While most people don’t care whether they use one finger or ten, some people want to better themselves by learning how to touch-type. And honestly, there’s no easier way to do that than by getting into the ergo keyboard game. Even if you consider yourself a touch-typist already, an ortholinear or column-staggered keyboard may teach you otherwise, as you find yourself trying to type ‘c’ with your index finger (for example) and failing miserably.
[ebastler] chose the best of all routes and decided to build his own perfect keyboard, called the Osprey. It’s a wireless, column-staggered 40% that runs on ZMK firmware, which of course is open-source, as is the PCB itself and the thick and travel-ready printed enclosure. Although [ebastler] has yet to implement either one of these additional inputs, the Osprey also supports a thumbstick and a track pad.
Brain-wise, it’s a bare nRF52840 chip along with a TI BQ24075 for battery charging. The interesting thing about this implementation is that [ebastler] used and abused Nordic sample schematic #4, which utilizes both DC-DC converter stages of the chip. We can’t wait to see what this trailblazing build will mean for the community!
There’s something to be said for über-powerful cyberdecks, but there’s also a certain appeal to less powerful decks squeezed into a tiny form factor. [Christian Lo] has designed a cyberdeck that looks like a simple ortholinear keyboard but is running a more flexible environment.
There are games and animations you can play on QMK, but [Lo] felt that a different framework would give him more flexibility to really stretch the limits of what this Raspberry Pi Pico-powered deck could do. He decided to go with a Rust-based firmware with the keyberon library and says, “it felt like I was in control of the firmware.” While the board is using Rust for now, [Lo] says he’s open to conversations about other firmware options to achieve his goals, like a virtual pet game for the board.
The PCB is described as “bog standard” with the possible exception of placing the Pi in a cutout on the board to keep things as low profile as possible. The trade-off comes in the form of reduced board rigidity and potentially increased strain on the connections to the microcontroller.
While we personally don’t normally go for straight-up ortholinear keyboards, this one looks split enough to be comfortable. We love that there is both an ISO Enter and a regular-sized Return, although we might put another Enter on the left side if it were our keyboard. That’s the beauty of this whole open-source keyboard thing, though. I could assign any number of those animal-capped keys to Enter. Another plus is that The Railroad uses semi-normal keycap sets, with none of this 1.25u nonsense of certain split keyboards.
All the files and the BOM are available on GitHub under a Creative Commons license. This represents JLCPCB’s max length, by the way. [DiplomacyPunIn10Did] wanted to add a num pad, but it would have made it too long. Since the pictures are so big, we put our hands up to the screen to test it out. Those innermost 1u thumb keys look like they’re placed just far enough in toward the space bars that they wouldn’t cause strain, but it’s hard to know for sure without trying a real one. (Darn you, global shortages and shipping delays!)
There are all sorts of reasons to build your own keyboard, and we would argue that the more custom the layout, the easier it is to justify the time and expense. At least, that’s what we’re going with for this post about [GoldenSights]’ big, beautiful custom ortholinear called Nearer, as in nearer to perfect. Just look at this battleship!
[GoldenSights] has long wanted a mechanical keeb, but has never been into any of the commercial offerings. That goes double since none of them seem to have a vertical Home/End cluster, which [GoldenSights] has become quite attached to thanks to a space-saving Logitech rectangle keeb. But if you’re going to make your own keyboard, you should go all out, right? Right. So [GoldenSights] started by adding another 12 F keys and making it ortholinear. Then things got personal with an extra Backspace where Num Lock usually lives, and dedicated keys for switching between English, Korean, and Chinese.
[GoldenSights] wanted USB-C and so they used an Elite-C microcontroller, but there’s one big problem — it only has 24 pins, and according to the matrix math, the board needs 27 total. Rather than using an I/O expansion chip or a second microcontroller, they wired it up as duplex matrix. This is an alternative way of wiring up a matrix so that it’s closer to being square by doubling up the rows and halving the number of columns.
We don’t think [GoldenSights] gives themselves enough credit here. They say that they lean toward calling it assembly rather than a build, but we disagree with that assessment. [GoldenSights] broke in this giant keeb with giant write-up of the build, so go see for yourself. There’s a ton of build pictures and a fair amount of hot glue, so be warned.
Let’s talk about those keycaps for a second. The space bar was supposed to be black PBT like the others, but the keycap manufacturer didn’t have a 6u space bar in black and sent a gray one instead. Honestly, we like the way it looks. And we love that [GoldenSights] painstakingly laid out the keys on foam board before committing to a laser-cut metal switch plate.
Maybe you’re not ready to take the leap into a full-on ergonomic split keyboard. That’s okay, that’s cool, that’s understandable. They’re weird! Especially ones like my Kinesis Advantage with the key bowls and such. But maybe your poor pinkies are starting to get tired and you’re ready to start using your thumbs for more than just the space bar. Or you want to be able to type ‘c’ properly, with your middle finger.
In that case, the TypeMatrix could be the keyboard for you. Or maybe for travel you, because it’s designed as a quasi-ergonomic, orthonormal layout travel keyboard to pair with your laptop, and as such it sits directly over a laptop keyboard without blocking the track pad. (How do people use those things, anyway?)
Of course, you could use this as a desktop keyboard as well, although it’s unfortunate that Control and Shift are stuck on the pinkies. More about that later.
When I saw this keyboard on eBay, I was attracted by two things: the layout, and the dedicated Dvorak light. (And, let’s be honest — the price was right.) I’ve always found myself generally turned off by chocolate bar-style ortholinear keebs because they’re so incredibly cramped, but this one seemed a more acceptable because of the slight split.
The first thing I noticed was the fantastic number pad integration. The different colored keycaps are a nice touch, because the gray makes the number pad stand out, and the red Delete is easy to find since Num Lock is squatting in the upper right corner. Why does Delete always feel like an afterthought on compact keebs? I also like the location of the arrows, and it makes me think of the AlphaSmart NEO layout. Unfortunately, it comes at the cost of burying the right hand Enter down in no-man’s land where you can’t exactly hit it blindly with great accuracy right away. If only you could swap Shift and Enter without messing up the number pad!
Oh, sure, there have been a few cube-shaped PCs over the years, like the G4 and the NeXT cube. But can they really be called cubes when the display and the inputs were all external? We think not.
[ikeji] doesn’t think so either, and has created a cube PC that puts them all to shame. Every input and output is within the cube, including our favorite part — the 48-key ortholinear keyboard, which covers two sides of the cube and must be typed on vertically. (If you’ve ever had wrist pain from typing, you’ll understand why anyone would want to do that.) You can see a gif of [ikeji] typing on it after the break.
Inside the 3D printed cube is a Raspberry Pi 4 and a 5″ LCD. There’s also an Arduino Pro Micro for the keyboard matrix, which is really two 4×6 matrices — one for each half. There’s a 6cm fan to keep things cool, and one panel is devoted to a grille for heat output. Another panel is devoted to vertically mounting the microcontrollers and extending the USB ports.
When we first looked at this project, we thought the tiny cube was a companion macro pad that could be stored inside the main cube. It’s really a test cube for trying everything out, which we think is a great idea and does not preclude its use as a macro pad one of these days. [ikeji] already has plenty of plans for the future, like cassette support, an internal printer, and a battery, among other things. We can’t wait to see the next iteration.
[Blake]’s interest in building keyboards happened naturally enough — he was looking for a new project to work on and fell into the treasure chest that is the mechanical keyboard community. It sounds like he hasn’t built anything but keyboards since then, and we can absolutely relate.
We particularly like the double rainbow ribbon cable wiring method [Blake] used to connect each row and column to the controller. It looks beautiful, yes, but it’s also a great way to maintain sanity while programming and troubleshooting.
Keyboard builds can look daunting, even at 40% of standard size. But as [Blake] discovered, there are some really good guides out there with fantastic tips for hand-wiring in small spaces. And now there is another well-written guide with clear pictures to point to.