The Rollercoaster Of Developing The Ultimate Hackable Keyboard

When designing anything with “hackable” in the punchline, scope creep is an integral part of the process. You end up trying to create something to potentially be an infinite number of things for an infinite number of users. [Zack Freedman] is going really deep down the rabbit hole with his MiRage keyboard and has been documenting the progress in his usual entertaining style, with some cautionary notes included.

The most fascinating tale from this come about as a result of adding RGB LEDs beneath the keys, while still allowing everything to function when the keyboard is split in two. Thanks to an IO expander chip in one side of the board, a standard TRRS audio cable is enough to link both sides together. But the addition of addressable LEDs meant more lines were required.

[Zack] thought he had found a solution in the form of SATA cables, but it turns out all SATA cables internally connect pins 1,3, and 7, making them useless for this application. He realized he had no choice but to add a second microcontroller to the “dumb” side of the keyboard and return to I2C over a TRRS cable. However, the RP2040-based Seeed XIAO’s I2C absolutely refused to play along. After a fortnight of frustrating debugging, it turns out there was a bug in the pin definitions. Fortunately, this also revealed that the XIAO had an undocumented secondary I2C interface, which he plans to configure as a peripheral to make the keyboard almost infinitely expandable with additional keys.

An earlier version of the MiRage featured tactile OLED displays, but it turns out the thin panes of glass don’t handle repeated flexing well, so they had to be scrapped. In their place came a touchscreen E-paper display, but now this seems to be evolving into a pluggable module for any input device that your heart desires, including possibly a haptic SmartKnob. Another major update are PCB footprints that support both CHOC and MX switches.

It all started with the MiRage V1 keyboard intended to for use in an updated version of [Zack]’s cyberdeck. After realizing how many people were interested in the keyboard but not the cyberdeck, he shifted focus to refining the MiRage.

This project still has some way to go, so we’ll certainly be keeping our eye on it. In the meantime, we’ve recently covered another exceptionally customizable keyboard that might catch your fancy.

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Pico Chording Keyboard Is Simultaneously Vintage And New

On paper, chording — that’s pressing multiple keys to create either a single character or a whole word — looks like one of the best possible input methods. Maybe not the best for speed, at least for a while, but definitely good for conserving the total number of keys. Of course, fewer keys also makes for an easier time when it comes to building keyboards (as long as you don’t have to code the chording software). In fact, we would venture to guess that the hardest part of building your own version of [CrazyRobMiles]’s Pico Chord Keyboard would be teaching your fingers how to work together to chord instead of typing one at a time.

[CrazyRobMiles] took inspiration from the Cykey chording design used for the Microwriter and later, the Microwriter Agenda that also featured a qwerty blister keyboard. Both featured small screens above the six keys — one for each finger, and two for the thumb. While the original Microwriter ran on an 8-bit microprocessor, Pico Chord Keyboard uses — you guessed it — the Raspberry Pi Pico.

We love that [CrazyRobMiles] went with four 14-segment displays, which gives it a nice old school feel, but used transparent keycaps over Kailh switches. This is actually important, because not only do the LEDs show what mode you’re in (alpha vs. numeric vs. symbols), they also teach you how to chord each letter in the special training game mode. Be sure to check it out in the video after the break.

Isn’t it cool that we live in a world of relatively big keyboards with few keys and tiny keyboards with all the keys?

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Word clock in the style of the Christmas lights from Stranger Things. If you know, you know.

Stranger Things Message Board Passes The Time By Spelling It Out

Will Netflix’s nostalgic hit Stranger Things be back for a fourth series anytime soon? We could pull out a Ouija board and ask the spirits, but we’d much rather ask closer to the source, i.e. a spirit in the upside down. And you know that the best way to do that is with LEDs — one for each letter of the alphabet so the spirit can spell out their messages.

Arduino, ESP01, and real-time clock powering this Stranger Things word clockAlthough contact with the Demogorgon’s world isn’t likely with [danjovic]’s open-source Stranger Things board, you are guaranteed to get the time spelled out for you every minute, as in, ‘it’s twenty-five (or six) to four’. And if you want to freak out your unwitting friends, you can covertly send messages to it from your phone.

There are two versions now — the original desktop version, and one that hangs on the wall and uses a high-quality photo print for the background. Both use an ESP-01 and an Arduino to help drive the 26 RGB LEDs, and use a DS2321 real-time clock for timing. We love the enameled wiring job on the wall-mount version, but the coolest part has to be dual language support for English and Brazilian Portuguese. You can check out demos of both after the break.

We’ve seen many a word clock around here, but this is probably one of the few that’s dripping with pop culture. If it’s stunning modernism you want, take a look at this painstakingly-constructed beauty.

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Oh Brother, Would You Look At This Cistercian Clock

We were beginning to think we’d seen it all when it comes to RGB clocks, but [andrei.erdei] found a fast path back into our hearts and minds. This clock is a digital representation of an ancient numeral system used by 13th century Cistercian monks before the Indo-Arabic system that we know and love today took over. It’s a compact system (at least for numbers 1-9,999) that produces numerals which sort of look like 16-segment displays gone crazy.

Image via Wikipedia

Every numeral has a line down the middle, and the system uses the four quadrants of space around it to display the ones, tens, hundreds, and thousands positions starting in the upper right corner.

[andrei] adapted the system to show time by assigning tens of hours to the thousands quadrant in the bottom left, hours to the hundreds quadrant in the bottom right, tens of minutes in the upper left, and minutes in the top right. The tricky part is that the system has no zero, but [andrei] just darkens the appropriate quadrant to represent zero.

The timekeeping is done with an ESP-01, and there are a total of 31 RGB LEDs including the middle bit, which blinks like a proper digital clock and doubles as a second hand. As usual, [andrei] has provided everything you’d need to build one of these for yourself. We admit that the system would take a little time to learn, but even if you never bothered to learn, this would make a nice conversation piece or focal point for sitting and staring. Take a minute to check it out in action after the break.

We love a good clock build no matter how it works. Sink your teeth into this clock that’s driven by a tuning fork.

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Beautiful And Bouncy RGB LED Skirt Reacts To Movement

Is there any garment so freeing to wear as a skirt, assuming it isn’t skin tight? (Well, unless that’s your thing — we won’t judge.) Skirts and dresses are pretty darn freeing compared to pants, so it’s too bad that most of them come without pockets. And it’s really too bad that pretty much all skirts and dresses come without RGB LEDs that can react to movement. Maybe someday.

Until then, we’ll just have to design our own LED skirt like [makeTVee] and his girlfriend did, and hope that it looks half as good. This skirt has six RGB LED strips running down the front for a total of 120 LEDs. The strips are held in place with hook and loop tape and all the electronics — an Adafruit QT Py, a 6-DOF IMU, and a USB power bank — are tucked into the waistband and can be easily removed when it’s time to wash the skirt. Continuing with the practicality theme, there are no LEDs on the back, though they could easily be added in for getting down on the dance floor.

We really love the fabric choices here. The overlay fabric looks good on its own, but it also does a great job of showing and diffusing the light, while at the same time hiding the LED strips themselves. It’s clear that they took comfort and practicality into consideration and made a wearable that’s truly wearable. [makeTVee] calls this a work in progress, but has already got a few nice animations going, which you can see in the video after the break.

If you don’t care whether your wearables are practical, try this fiber optic jellyfish skirt on for size.

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Transmit Your Gaze To This Fiber Optic LED Lamp

Call us easily amused, but we think it’s pretty amazing what can be done with a microcontroller, some RGB LEDs, and a little bit of plastic. Case in point is [andrei.erdei]’s beautiful and quite approachable fiber optic LED lamp. It’s a desktop-friendly version of a similar piece [andrei] made that is roughly nine times the size of this one and hangs on the wall. The build may be simple, but the product is intricately lovely.

We really like the visual density of this lamp — it’s just the right amount of tubes and strikes a balance between being too sparse and too chaotic. As you might expect, there’s an Arduino and some RGB LED strips involved. But the key to this build is in the 16 pieces of side-glow plastic fiber optic tubing. Side-glow is designed to let light escape along the length of the tube as opposed to end-glow, which is made to minimize light loss from one end to the other like a data pipe. This allows for all sorts of fun effects, and you can watch [andrei.erdei] go slowly and soothingly through the different colors and modes in the demo video after the break. Make sure you watch long enough to see the tubes move like the old Windows 3D pipes screensaver

Already have too many knickknacks and wall hangings? You’re missing out on prime real estate — the ceiling. Check out this fiber optic ceiling installation that reacts to music.

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LED Hourglass Moves Like The Real Thing

If you want to waste time in a meaningful way, get yourself an hourglass. It’s simultaneously mesmerizing and terrifying to sit there and watch the seconds slip through the threshold that separates possibility from missed opportunity.

[Ty and Gig]’s LED hourglass is equally beautiful to watch. It doesn’t actually tell time, but that’s perfectly fine by us. What it does do is animate the LEDs to approximate grains of sand in gravity, no matter how the hourglass is tilted.

In either vertical orientation, the sand falls as long as there is some in the top. When the hourglass is horizontal, the LEDs settle just like real sand does. [Ty and Gig] achieved this with a whole lot of code that breaks the animation frames into structure arrays.

By contrast, the hardware part of this build is fairly simple: all that’s needed to replicate this build is some RGB LEDs a beefy power supply to drive them, an accelerometer, and a microcontroller.

[Ty and Gig] were planning to use an ESP8266, but misplaced it and went with an Arduino Mega instead. (You know what they say — buy a replacement and the one you lost will turn up almost immediately.) The beautiful frame is made from leftover purpleheart, a hardwood that turns purple with exposure to air. Check out the build video after the break.

Too lazy to reset your hourglass every hour? Here’s one that flips itself.

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