The A to Z of Building Your Own Keyboard

We’ve featured a number of people who’ve taken the plunge and created their own customized keyboard; at this point it’s safe to say that there’s enough information and source code out there that anyone who’s looking to build their own board won’t have much trouble figuring out how to do so. That being said, it’s nice to have a comprehensive at a process from start to finish. Why sift through forum posts and image galleries looking for crumbs if you don’t have to?

That’s precisely what makes this write-up by [Maarten Tromp] so interesting. He walks the reader through every step of the design and creation of his customized keyboard, from coming up with the rather unique layout to writing the firmware for its AVR microcontroller. It’s a long read, filled with plenty of tips and tricks from a multitude of disciplines.

After looking at other custom boards for inspiration, [Maarten] used OpenSCAD to create a 3D model of his proposed design, and had it printed at Shapeways. His electronics are based around an Atmel ATMega328P using vUSB, and Microchip MCP23017 I/O expanders to connect all the keys. He wrapped it all up by designing a PCB in gEDA PCB and having it sent off for production. As a testament to his attention to detail, everything mated up on the first try.

[Maarten] is happy with the final product, but mentions that in a future revision he would like to add RGB lighting and use a microcontroller that has native USB support. He’d also like to drop the I/O expanders and switch over to Charlieplexing for the key matrix.

From uncommon layouts to diminutive technicolor beauties, it seems there’s no end of custom keyboards in sight. We aren’t complaining.

3D Printering: When an STL File is Not Quite Right

STL files are everywhere. When there’s something to 3D print, it’s probably going to be an STL. Which, as long as the model is good just as it is, is no trouble at all. But sooner or later there will be a model that isn’t quite right in some way and suddenly project progress hits a snag.

When models interface with other physical things, those other components may not always be exactly as the designer expected. Being mindful about such potential inconsistencies during the design phase can help prevent problems, but it’s not always avoidable. The reason it’s a problem is because an STL file represents a solid model as a finished unit; it is not really intended to be rolled back into CAD programs for additional design changes.

STL files can be edited, but just like re-modeling a component from scratch, it can be a tricky process for those who don’t live and breathe this stuff. I’ll describe a few common issues related to STLs that can hold up getting that new project together, along with ways to deal with them. Thanks to 3D printing becoming much more commonplace, basic tools are within reach of even the least CAD-aware among us.

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Parametric Hinges with Tinkercad

Simple tools are great, but sometimes it is most convenient to just use something easy, and since it gets the work done, you don’t try out some of the other features. Tinkercad is a great example of that kind of program. It is actually quite powerful, but many people just use it in the simplest way possible. [Chuck] noticed a video about making a 3D-printed hinge using Tinkercad and in that video [Nerys] manually placed a bunch of hinges using cut and paste along with the arrow keys for positioning. While it worked, it wasn’t the most elegant way to do it, so [Chuck] made a video showing how to do it parametrically. You can see that video below, along with the original hinge video.

There are really two major techniques [Chuck] shows. First, he adds the necessary pieces to create the hinges to the Tinkercad toolbox. That makes it really simple to add them to any of your future designs. Second, he uses a combination of numeric parameters and duplication to quickly and precisely place the hinge components across another object — in this case a Batman logo.

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Customize All the Fan Covers You Never Knew You Needed

Do you need a fancy fan cover with precisely specified attributes, but have no desire to design one from scratch? If you answered yes (or no) then [mightynozzle] has the answer. The Customizable Fan Grill Cover is a parametric design in OpenSCAD that allows adjusting the frame style, size, and grill pattern for any fan cover one may possibly need. [mightynozzle] also went the extra mile to provide a large number of pre-made STL files for a variety of designs in a wide range of sizes, so those who don’t want to fuss with customizing can simply download and print.

Normally Thingiverse would allow customizing this model’s attributes with their built-in Customizer, but the functionality and availability of that feature is spotty. Luckily it’s always an option to download the source and do the customizing directly in OpenSCAD. For those who may be intrigued but are not sure where to start, here’s a reminder that we covered how to make a thing with OpenSCAD that demonstrates the whole process.

A True 3D Printed Weather Station

If the term “3D printed weather station” makes you think of a printed enclosure for off-the-shelf sensors, don’t feel bad. We thought the same thing when we first read the message [Rob Ward] sent in about his latest project. Surely he couldn’t mean that he actually printed all the principal parts of a serious weather station setup, such as the wind vane, anemometer, or rain gauge?

Except, on closer inspection, that’s exactly what he did. Every part of the weather station is designed in OpenSCAD, printed out, and infused with various vitamins to turn them into functional pieces of hardware. Interestingly enough, most of the magic is done with simple reed switches and magnets.

For example, the wind vane uses eight reed switches and an embedded magnet to communicate the current wind direction to the Arduino Uno which handles the user interface. Wind speed, on the other hand, it done with a single reed switch as it just needs to count rotations to calculate speed.

[Rob] did “cheat” by using an off-the-shelf barometric pressure sensor, but we’ll give him a pass for that one. Unless somebody wants to hit the tip line with a design for a printable barometer, we’ll consider this the high water mark in printable weather stations.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a DIY anemometer or rain gauge, of varying degrees of complexity. But the clean look of the final version, completely open nature of the OpenSCAD source, and the low part count make this an extremely compelling option for anyone looking to up their home forecasting game.

Look Upon Eyepot, And Weep For Mercy

Hope you weren’t looking forward to a night of sleep untroubled by nightmares. Doing his part to make sure  Lovecraftian mechanized horrors have lease in your subconscious, [Paul-Louis Ageneau] has recently unleashed the horror that is Eyepot upon an unsuspecting world. This Cycloptic four legged robotic teapot takes inspiration from an enemy in the game Alice: Madness Returns, and seems to exist for no reason other than to creep people out.

Even if you aren’t physically manifesting nightmares, there’s plenty to learn from this project. [Paul-Louis Ageneau] has done a fantastic job of documenting the build, from the OpenSCAD-designed 3D printed components to the Raspberry Pi Zero and Arduino Pro Mini combo that control the eight servos in the legs. If you want to play along at home all the information and code is here, though feel free to skip the whole teapot with an eyeball thing.

A second post explains how the code is written for both the Arduino and Pi, making for some very illuminating reading. A Python script on the Pi breaks down the kinematics and passes on the appropriate servo angles to the Arduino over a serial link. Combined with a web interface for control and a stream from the teapot’s Raspberry Pi Camera module, and you’ve got the makings of the world’s creepiest telepresence robot. We’d love to see this one stomping up and down a boardroom table.

Seems we are on a roll recently with creepy robot pals. Seeing a collaboration between Eyepot and JARVIS might be too much for us to handle. Though we have a pretty good idea how we’d want to control them.


3D Printed Stethoscope Makes the Grade

On the off chance that initiatives like the Hackaday Prize didn’t make it abundantly clear, we believe strongly that open designs can change the world. Putting technology into the hands of the people is a very powerful thing, and depending on where you are or your station in life, can quite literally mean the difference between life and death. So when we saw that not only had a team of researchers developed a 3D printable stethoscope, but released everything as open source on GitHub, it’s fair to say we were pretty interested.

The stethoscope has been in development for several years now, but has just recently completed a round of testing that clinically validated its performance against premium brand models. Not only does this 3D printed stethoscope work, it works well: tests showed its acoustic performance to be on par with the gold standard in medical stethoscopes, the Littmann Cardiology III. Not bad for something the researchers estimate can be manufactured for as little as $3 each.

All of the 3D printed parts were designed in OpenSCAD (in addition to a Ruby framework called CrystalSCAD), which means the design can be evaluated, modified, and compiled into STLs with completely free and open source tools. A huge advantage for underfunded institutions, and in many ways the benchmark by which other open source 3D-printable projects should be measured. As for the non-printed parts, there’s a complete Bill of Materials which even includes links to where you can purchase each item.

The documentation for the project is also exceptional. It not only breaks down exactly how to print and assemble the stethoscope, it even includes multi-lingual instructions which can be printed out and distributed with kits so they can be assembled in the field by those who need them most.

From low-cost ultrasounds to truly personalized prosthetics, the future of open source medical devices is looking exceptionally bright.

[Thanks to Qes for the tip]