Adjustable, Low-Impact Keeb Is About As Comfortable As It Gets

What’s the coolest-looking way to ease the repetitive stress of typing without quitting altogether? Move nothing but your fingers, and move them as little as possible without any stretching or reaching. We’ve been fans of the weirdly wonderful DataHand keyboard since we first laid eyes on one, but [Ben Gruver] has actually been using these out-of-production keyboards for years as a daily driver. And what do we do when we love something scarce? Make our own, improved version like [Ben] has done, with the lalboard.

[Ben] has been using the lalboard for about two years now and has a laundry list of improvements for version two, a project we are proud to host over on IO. Many of the improvements are designed to make this massive undertaking a bit easier to print and put together. Version one uses copper tape traces, but [Ben] is working on a fab-able PCB that will use something other than a pair of Teensy 2.0s, and perhaps QMK firmware.

Something that won’t be changing is the fantastic optical key switch design that uses an IR LED and phototransistor to capture key presses, and tiny square magnets to return the key to the home position and deliver what we’re quite sure is a satisfying clack.

The absolute coolest part of this keyboard is that it’s so adjustable. Every key cluster can be adjusted in 6 directions, which includes the ability to dial in different heights for each finger if that’s what works best. Once that’s all figured out, then it’s time to print some perfect permanent standoffs. Want to make one of these sci-fi clackers for yourself? [Ben] has the BOM, some printing instructions and tips, and a guide to making the copper tape PCBs over on GitHub. Check it out in action after the break as [Ben] rewrites Kafka’s Metamorphosis at 120 WPM.

Interested in learning more about the original DataHand keyboard? Here’s our take.

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Tether Tames Temperamental Typing

[chadaustin] has a favorite keyboard with a great ergonomic shape, key travel distance, and size, but after switching to Windows 10, the wireless connection introduced a terrible delay. Worse yet, the receiver is notoriously susceptible to interference from USB 3.0 hubs. To provide 128-bit AES encryption, the receiver is paired with the keyboard at the factory and cannot be replaced. If you lose that, you gain a highly ergonomic paper-weight. The solution for [chadaustin] was tethering the keyboard and receive several crash-courses in hardware hacking along the way. As evidenced by the responses to this project on ycombinator, many long-time fans of the Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard, introduced in 2013, suffer similar issues.

chadaustin's sculpt keyboard USB board layout
KiCad USB controller board layout

We really appreciate that [chadaustin] took an incremental approach, tackling one problem at a time and getting help from others along the way for first attempts at many complex steps. The proof-of-concept involved hand-soldering each lead from the keyboard matrix’s test pads to a QMK Proton C, which worked but couldn’t fit inside the keyboard’s case. For a more permanent and tidy solution, [chadaustin] tried a ribbon-cable breakout board and other microcontrollers, but none of those were compact enough to fit inside the case either. This required a custom PCB, another first for [chadaustin].

After a one-day intro to KiCad, [chadaustin] dug into the datasheets, completed a schematic for the board, and generously shared the process of choosing components and creating the layout. [chadaustin] ordered a board and found the mounting holes’ placement needed to be shifted.

With the full matrix mapped by [johnmilkspill], flashing QMK onto the AT90USB1286 controller went fairly smoothly. [chadaustin] chose to map both sides of the split spacebar back to the space key but did add a feature by repurposing the battery indicator LED to Caps Lock. And the results?

chadaustin's sculpt keyboard USB controller fit into case
USB controller fits into the plastic case, wires added to ISP for bootloader button

According to testing done with Is It Snappy?, the latency dropped from the wireless 78 ms down to 65 ms over USB. More importantly, this latency is now consistent, unaffected by USB hubs, and there is no receiver to lose. Of course, [chadaustin] has ideas for future improvement, including regaining the multimedia function keys, as these kinds of hacks are never really done; they are just in the current revision. No word on the fate of the detached number pad, but that likely needs its own tether and is a project for another day.

Thanks for the tip [Linus Söderlind]

Launching An Open Source Keyboard; System76 Has Published Their Design Files

System76, a computer manufacturer known for selling machines which run Linux, recently unveiled the complete sources for their forthcoming Launch mechanical keyboard. Made with familiar tools, mass produced, and backed by a stable company it looks like the Launch will be a compelling entrant into the world of mechanical keyboards.

Back in March of 2020 System76 published a blog post about a new project they were embarking on; a mechanical keyboard with an unusual layout. At the time there was scant information available besides a summer 2021 target and little was heard until last week when they opened up access to the Launch repository. Everything should be recognizable if you’ve ever looked at the sources for a customized mechanical keyboard before, which is what gets our attention. Electrical sources are authored with KiCad and should be easy to tweak or fabricate. And mechanical components are provided in STEP files with mechanical drawings, presumably because they intend to actually manufacture these.

launch-chassis.pngFeature wise all the usual hallmarks of a well designed keyboard are here. The Launch uses hostswap sockets to make it easy to install the usual Cherry MX compatible switch options, and includes per-key RGB backlighting courtesy of SK6805 LEDs. The ATmega32U4 runs the popular and extremely capable QMK firmware instead of something bespoke, so it should be easy to customize to the user’s desire.

System76 touts an unusual key layout, but if you’ve seen a 75% keyboard before it shouldn’t be too threatening (though we do wonder about that shrunken right shift). The most unusual feature is that it features a USB hub capable of full speed 10 gigabit USB 3.1 Gen 2 on two USB-C and two USB-A ports. It’s worth checking out the schematic to appreciate how much more complicated the hub design is than the rest of the keyboard, which is practically vestigial in comparison.

The remaining unknown is how the Launch integrates with Pop!_OS, System76’s awkwardly named remix of Ubuntu. They promise deep, compelling integration and we’re excited to see how that manifests.

Two-Key Keyboard Build Log Starts Small, But Thinks Big

Interested in making a custom keyboard, but unsure where to start? Good news, because [Jared]’s build log for an adorable “2% Milk” two-key mini-keyboard covers everything you need to know about making a custom keyboard, including how to add optional RGB lighting. The only difference is that it gets done in a smaller and cheaper package than jumping directly in with a full-size DIY keyboard.

[Jared] is definitely no stranger to custom keyboard work, but when he saw parts for a two-key “2% Milk” keyboard for sale online, he simply couldn’t resist. Luckily for us, he took plenty of photos and his build log makes an excellent tutorial for anyone who wants to get into custom keyboards by starting small.

The hardware elements are clear by looking at photos, but what about the software? For that, [Jared] uses a Teensy¬† Pro Micro clone running QMK, an open source project for driving and configuring custom input devices. QMK drives tiny devices like the 2% Milk just as easily as it does larger ones, so following [Jared]’s build log therefore conveys exactly the same familiarity that would be needed to work on a bigger keyboard, which is part of what makes it such a great project to document.

Interested in going a little deeper down the custom keyboard rabbit hole? You can go entirely DIY, but there’s also no need to roll everything from scratch. It’s possible to buy most of the parts and treat the project like a kit, and Hackaday’s own [Kristina Panos] is here to tell you all about what that was like.

PinePhone Gets 3D Printed Mechanical Keyboard

Do you remember when smartphones had real physical keyboards? Working the command line on some remote machine over SSH was a breeze, and you could even knock out a few lines of code if you were so inclined. But these days you’ve either got to lug around an external keyboard, or suffer through pecking out a few words per minute on a piece of glass. Doesn’t sound much like progress to us.

By the looks of it, [James Williams] doesn’t think so either. He’s designed a physical keyboard add-on that snaps onto the back of the PinePhone to deliver a proper, albeit condensed, typing experience. This is no repurposed BlackBerry board either; he’s created a custom mechanical keyboard that manages to fold into an incredibly small size thanks to resin printed keycaps and Kailh low profile switches. Other than the hand-drawn legends, it’s probably not a stretch to say this is a better keyboard than what many people have on their actual computers.

In addition to the 3D printed frame and Kailh switches, there’s also an Arduino Pro Micro onboard to communicate with the phone. Rather than use USB, the keyboard is wired to the I2C accessory port on the rear of the PinePhone. It sounds like [James] needs a little more time to polish his QMK build before its ready to release, so you might want to wait a bit before you start printing off your own copy of the parts.

Those following along with the development of the PinePhone know there’s supposedly an official keyboard accessory in the works, but who wants to wait when we’re so close to mobile Linux nirvana? Besides, we doubt it will be nearly as pleasant to type on as the board [James] has put together.

Porting QMK To A Cheap Mechanical Keyboard

Over the last couple of years, we’ve seen an incredible number of DIY keyboard builds come our way. Some have had their switches nestled into laser-cut aluminum and others 3D printed plastic. They may be soldered together on a custom PCB, or meticulously hand-wired. But however they were built, they almost all shared one thing in common: they ran some variant of the open source QMK keyboard firmware.

But what if you just want to run an open firmware on the keyboard you picked up for $50 bucks on Amazon? That’s exactly where [Stephen Peery] found himself nine months ago with this DK63 gaming keyboard. Since so many of these small RGB LED mechanical keyboards are very similar to existing open source designs, he wondered what it would take to blow out the original firmware and replace it with a build of QMK.

While [Stephen] doesn’t have everything working 100% yet, he’s nearly reached the end of his epic reverse engineering journey. The first step was tearing apart the keyboard and identifying all the components it used, then pulling the original firmware out of the updater. From there, between Ghidra and Serial Wire Debug, he was able to figure out most of what the stock firmware was doing so he could replicate it in QMK.

According to his README, the RGB LEDs and Bluetooth functionality don’t currently work, but other than that it seems QMK is up and running. If you’re OK with those concessions, he has information on the page about flashing his build of QMK to the stock DK63 with the ST-Link V2 so you can give it a shot. Though you do so at your own risk; we wouldn’t recommend doing this on your only keyboard.

We’ve seen commercially manufactured keyboards running QMK before, but it usually involves completely replacing the original controller with new electronics. That [Stephen] got this all working on stock hardware so other owners can follow in his footsteps is really a considerable accomplishment.

[Thanks to Baldpower for the tip.]

40% Keyboard Build Is 100% Open Source

[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.

This tidy 40% ortholinear is [Blake]’s third build, not including macro keebs. It’s based on an open source case and plate from Thingiverse, and uses an Arduino Pro Micro running the popular QMK firmware to read input from 47 Gateron blues and a rotary encoder.

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.

Looking to split from the standard rectangle form factor but don’t know what to go with? Divine your next clacker with this split keyboard finder.

Thanks for the tip, [jrdsgl]!