces of extrusion, the electronics can easily be removed or swapped out as complete modules.
Furthering the idea of expandability, [BlastoSupreme] included an authentic 3.5 floppy drive on the M3TAL that allows him to pack an incredible 1.44 MB onto each rugged and portable disk. OK, so maybe the floppy drive isn’t terribly impressive compared to 2021 tech, but it does seem oddly appropriate for a cyberdeck. On the opposite side of the deck there’s a RetroCART slot, which cloaks modern USB devices in clunky faux cartridges. This provides a unified physical format for everything from removable storage to microcontrollers and software defined radio receivers.
While we’re not at all sick of the cyberdeck movement yet, we do have to admit that some of the builds we see are starting to fall into categories that are beginning to seem a little familiar. The clamshell aesthetic comes to mind, but really, with spaces for a display and a keyboard, the form factor is pretty much a natural for cyberdecking. Which is why we like this three-piece twist on the cyberdeck concept so much.
Like many cyberdeck builds, inspiration for the awesomely mustachioed [Max]’s deck came from the military surplus world. As the story goes, he has a smallish clamshell case that once held radio tools and supplies for the Bundeswehr. Figuring it would make the perfect case for half of a split keyboard, he tracked down a couple more of the sturdy aluminum cases and got to work. As a mechanical keyboard aficionado, [Max] already had PCBs that would fit into two of the cases, so he populated those with suitably clicky switches, came up with cool-looking faceplates, and connected the two boxes with retractile cables. The third case got a Raspberry Pi 4 with a trimmed-down heatsink, a battery and power management, and a generous touchpad and LCD panel display. A Kali Linux install completes the tacticool look.
The three-piece cyberdeck looks very cool when all wired up together, but [Max] needed one more piece to really sell it. So he 3D-printed a slipcase for all three units; painted in military colors and suitably distressed, the whole thing really just works. We’ve seen a lot of cyberdecks lately in all sorts of styles, but this one really pleases.
Again, let’s just get this out of the way up front: I got this lovely little 75% keyboard for free from a gaming accessories company called Marsback. It’s a functioning prototype of a keyboard that they have up on Kickstarter as of March 2nd. It comes in three color schemes: dark, white and sakura pink, which is white and pink with cherry blossoms.
Marsback found me through my personal website and contacted me directly to gauge my interest in this keyboard. I’ll admit that I wasn’t too excited about it until I scrolled further in the email and saw that they are producing their own switches in-house.
I think that’s a really interesting choice given that Cherry MX and other switches exist, and there so many Cherry MX clones out there already. Naturally, I had to investigate, so following a short review, I’ll take it apart.
While on the surface they might seem like little more than cosplay accessories, there are perfectly valid and practical reasons for building a custom cyberdeck. For one thing, a hand-built deck is going to be easier to upgrade and modify down the line. A bespoke rig can also be made to fit your exacting specifications, with each and every design choice made specifically to support your personal style and workflow.
For [Conrad Barski], that meant a computer that would stay out of his way and allow him to take notes and write code while keeping distractions to the absolute minimum. All he wanted in his dream machine was a nice mechanical keyboard, a widescreen display, and enough battery power to go mobile should the need arise. Anything else would be gilding the lily. For those who want to distill personal computing down to its simplest form, this build is really the high water mark.
[Conrad] is currently in the early stages of turning his Lisperati1000 into a kit others can build for themselves, so details are a bit sparse at the moment. But we do know there’s a Raspberry Pi Zero W, a Vortex Core 40% keyboard, and 4,400 mAh worth of battery power wrapped up in that slick 3D printed enclosure. Readers may recognize the 1920×480 ultra-wide LCD from the modernized TRS-80 Model 100 we covered recently, or perhaps the gorgeously reimagined retro terminals of [Oriol Ferrer Mesià]. If you’ve got retro-futurism on the brain, this seems to be the display to beat.
At Hackaday we’re strong believers that you can learn just as much from a failed attempt as you will from a rousing success, which is why we especially appreciate the way [mickwheelz] has documented this project. The basic layout and general bill of materials for his hypothetical cyberdeck had been sorted out in his head for about a year, but it took a few attempts until everything came together in a way he was happy with. Rather than pretend those early missteps never happened, he’s decided to present each one and explain why it didn’t quite work out.
Frankly both of his earlier attempts look pretty slick to us, but of course the only person who’s opinion really counts when it comes to a good cyberdeck is the one who’s building it. The original acrylic design was a bit too fiddly, and while his first attempt at 3D printing the computer’s frame and enclosure went much better, it still left something to be desired.
The final result is a clean and straightforward design that has plenty of room inside for a Raspberry Pi 4, UPSPack V3 power management board, 10,000 mAh battery, internal USB hub, and a AK33 mechanical keyboard. Topside there’s a 7” 1024×600 IPS LCD with touch overlay that’s naturally been offset in the traditional cyberdeck style, and on the right side of the enclosure there’s a bay that holds a KKMoon RTL-SDR. Though that could certainly be swapped out for something else should you decide to print out your own version of this Creative Commons licensed design.