Spherical Keyboard Build Leaves Hacker Well-Rounded

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]!

Not ready to go full-tilt, sci-fi prop ergo? Dip your toe in the DIY waters with a handy macropad.

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Where We’re Going, We Don’t Need Keycaps

Just when we thought we’d seen the peak of ergonomic, split keyboards, along comes [Peter Lyons] with the Squeezebox — an adjustable, column-staggered, streamlined beauty with 21 keys per hand. Much like the Kinesis Advantage and the Dactyl, the user’s fingers are allowed to dangle comfortably and stay in their naturally curled position, moving as little as possible between keys, rows, and columns. But the Squeezebox goes a few steps farther to reduce finger travel.

For starters, each column of keys is adjustable on the fly in the Y-direction by loosening the screw and sliding it until it’s just right. The columns are also adjustable in the Z-direction, but for now, this requires reprinting a few parts. In case you didn’t notice, the grid is pretty tightly packed, and those low-profile Kailh choc switches are naked to the world, mostly because keycaps wouldn’t fit anyway.

At that angle, there’s no reaching required at all between the middle and bottom rows. The 100° corner that they form both invites and supports chording — that’s pressing multiple keys simultaneously to do some action. There’s no real need to reach for the top row, either, because [Peter] merely moves his finger upward in the Z-direction a little bit to hit those. The similarly-angled thumb clusters are chord-able as well, and their position relative to the mainland is adjustable thanks to a grid of holes that are meant for threaded inserts. Genius!

For the next version, [Peter] plans to bring the three sets of thumb cluster switches closer together, and arrange them like a tri-fold science fair display board. Be sure to check out the super cool but somewhat impossible-to-solder prototypes in the build log, and stay for more stuff in the huge build gallery. Typing demo is after the break.

Still too much travel for your taste? How about a 5-way for each finger?

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This Pineapple Keyboard Is The Bomb

Now why didn’t we think of this? While building a dactyl manuform — a semi-ergonomic split keyboard — [dapperrogue] had the life-changing epiphany that keyboards can be any shape or size, as long as there is room for wiring and a microcontroller inside. [dapperrogue]’s first foray into the world of fictional ordnance came in the form of an F-bomb — a round macro keeb made in the classic round explosive shape and covered with function keys. Building on the explosive feedback from that, [dapperrogue] built this bomb of a pineapple keeb, the only anti-personnel factor being the clickiness of the key switches.

This groovy grenade has 25 keys total, 24 of which are in a 4×6 grid around the body. The 25th key, the best one, is hiding under the lever and you bet it can only be actuated by pulling the pin first. We love the use of the lever because it makes us think of Morse code keyers, which might be what we would use that switch for.

Inside is an Arduino Pro Micro running QMK and some skillful wiring. The entirely 3D-printed enclosure is in two main pieces that are connected with M3 screws, plus the top. If you want to pack one of your own, the STLs and firmware are out on GitHub. Just don’t take it to the airport.

Be sure to check out the demos after the break — in the stock firmware, every key types out a different onomatopoeic boom-type sound. Are you more of a pacifist when it comes to macro pad design? That’s understandable. We have plenty of different builds to admire.

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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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chadaustin's sculpt keyboard test pads wired to protonC

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.