2018 Oct 12

UHK at Mechanicon, and fixing the freeze bug

By |2018-10-12T21:56:53+00:002018-10-12 21:56|firmware, modules, news|4 Comments

We’ll be at Mechanicon, Frankfurt on November 3.

Feel free to check out our delivery status page for the estimated delivery date of your order.

Hi there, and welcome to our monthly status update! Let’s get right to it!

Mechanicon

We got a nice invitation from Christian Bäuerlein, organizer of Mechanicon, the largest German meetup for mechanical keyboard enthusiasts. Based on the video and photos of Mechanicon 2017, it’s quite an event, so we’ll be there!

By “we”, I really mean myself. I’ll make sure to bring a couple of UHKs, so that you’ll be able to give them a try. I’ve never been to Frankfurt, so I’m excited to be there, and meet with fellow keyboard enthusiasts.

I hope we can stretch the fun times, and nerd out even after Mechanicon ends at 20:00. Speaking of afterwards, if any of you could offer a couchsurfing opportunity in Frankfurt, I’d be more than happy to take it. I’d only stay for a night after the event.

Progress on the freeze bug

Miraculously, I was able to reproduce the freeze bug since our last monthly update, I believe I made a lot of progress after that, and committed a fix. Unfortunately, I don’t have a sufficiently large amount of feedback to confidently say so.

Given the unusually rare occurrence of the bug, there’s only one way to figure out whether the firmware is sufficiently stable: to flash it to production UHKs in the factory, which is exactly what we’ll do soon. Worst case scenario: some of you will have to downgrade to firmware 8.2.5. In my mind, this is way better than having to stick to an old firmware version till the end of times.

Brett’s review

An awesome UHK backer, Brett Terpstra wrote a very nice and aptly named article “I wrote a review of the Ultimate Hacking Keyboard for you nerds” on his blog which you’re welcome to read.

To my surprise, Brett also talked about his UHK on his podcast called Overtired. Listen to episode 77, and jump to ~30:40 for the UHK part.

Max’s new keycap set

Max’s never-ending journey of pimping his UHK continues. His current creation is a black and white UHK.

In his true style, Max shared the keycap sets he used on Reddit, and posted a fair number of nice photos on Imgur.

In an interesting turn of events, Max and I have actually met in person since our last monthly update. It just so happened that he was crossing through Hungary, which served as the perfect excuse for the two of us to meet. We ended up talking for hours, mostly about keyboards as you can imagine. He’s a great guy, I enjoyed his company very much, and I’m looking forward to seeing him again.

Module ETA

The standing ETA of the modules is December, but it’s blindingly obvious that we won’t make it in time.

This year has been unusually eventful. We had to scale up production which called for a manufacturing execution and fulfillment system that I developed from the ground up. Then we set up and fine-tuned our webshop. Soon, we’ll have to transition to on-demand manufacturing which will call for quite a few backend system changes. And amidst all these happenings, we’ve been pushing the firmware and Agent further, and answering an increasing rate of customer inquiries.

We keep churning out the mini batches at a steady rate, and things are expected to settle down by the end of the year. Only from that point on we will be able to truly focus on the modules.

In the past, we have always laid out an ETA, often missed it, then updated the ETA. It’s alluring to lay out estimates because it temporarily calms people down, and stops the seemingly endless flow of “When will my order arrive?” questions. But every time the ETA is not met, it erodes trust just a little bit more. We didn’t mean to lay out bullshit ETAs on purpose, it’s only so that hardware is incredibly hard to make, much more so than software, which is very hard by itself.

Given the above, I decided to not lay out an ETA for modules from this point on. I’m confident that we’ll make tremendous progress with them as soon as things settle down, and I welcome you to join to our journey of making the modules by following us via our blog or newsletter.

Thank you for reading this update! We’ll be keeping you updated on all things UHK, and we’re looking forward to talking to you on 2018-11-15.

2018 Sep 17

Remapping keys in Agent

By |2018-10-12T16:48:31+00:002018-09-17 18:53|agent, howto|0 Comments

Although we did our best to make Agent as intuitive as possible, we get questions from time to time. By far the most usual question is how to exchange the keys of the bottom row.

Let's say you want to exchange Alt and Fn.

Now select the base layer of your default keymap in Agent. You should see something like this:

The important thing to understand is that each key has an associated action. Let's click on Alt.

A popover appears that contains the type and properties of the action. The Keypress tab is active so this is a keypress action (type) featuring no scancode and the left Alt modifier (properties).

Now let's see the action of the Fn key by clicking on it.

Now the Layer tab is active which means that it's a layer switch action which activates the Fn layer while holding this key.

You simply have to exchange the actions of the Alt and Fn keys by clicking on them and setting their action type and properties. Make sure to check the "Remap on all layers" checkbox for modifier keys before clicking on the "Remap key" button.

Lastly, click on the "Save to keyboard" button in the bottom right corner.

That's about it! Happy remapping!

2018 Sep 13

Lunar UHKs, Unicorns, and the Freeze bug

By |2018-09-19T00:54:45+00:002018-09-13 22:37|agent, features, manufacturing, news, tech talk|0 Comments

Hi there, and welcome to our monthly status update!

TL;DR: Please update to the latest UHK firmware for macro support, and to help us fix the freeze bug that plagues recent firmware versions. Agent now visualizes secondary roles. We’ve churned out 6 mini batches since our last update. The development of the add-ons is going slowly while delivering the pre-orders, but we’ll switch to high-gear afterwards.

Update to the latest firmware!

If you’re reading this and already have your UHK, please flash the latest 8.4.5 firmware by selecting the .tar.bz2 file from the "Choose firmware and flash it" option in Agent > Firmware. This will result in many goodies over the factory-flashed 8.2.5 firmware, including macro support and numerous bug fixes.

The only gotcha is the freeze bug. Recent firmware versions cause occasional freezes on some UHKs. This is a longstanding bug, and the only reason we haven’t yet fixed it is because we can’t reproduce it. That’s why we need your help! The more people who use the most recent firmware, the easier we can fix the freeze bug based on your feedback.

If your UHK freezes, please be sure to report it according to the freeze bug issue. No worries, you can always downgrade to 8.2.5 to regain stability.

Fancy UHKs

If you’re a regular reader of our monthly updates then Max is no stranger to you, as he’s on a never ending quest to pimp his UHK. This time, he used the Godspeed Cockpit keycap set to customize his UHK and in his true style, he shared the gory details on Reddit.

In the same spirit, Richard was also busy, and ended up creating the most unicornish UHK with extra rainbow flavour!

Secondary role visualization in Agent

Dual-role keys are powerful. When tapping them they trigger their primary role. While holding them and pressing other keys, the secondary role kicks in. The UHK has always supported dual-role keys, but Agent hadn’t visualized them. Thankfully, this has just changed with Agent version 1.2.9.

Now Agent can render quite complex scenarios, such as a scancode featuring modifiers and a secondary role. This makes the rendering engine of Agent complete, so you can take a look at any layer and know exactly what each key does based on its visual representation.

As an added bonus, we’ve made modifiers show up according to your OS, so for example, Super is Command on OSX and it’s the Windows key on Windows.

Production progress

The 6 mini batches we have produced over the last month have not constituted our fastest pace, but they’re in line with our recent progress. Manufacturing progress occasionally suffers a bit due to a number of factors. For example, our palm rest supplier was on vacation recently, and had to catch up with production. Such cases only cause temporary hiccups, and they can occasionally affect the sizes of mini batches positively or negatively, but we always manage them quite well.

In the meantime, we’ve already pre-ordered the parts of the second large batch of UHKs. The first large batch contained 2,000 UHKs, and the second large batch contains 1,000 UHKs. We’re not VC-funded and fully rely on your support, so being able to pre-order the parts of a large batch is a big achievement for us. This means that production will be uninterrupted in the future, even after delivering the pre-orders. A sincere thank you to every one of our backers for making this huge milestone possible!

Development progress

As you can see, we keep pushing Agent and the firmware, but it’s quite a challenge to do heavy R&D these days because production and related tasks are so demanding.

Customer support is time consuming, as well as developing and fine-tuning backend systems. These tasks are not visible from the outside, but they’re absolutely necessary to keep things going.

Transitioning to our own webshop did end up heavily affecting our backend systems, including the integration and implementation of the webshop, factory automation, order fulfillment, and invoicing systems. Pre-ordering the parts of the second large batch also called for a procurement system which is up and running, but it has taken quite some time to set up.

Due to the above, we could only make a little progress with the add-ons. András has further refined their mechanical design, and will hand them off to a mold designer to finalize their mechanical features. I figured out how to optimally panelize their PCBs and factory-flash their firmware the most efficient way. We’re mindful about the add-ons, and will switch to high-gear once the delivery of the pre-orders is over.

Thank you for reading this update! We’ll be keeping you updated on all things UHK, and we’re looking forward to talking with you on 2018-10-12.

2018 Aug 16

Webshop migration and manufacturing progress

By |2018-08-16T21:24:14+00:002018-08-16 21:24|manufacturing, news|15 Comments

Effective immediately, the Crowd Supply UHK pre-order page is closed. You can place orders in our own webshop from now on. Please read on for the details.

Hi there, and welcome to our monthly status update!

TL;DR: We’ve opened our own webshop! We’ve churned out 7 mini batches since our last update, which is the fastest we’ve ever produced. A ton of firmware progress has been made, but we need testers to fix a very hard to reproduce bug. We’ve received a lot of nice feedback from you, including a review.

Let’s start with the webshop migration, which is admittedly quite boring, but important.

Webshop migration

If you don’t plan to purchase more items from us, feel free to skip to the next section.

Crowd Supply has served us well. We launched a successful campaign, and they have been taking pre-orders up until this point, but now it’s time for us to take our own orders.

We have always wanted to run our webshop, because it allows us to provide the best possible customer experience. But setting up a decent shop is easier said than done. We’ve been very busy with bringing the UHK to market, so it’s taken quite some time for us to make our shop happen. Luckily, our efforts have come to fruition, and now our webshop is up and running.

At the same time, we’ve closed our Crowd Supply shop, so going forward, you can only order from our webshop. In the spirit of transparency, we’ll share everything you ever need to know about our shop. Please read on.

Delivery status

The delivery status page that contains the order ids of Crowd Supply orders will also contain the order ids of our webshop. I’m working on integrating this page with our webshop, which may take a week or two.

Please note that our webshop has just recently started, so its order ids are in the hundreds vs the order ids of Crowd Supply which are in the tens of thousands. To make this distinction clear, the order ids of our webshop will be prefixed by “#”.

Our first-come, first-served delivery policy will not be affected by this transition regardless of which webshop you ordered from.

New shop features

Our new shop offers quite a few advantages:

First, you can choose three separate currencies: USD, EUR, and HUF. The prices of the relevant currency will be shown. This results in no conversion fees if you happen to use one of these currencies.

Second, you can pay not only with your credit card, but also with PayPal. Over time, we plan to introduce further payment methods.

Third, there are separate product pages, and the pages of configurable products contain a visual product configurator. You can see a preview image that shows the exact product that you’ll receive.

Fourth, our webshop generates proper invoices. This is mainly beneficial for company purchases.

Shipping

When it comes to shipping, the first thing to highlight is delivery times. So far, we’ve directly delivered from Hungary to the EU, which is great, because it only takes about a day or two for the packages to arrive. Delivering outside of the EU however has been less than ideal because we previously sent those packages via Crowd Supply (Portland, USA). It takes a couple of days for them to receive the packages, then it can take a week or two until they forward them. It’s especially painful for countries outside the EU and USA because it can take as much as a month to receive the package starting from the day we shipped it!

This had to change, so going forward, when you order from our webshop, we’ll send the package directly from our factory in Hungary to you which shouldn’t take more than a couple of days regardless of your country.

When it comes to shipping costs, Crowd Supply has a very simple pricing structure: shipping free to the US, and $24 to everywhere else. This clearly doesn’t reflect the actual cost of shipping, because it does cost money to ship goods to the US, and the shipment of smallish packages is often cheaper than $24 outside the US.

Our philosophy is that we don’t want to earn or loose on shipping. We will simply pass the shipping cost to our customers. We use DHL, and we’ve made quite a good deal with them. The current shipping costs are based on the weight of the package, and your destination. You can see the actual shipping cost on the cart page of our webshop. For example, it currently costs $15.14 to ship a UHK to Switzerland, $19.03 to the USA, and $29.93 to Japan. For some of you, it’ll be cheaper, but for those of you who will pay more (mostly because of your location), it’ll be a lot faster!

Multiple / aggregated orders

If you have made orders on Crowd Supply, feel free to make further orders in our shop. In this case, please specify the same email address as on Crowd Supply. This way, we’ll be able to aggregate your Crowd Supply and non Crowd Supply orders, and ship them once if you happen to be from the EU. The reason order aggregation only works for EU customers is because we need to ship to non-EU orders separately via Crowd Supply.

If you make multiple orders in our own webshop then the shipping cost will always added for every single order. Given that we’ll ship your orders together, the actual shipping cost will be lower. The way we’ll make this fair is that upon delivery, we’ll take the sum of the shipping costs you paid, subtract the actual shipping cost of the package that contains all your orders, then refund the difference to you.

EU VAT

Please note that this section only applies to EU citizens and companies. Feel free to skip to the next section if it’s not relevant to you.

According to tax laws, VAT must be paid when purchasing goods within the EU. The VAT rate of the origin country applies, which is 27% in Hungary. This means that given a $100 product, the final price will be $127 with VAT included, unless you’re a company.

Some of you may have noticed that this seemingly wasn’t the case so far. Our items did cost the same worldwide, the EU included. This was possible because we actually reduced the net prices of items for EU customers to offset the VAT, so we were willing to take a heavy hit on our margin for making our pricing more competitive for EU customers.

Starting from now, we won’t offset our prices anymore, and VAT will be applied. If you don’t want to pay VAT in the EU, your only choice is to purchase the goods as a company. In this case, you’ll have to provide your company’s valid EU VAT number on the checkout page, and then VAT will not be added, and it will not be featured on the invoice.

Discounts

The 10% discounts are still in effect in our new shop. We’ll remove the discounts of non-module items once all these pre-orders shipped. Afterwards, we’ll remove the discounts of module items once all these pre-orders are shipped.

Who to contact?

Regarding the items that you purchased on Crowd Supply, contact them at orders@crowdsupply.com. Regarding the items that you purchased in our webshop, contact us at support@ultimatehackingkeyboard.com.

Manufacturing progress

Since our last update, we’ve sent out mini batches 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, and 22, which is, yet again, the highest volume batch we’ve produced so far. The production throughput of the last month is 84% of what we planned, so we’re quite close, and working to increase it further.

We’ve just looked into the stats and realized that we’ve already shipped most of the pre-orders. We shall proceed further.

Firmware progress

Eric, our intern has been hard at work. He’s implemented the macro engine, vastly improved the debouncing algorithm, fixed various bugs related to secondary role handling, and more. What a huge step forward! All of these changes are part of the latest pre-released 8.4.4 firmware.

And still, the latest stable firmware release that is recommended and which is flashed in our factory is 8.2.5 which is 152 commits behind the tip of the master branch! This drives me crazy. And why’s that? Because of the freeze bug.

This bloody bug makes the UHK freeze once in a while. The trick is that it’s extremely hard to reproduce. On my UHK, it hits less than once in a month. On some others, it’s considerably more frequent, and occurs on a daily basis.

I could go on and on about this bug, but the bottom line is that if you want to use the new features and improvements while still having stability, then please flash the latest pre-release firmware, subscribe to the freeze bug GitHub issue, and let us know your findings. We’ll release new firmware versions shortly, and will ask you to test them for stability and share your feedback. The faster and more detailed feedback you provide, the quicker we can fix this bug. And you can always downgrade to 8.2.5 if the freeze bug hits too often before we fix it.

Your feedback

Kyle Holgate, an awesome backers of ours wrote a review about his UHK. It’s a very nice write up, and you’re welcome to read it.

Meanwhile, Max, in this true style, was busy with pimping his UHK yet another time, created the most nuclear UHK to this day, and made quite some noise on reddit. Please keep up the great work, Max!

You guys keep sending us your nice mods and feedback all over the interwebs. We’re honored and delighted!

Thank you for reading this update! We’ll be keeping you updated on all things UHK, and we’re looking forward to talking with you on 2018-09-13.

2018 Jul 12

Knee-deep in production

By |2018-09-17T19:10:56+00:002018-07-12 20:23|agent, news|33 Comments

Important: Please make sure that your shipping address is up to date! You can change it on your Crowd Supply account page. Please also check out the delivery status page.

Hi there, and welcome to our monthly status update!

TL;DR: Since our last update, we’ve sent out mini batches 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, and 15, which is, yet again, the highest volume batch we’ve produced so far, but not as high as we aim for. We had to allow a week of vacation for our staff in the middle of summer. Without the vacation, we’d have likely hit our target volume, so the ramp-up is still not over. Apart from manufacturing, Agent and the firmware keep advancing, and some major progress is expected soon.

Your recent feedback

A monthly UHK update wouldn’t be complete without featuring your awesome feedback.

Our first English review is out on Reddit, which you’re welcome to read! As creators, reading such nice words is all we can wish for.

But Max, the writer of this review didn’t stop there, and pimped his UHK with the third-party Canvas XDA keycap set.

And Max still couldn’t get enough, so he ended up writing a full-blown UHK keycap replacement guide on Reddit! Thanks so much for the great work, Max!

Third-party keycap sets are clearly in the vogue nowadays. We believe the following picture is quite a sight!

And you keep sending us your nice tweets:

Last but not least, even Michael Bolton approves the UHK.

Please keep it up! We love hearing from you.

Agent and firmware progress

We keep pushing Agent and the firmware at a steady pace. Most of these improvements come in small increments, and many of them are under the hood changes, so it’s hard to notice them. But they add up in a big way over time, and every now and then some user-facing changes are committed.

Some of you found it cumbersome to remap keys on all keymaps and/or layers, so we extended the UI of Agent accordingly. The tooltip should speak for itself.

We also added a separator line between the halves, so it’s easier to locate keys.

The above are frontend changes, but there’s a lot more going on under the surface.

Recently, we’ve been working hard on fixing a Windows-specific firmware bug that is responsible for media key repetition, and not letting your computer go to sleep on Windows. We’ve managed to fix this bug, but then a nondeterministic bug emerged which made the UHK hang sometimes only after hours, which turned out to be very problematic to fix. We believe that we did fix it, but I want to test it thoroughly before releasing a new firmware version.

The new firmware release will also contain a major feature: the macro engine! We promised macro support a long time ago, so we’re super excited to make it happen. Agent is already capable of editing macros, but the macro engine of the firmware is a critical piece of the puzzle to make macros actually work on your UHKs.

Let me just say that we’re super focused on implementing the promised features, and even more so on fixing bugs. One reason is that they directly translate to a great user experience. The other reason is that as more and more UHKs make their way to you, we keep getting a lot of reports of the same issues, so fixed bugs directly translate to lower overhead. Please do keep reporting bugs, but always use the latest Agent and latest stable firmware versions.

Running production, developing Agent and the firmware, and answering messages is a lot to deal with at the same time, and as a result, we couldn’t devote time for the add-ons over the last month. We’re asking for your patience, as we’re rather overloaded nowadays.

Thank you for reading this update! We’ll be keeping you updated on all things UHK, and we’re looking forward to talking with you on 2018-08-16.

2018 Jun 23

How can I type accented characters with my UHK?

By |2018-10-12T16:49:24+00:002018-06-23 23:55|agent, howto, tech talk|19 Comments

We get this question from time to time, and the answer is not so obvious as one might think. I'm about to explain it in depth, but first I'll give you the short answer in case you're in a hurry. Please consider the relevant tooltip of Agent:

Hopefully, this explains what to do. You're welcome to suggest a better phrasing in the comments, but this is the short and sweet version. And now on to the more detailed explanation.

Characters vs Scancodes

The most important thing to understand is that USB keyboards (the UHK included) do not send characters to your computer. No, Sir. They send scancodes. When you press a key, a scancode of 1 to 255 gets sent to the computer. It's not a character, but a number!

Now think about this: There are 255 different scancodes which must be mapped to more than 100,000 characters that are used on planet Earth! How so? This is how:

Your operating system translates scancodes to characters based on your actual operating system keyboard layout.

Let me give you an example to make you realize the crucial role of your OS layout. Let's say that an American, a German, and a Russian user purchase USB keyboards of the same physical layout. Now let's take the semicolon key according to the American layout. On all three keyboards, when pressing this key the scancode 51 gets sent to the computer, yet, the character ";", "ö", and "ж" appear of the screen of the American, the German and the Russian users respectively, merely because they use different OS keymaps.

When it comes to mapping scancodes to characters, the situation is actually slightly more nuanced because modifiers also affect the mapped characters. For example, on the US layout Shift + 4 produces "$", and on the Hungarian layout AltGr + U produces "€", but this doesn't alter the nature of the beast.

Alt codes

There's a mechanism called "Alt codes" which allows users to produce various accented characters in a way that is (mostly) independent of the current OS keymap.

  • On Linux, press Shift+Ctrl+U which prefixes your cursor with an "u", indicating that now a unicode number is expected. At this point, enter "2764" followed by Enter and ❤ will magically get inserted. Linux Alt codes are the most powerful and most standard given that they're backed by unicode numbers.
  • On Windows, first you have to have Num Lock enabled. Then hold an Alt key and press a Windows-specific numeric code, and finally release the Alt key at which point the relevant character will be included. Merely 375 different characters can be included this way.
  • On Macintosh, there's also a similar mechanism that is better called Accent Codes. Let's say you want to put an accent to the "o" letter. You press Option+E, then press "o" which results in "ó". The set of characters that can be produced this way is similarly limited as on Windows, although in true Mac fashion, the implementation is much more intuitive.

Alt codes provide a way to output various characters in a way that is mostly independent of the current OS keymap, but they're OS-specific, and they don't work in every environment. For example, let's say that your hard drive is encrypted and you have to type a password before the OS boots up. Depending on your OS, Alt codes may not be available at this point. On Linux, they also can't be used in terminals outside of the X server, so you can't rely on them in every environment.

Alt codes on the UHK

Given that Alt codes are sequences of keystrokes, they're ideally suited to be assigned to keys using macros. At the time of writing this post, I have to note that macro support is not yet implemented by the UHK firmware but it'll be coming, so regardless I'll elaborate on implementing Alt codes on your UHK.

The macro editor of Agent is very intuitive to use, and based on the above one should be able to create macros that implement Alt codes. There are some gotchas, though.

First up, Alt codes are OS-specific which will pose a problem if you use multiple OSes. If so, you'll have to create all your Alt code macros for every OS you use, and then create OS-specific keymaps in Agent and bind the macros of the respective OSes. This is clearly laborous, but there's no way around it. We won't implement USB fingerprinting in the UHK firmware to detect OSes because it's fundamentally unreliable.

The second gotcha is that you won't be able to compose Alt codes with modifiers. Imagine holding Shift, then typing Alt code key sequences, then releasing Shift. Modifiers clearly mess with Alt codes.

Third, some Alt codes are dependent on the state of your OS. You have to have NumLock enabled for Windows Alt codes, and Mac accent codes are dependent on the OS keymap in use.

Accented characters in Agent

Some of you were wondering why Agent doesn't offer or display accented characters. This is one of those features that seem like a no-brainer from a user perspective, but in practice, it's not only incredibly hard to implement, but cannot be implemented properly. Let me tell you why.

In order for Agent to expose accented characters, it must be aware of the current OS keymap. Being a cross-platform application, it'd have to query the actual keymap on Linux, Mac and Windows. A quick search reveals ways to query this information (often rather obscure ways) via OS-specific APIs, but I have found no way to query the actual mappings between scancodes and characters which is critical.

Without the exact, per-key mappings, Agent would have to have a database of every single OS-specific layout, such as "French (Bepo, eronomic, Dvorak way, Latin-9 only)", or "Russian (Ukraine, standard RSTU)". We could extract such a database from the relevant Linux packages, but these layout names are not standardized so they're inconsistent across OSes and the mappings surely differ in some ways.

The bottom line is that it'd take huge resources to implement the above, and we'd end up with a half-assed implementation given that a perfect implementation is practically infeasible. Even if we were able to implement this perfectly, I don't think it would be a good idea. I can foresee users complaining that they set up the é key in Agent, then plugged their UHK into another machine (featuring a different OS keymap), and the é key suddenly became semicolon. Users should actually understand how things work when it comes to this topic.

That's it, folks! If you're still reading, then you're truly one of the brave few. Any questions, feel free to shoot them in the comments.

2018 Jun 14

Production and add-on progress

By |2018-07-06T01:18:43+00:002018-06-14 16:58|modules, news, prototype, tech talk|8 Comments

Important: Please make sure that your shipping address is up to date! You can change it on your Crowd Supply account page. Please also check out the delivery status page.

Hi there, and welcome to our monthly status update!

TL;DR: Since our last update, we’ve sent out mini batches 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9. This is the highest volume we’ve produced so far, but not as high as we ultimately aim for. We’ve fallen behind with pre-assembly due to the aforementioned staffing issues, but we’re catching up, and the ramp up is still underway. The development of the add-ons is in progress.

First up, let us share a beautiful and very original picture that we love very much. It’s made by Yukio Miyamoto. He is a masterful illustrator who also happens to be an awesome backer of ours.

Your recent feedback

The feedback you keep giving to us continue to be amazing.

The following is an interesting one. Did you know that when armed with a USB OTG cable, you can connect your UHK to your Android phone, and you can probably also control the mouse pointer? (Recent Android kernels tend to support USB mice.)

Lastly, this one made us laugh out loud:

Please keep them coming! We’re excited to hear about y’all.

Add-on progress

Production does keep us busy, and we can’t yet devote as much time for development as we’d like to, but we’ve made some progress with the add-ons.

The following is sitting on my desk, and it might just be the weirdest keyboard ever.

But most importantly, this Frankenstein keyboard is a proof of concept! This is 1 UHK right half and 3 left halves interconnected. The top left half simulates a left add-on module, and the top right half (which is a left UHK half) simulates a right add-on module.

The keyboard halves and add-ons communicate via the main I2C bus of the UHK. The right UHK half is the I2C master which initiates all communication on the bus. The rest of the devices are I2C slaves. From the standpoint of the firmware, there is no difference between the left keyboard half and the add-ons.

I basically dremeled a protoboard to size, and created a passive 4 port 4P4C hub out of it to interconnect the pieces. Then I added test keymaps for the add-ons, and reflashed the firmwares of the left add-on and the right add-on module, so that their I2C addresses don’t clash with the I2C address of the left UHK half.

This proof of concept works as intended, and now I can type on all the 4 keyboard halves, making me seem like I overcompensate for something.

As you can imagine, this is the first step of many to follow. Next up, I will extract the part of the firmware that will be shared across the add-ons and the left half, and then create separate firmware projects for the add-ons, utilizing the extracted code.

Then I’ll attach the peripherials specific to the individual add-ons to these development UHK left halves, and write firmware code to drive them.

In the meantime, András will finalize the plastic cases and mechanical design of the add-ons, so that they’ll be optimized for manufacturing. This will, in turn, enable me to design the custom PCBs of the add-ons.

In a way, developing the add-ons is like developing additional products – 4 products to be exact, and even though we’ve gained a lot of experience, realistically speaking, there’s no way the add-ons will be ready by the end of August as originally planned.

Given the above, we’re changing the estimated delivery date of the add-ons to the end of December which should be more realistic. None of us are happy with delays, but we’d much rather take our time than compromise the quality of the product even the slightest bit. According to your feedback, it’s the right thing to do.

Thank you for reading this update! As always, we’ll be keeping you updated on all things UHK, and we’re looking forward to talking with you on 2018-07-12.

2018 May 17

Churning out mini batches

By |2018-05-17T21:18:10+00:002018-05-17 21:18|news|0 Comments

Important: Please make sure that your shipping address is up to date! You can change it on your Crowd Supply account page. Please also check out the delivery status page.

Hi there, and welcome to our monthly status update!

TL;DR: Since our last update, we’ve sent out mini batches 2, 3, and 4, and mini batch 5 is almost finished. Due to staffing issues, this volume is about half of our production target. We hired new employees, and expect to reach our target production capacity in about two weeks. The feedback we received from you has been overwhelmingly positive, and we’ll be working hard to keep it that way.

We get the hint, and feel inclined to advertise the UHK in coffee shops all around the world. Be careful though, your UHK doesn’t like coffee as much as you do.

Production progress

Almost four mini batches (about 240 UHKs with accessories) per month is a decent amount of output compared to our earlier progress, but we need to do eight in order to fulfill every current pre-order by the end of August.

The reason for this slow performance is staffing issues. Two of our assembly workers left recently: one permanently and another temporarily. Their timing couldn't have been more unfortunate, and deeply affected manufacturing progress.

We've hired two assembly workers recently, will hire another very soon, and the person who temporarily left will be back in 2 weeks. We're confident that assembly will ramp up very soon and proceed just as planned.

Delivery progress estimation

The delivery status page I originally created was decent, but not great, as backers couldn’t see their place in the queue and their estimated delivery date. Given the endless storm of “when will my order be delivered” emails, I ended up extending the page functionality.

Meet the always up-to-date delivery estimation section of the delivery status page that will tell you the estimated date of your order using a sophisticated set of algorithms and deep neural networks. Seriously though, it’s pretty simple, but does the job.

Please disregard the estimation date of your orders on Crowd Supply, and instead check out our page as it contains much more accurate estimation.

Development progress

Since our last update, we’ve published two Agent releases and four firmware releases. These releases contain bug fixes and improvements. You’re welcome to check out the list of changes and update if you want to.

Both András and I have been very busy with manufacturing as of late. We couldn’t be more excited to work on the add-ons, but production takes priority now. We’re doing our best to streamline the manufacturing process and dedicate more time to development, which will surely happen soon.

That’s it for now! Thank you for reading this update! We’re excited to talk to you again on 2018-06-14.

2018 Apr 20

Production is up and running

By |2018-04-20T09:08:46+00:002018-04-20 08:35|manufacturing, news, tech talk|31 Comments

Important: Please make sure that your shipping address is up to date! You can change it on your Crowd Supply account page. Please also check out the delivery status page.

Hi there, and welcome to our monthly status update!

TL;DR: Our factory is up and running! According to the aforementioned delivery page, we’ve already sent out the first mini batch, so some of you should get your orders within days. Given our most recent production data, we’ll be able to deliver batch 1 of 2,000 UHKs and related accessories by the end of July. Many of you will get your orders much faster depending on your place in the queue. Everything’s looking great, and we’ll be transitioning to the add-ons soon.

Some UHKs of mini batch 1:

Manufacturing progress

Launching mass production wasn’t exactly a smooth ride, which wasn’t really surprising after all. Given our past experience, some things inevitably go wrong despite our best efforts.

We observed that some LED segments displayed gibberish – that is, unidentifiable characters. It was quite a challenge to figure out the root cause of this, but András succeeded. Apparently, the space is very tight around the FFC cable and when the case is on, it bends the cable and some pins don’t connect. The solution? We just have to bend the FFC cables in an M shape prior to assembly.

We also noticed that some pins of some through-hole components, most notably the keyswitches and the 4P4C connectors, weren’t soldered in on some boards. We talked to our PCBA supplier who told us that their selective wave soldering machine had been misbehaving and got serviced recently. They will also use a 3-dimensional automated optical inspection machine from this point forward which should greatly reduce defects. The problematic boards will be reworked.

Then we were faced with a couple of bent plates. We have yet to figure out how these plates could possibly bend, but for the time being, we’ll do heavier QA until the cause is revealed and eliminated.

And lastly, a critical piece of launching manufacturing is our custom developed order fulfillment and manufacturing execution system that I’ve been working full steam on in the last couple months. It felt like building a runway while the plane takes off, but the runway has been built just in time, and now the plane is in the air.

Given the above issues, we started up slowly. According to our most recent measurements based on actual production data, we will be able to ship about two mini batches per week, which equals about 120 UHKs and related accessories. Given this pace, we’ll be able to deliver batch 1 by the end of July, so this is our current delivery target. Of course, many of you will get your orders way faster depending on your place in the queue.

Agent and firmware progress

Starting with the latest firmware, it’s now possible to wake up the host computer with a touch of a key. The LED display also gets disabled when the host sleeps to save power. See the firmware changelog and releases.

Agent got a shiny new desktop icon, it now displays the firmware versions running on the halves of your UHK, and can recover UHKs with broken configurations. See the Agent changelog and releases.

Going forward

The next big milestone is clear: the add-ons. The add-ons clearly differentiate the UHK from every other keyboard in the market, and make it the first and so far only modular keyboard ever created.

Personally, I can’t wait to control the pointer in various ways in a finer grained manner without leaving the home row, and I know that a lot of you share our enthusiasm. I’m sure the journey will be just as exciting as getting there, and as always, we’ll make you part of the journey via these updates.

Thank you for reading this update! The next one will be published on 2018-05-17. In the meantime, feel free to keep checking the delivery status page of your much awaited UHKs.

2018 Mar 15

Pre-assembly progress and last minute issues

By |2018-03-15T21:57:35+00:002018-03-15 21:57|manufacturing, news|10 Comments

Hi there, and welcome to our monthly status update!

TL;DR: We’ve pre-assembled the parts of 2,000 UHKs. Things are progressing rapidly, but color-matching plastic parts and pad printing them accurately was more problematic than anticipated. The rejected parts are being remanufactured and are expected to be ready by next week, at which point the assembly and delivery of batch 1 of the first 2,000 UHKs will begin.

We’ve set up a dedicated delivery status page which you can check out to get up-to-date information on how delivery proceeds.

Mechanical issues

It never ceases to surprise us how seemingly mundane things can go sideways, such as color-matching, or accurate pad printing. Take a look at the following picture.

As you can see, the color of these case buttons is inconsistent. This is the first time we molded all case colors, and some mistakes were made due to lack of experience with the coloring agent. As it turned out, this is not the only thing that can go wrong when it comes to the case buttons.

Then we observed that the vertical positions of the Space and Mod labels considerably differ because the pad printing wasn’t set up accurately.

We’ve had our fair share of WTF moments during the manufacturing process. I mean, what can possibly go wrong with seemingly trivial parts like the above? The answer is, as you can see above, a lot. And when one thing goes sideways, the delay of every relevant supplier in the chain adds up, and trivial mistakes can end up costing weeks.

The case buttons are being remolded, and they’ll be pad-printed by the next week, at which point we will finally be able to start up the manufacturing of batch 1.

Setting up manufacturing and fulfillment

As I elaborated in our previous update, all UHK option combinations considered, there are 240 different UHK types to choose from, so we have to track orders individually during the manufacturing process, which calls for a custom manufacturing system. We also purchased a fair bit of related hardware, like label printers, barcode readers, and wall-mounted displays to aid assembly workers.

Recently, I’ve been hard at work, developing our custom manufacturing execution and order fulfillment system from the ground up. It’s surely an unwelcome detour amidst of all our responsibilities, but it’s absolutely necessary, and it’ll give us a competitive edge in the long run. The system is already running well, and we’ll be able to start manufacturing next week. I’ll likely have to tweak it during this month, and afterwards we’ll finally be able to give some much needed love to the add-ons.

Miscellaneous

You’re welcome to check out the new releases of Agent and the firmware as some improvements have been made which you can benefit from.

Even though a lot of progress has been made since our previous update, we don’t have too much to show besides the above. According to our current schedule, batch 1 will be delivered from March to July and batch 2 will follow very closely. Again, feel free to check out our delivery status page any time if you’re interested in our up-to-date progress, and follow up on social media.

That’s it for now! Thanks for reading this update, and talk to you on 2018-04-19!