agent

2021 Mar 15

Module production is underway

By |2021-03-15T21:09:13+00:002021-03-15 20:54 CEST|agent, demo, electronics, manufacturing, modules, news|109 Comments

Hi there, and welcome to this delayed monthly UHK status update!

TL; DR: The assembly of the first 400 modules is underway in our facility, and we expect to ship them in about a week. Afterward, we’ll be continuously producing and shipping module preorders as quickly as we can. One of our key contractors has become suddenly overloaded, and as a result, we expect to start UHK 60 v2 production around the end of April. There are a lot of cool demos in this update, so make sure to read it.

Module production

Module manufacturing has finally started, and we’re assembling the first 400 modules, including 100 modules per type. The following photo was taken after surface-mount assembly and shows the module panels:

Unlike the UHK panels, the module panels contain numerous PCBs. The key cluster panel looks like some kind of modern art:

The trackball panel is very densely populated:

It’s interesting to peek into the modules, so here are some pictures of them half-assembled and fully assembled:

The following modules have been assembled so far:

The modules’ look and accuracy have greatly improved since I made the last module demo videos, so I’ve made some new ones. At the end of the videos, you can see the scrolling navigation mode in action assigned to the Mod layer of my UHK 60 v2. This mode makes it easy to zoom through a massive amount of content quickly, and it’s great to skim through documents.

Let’s start with the trackball module.

We’ve tried many different balls, and we’re unsure whether to provide a light black resin ball or a heavier steel ball, so we’ll include both. We may eventually offer only one of these balls based on your feedback. The balls can be quickly replaced without tools, according to the following video.

The new, modified, injection-molded spacer improved trackpoint accuracy, and now it feels more accurate.

Beyond single tapping, the touchpad module supports two-finger tapping, two-finger scrolling, and pinch to zoom, but only tapping is supported at this point. We’ll add firmware support for every one of these actions soon.

Can the modules replace the mouse? It’s a question asked by many, so it’s worth an answer. The modules are a good fit to replace the mouse for regular desktop use, such as web browsing or interacting with applications. If you’re a graphics designer and spend a lot of time in Gimp or Photoshop, a mouse or a graphic tablet is a better choice, though. As for gaming, I think the modules are useful for specific games such as turn-based strategy, but I wouldn’t play fast-paced games, such as first-person shooters with them.

We keep shipping on a first-come, first-served basis, but the first 400 modules will be sent only to non-Crowd Supply backers. The reason for this is that Crowd Supply could potentially cause a weeks-long delay in delivery, and it is vital to get quick user feedback at the start of module mass production.

After shipping the first 400 modules, we’ll fully adhere to our first-come, first-served shipping policy, and we’ll be continuously producing and shipping module pre-orders as quickly as we can. So far, module mass-production has been a smooth ride, but it’s just started, so we don’t have reliable metrics on how long it’ll take to assemble all modules. We’ll provide you an estimate in our next monthly update.

In the meantime, make sure to update your address if you have moved to another location since your order.

Agent progress

Agent has evolved quite a bit recently, and now it’s able to detect every module and configure the actions of module keys and buttons.

A seamless experience of a fully-fledged product is kind of magical, and I believe that the above demo exemplifies it well. You can take a look at Agent’s web demo, which now includes the modules, too. We’re working hard to make the modules not only work for you but amuse you.

UHK 60 v2 progress

Two issues are blocking UHK 60 v2 production: PBT keycaps and plastic parts.

We’ve received a new PBT keycap sample set for approval since the last monthly update. This sample is a definite improvement over the previous one, but some keycaps’ shine-thru performance, especially the convex keycaps’, should be better. Our supplier is doing their best to maximize shine-through performance and provide improved samples soon.

As for the plastic parts of the UHK 60 v2, they’re larger than the modules and can only be molded with a larger machine. We have a great supplier who proved themselves, but due to a sudden influx of foreign orders, they’re quite overwhelmed these days and can only mold UHK 60 v2 parts around the end of April.

Most of you are very patient regarding such delays and primarily concerned about the quality of the final product which we highly appreciate, and we resonate with your mindset. Others are less patient which is understandable. We have dozens of suppliers, and even if one of them introduces a delay, the whole project gets delayed. These delays are often unexpected, and they’re among the top reasons why shipping hardware is so much harder than shipping software. We’ll do our best to push forward. We’re making sure that the wait worths it, and we’ll be keeping you updated.

Your tweets

You guys keep sending your awesome tweets, and we're always eager to read and feature them! If you got your modules, please share your love!

We’ll be keeping you updated on all things UHK and are looking forward to talking to you in mid-April. There’s a lot to do nowadays, so the update may be a bit late, but I’ll do my best.

2021 Feb 01

Module testing result and manufacturing progress

By |2021-02-01T19:30:46+00:002021-02-01 14:34 CEST|agent, features, manufacturing, modules, news, tech talk|57 Comments

Hi there, and welcome to this monthly UHK status update!

TL; DR: We’ve shipped a couple of modules to select testers, and their feedback was very positive, but they’ve also noticed some small issues. PBT keycap and ABS tooling are late, which affects estimated delivery dates. We plan to start shipping the modules around the end of February or March and the UHK 60 v2 around late March.

Module progress

Shortly before Christmas, we finished assembling the following modules and shipped them to select testers.

The feedback we received was very positive but also revealed some new issues. For some testers, the top and bottom parts of the key cluster came apart.

As for the touchpad, some testers pushed the top board into the module case.

Regarding the trackball, we’ve learned during the assembly process that the sealing ring slightly interfered with the ball in some cases, causing the ball to get stuck somewhat. We’ve also noticed that adding a slight pattern to the ball significantly improves optical sensor tracking at high speeds.

We haven’t heard any critiques of the trackpoint, which is unexpected because the spacer that held the top trackpoint part was 3D printed and slightly wiggled. We already had an injection-molded spacer, but we improved it, resulting in lower trackpoint operating force, and the mold hasn’t been modified yet, hence the 3D-printed part. If the 3D printed part was good enough, then the final molded part will be great.

We’re also removing a small plastic part that connects the two case buttons of right-handed modules based on tester feedback. This way, the buttons will be easier to press along their entire surface. The small plastic part was needed for the 3D-printed button prototypes to be sufficiently rigid, but injection-molded plastic behaves much better, and we’re better off without this part.

Luckily, all of the above issues are easy to fix by tweaking the molds, and our contractor is working on the fixes.

It’s fair to say that we’ve learned a ton from the testers’ feedback and the module assembly. I think we’re at a point where apart from the above fixes, the module hardware is excellent and cannot be improved significantly.

Our mold making contractor expects to update the module molds by the middle of February, and UHK 60 v2 mold modifications are expected to get ready by the beginning of March.

Keycap progress

Our PBT keycap supplier has finally sent us samples for approval. The majority of the keycaps’ shine-through performance is excellent, except for a handful of keys, including Space and Mod.

Several UHK 60 v1 owners wanted consistent key cluster keycaps, and as a result, we will also provide ABS keycaps for the key cluster. Our ABS keycap supplier is ready with convex 1U keycap molds, and we’ll ship every key cluster with both PBT and ABS keycaps. We expect to discontinue ABS keycaps for the key cluster in the far future, but now they’re included for free.

Our PBT keycap supplier recently told us that they can only provide the keycap sets in late March, which surprised us quite a bit. Previously, we only used ABS keycaps, which weren’t subjected to such delays.

As it turns out, manufacturing high quality, custom PBT keycaps of excellent shine-through performance is much more time consuming and complicated than making laser-engraved ABS keycaps, hence the delay.

We’re pushing our supplier to provide at least the key cluster PBT keycaps in March, enabling us to start shipping the modules sooner. Unfortunately, the UHK 60 v2 PBT keycaps will have to wait until the end of March despite our best effort.

Module configuration options

Agent’s master branch can already visualize the modules in real-time, and remapping them should be possible soon. The following screenshot is a work-in-progress, but you get the idea.

Remapping the modules, however, is not sufficient to make them live up to their full potential.

It can be difficult to hit small targets or take too much effort to make large motions with the pointer when using the modules. That’s where speed and acceleration settings come in. The speed setting is a linear multiplier, and the acceleration setting is an exponential multiplier. We’ve been already playing around with these values, and they make a world of difference.

When it comes to module usability, another critical feature is navigation mode, which determines what modules do when using their mousing instrument:

  • Cursor mode: moves the mouse cursor
  • Scroll mode: behaves like a scroll wheel
  • Caret mode: moves the text cursor, just like with up/down/left/right arrow keys
  • Media mode: invokes volume up, volume down, previous track, and next track on upward, downward, leftward, and rightward motions, respectively

Speed, acceleration, and navigation mode will be adjustable on a per-layer and per-module basis. So, for example, you’ll be able to make the trackball scroll when the mod layer is active.

By default, the navigation mode of the base, mouse, mod, and fn layers will be set to cursor, scroll, caret, and media mode, respectively, which are sensible and intuitive defaults given these layers’ default behavior.

I can think of a couple more minor options, and I’m sure the community will make further suggestions, but by and large, I’m quite confident that the above configuration options will provide sufficient freedom to achieve excellent usability.

Your tweets

You guys keep sending your awesome tweets, and we're always eager to read and feature them! I’m blown away by Sebastian’s review, Hubert’s chair mount hack, Alex’s custom tenting stand, and all the modded UHKs. Keep it up!

We’ll be keeping you updated on all things UHK and are looking forward to talking to you in late February.

2020 Dec 03

Major module mold progress

By |2020-12-03T15:30:06+00:002020-12-03 12:33 CEST|agent, manufacturing, modules, news|31 Comments

Hi there, and welcome to this delayed monthly UHK status update!

TL; DR: Except for small refinements, the molds of the modules are done, and we have some great looking samples to show you. We’ll send a couple of module prototypes to select testers in December. We plan to start module shipment at the end of January 2021. PBT keycap tooling is coming along nicely. Agent now has a dark mode.

The modules look almost perfect from the outside. Minor surface defects result from not using the final injection molding machine and not setting optimal production parameters, both non-issues for the final production run.

Despite their nearly perfect look, some tooling changes still have to be done to the modules. We’ll fine-tune the length of the bosses of the microswitches to achieve optimal actuation force, and some other internal tweaks have to be done to optimize the parts for assembly.

The key cluster plastic parts should be fine as they are, and we don’t plan to make changes to them. The keycaps on the above photo are not final. The final keycaps will be made of PBT, and the bottom two keycaps will be convex.

Due to popular request, we’ll include three extra blank ABS keycaps for every key cluster for no additional cost to make key clusters more consistent with UHK 60 v1 keyboards.

The inner trackball housing needs to be adjusted for the distance between the ball and the optical sensor.

The trackpoint is already working fine, but we’re experimenting with optimal trackpoint cap height, which may affect the inner holder part. We plan to add a nice texture to the big glossy area near the cap. These are minor tooling changes.

The touchpad plastic parts work flawlessly. The golden edge at the left side won’t be visible as the final mylar sheet’s size will be corrected. The marker text which contains the version number of the PCB won’t be featured on the final product.

The above module plastic samples are surprisingly good for a first run. We aim for a second run in December, at which point the samples should be nearly perfect, and we plan to do a third run in January when we expect the samples to be flawless, and we plan to start shipping at the end of January 2021.

Plastic tooling does take more time than anticipated. We’re doing our best to release the modules as soon as we can. We won’t make any quality compromises, however, and the ETA will be extended if needed. We appreciate your continued patience, and we’ll be keeping you updated.

PBT keycap progress

As for the UHK 60 v2, our supplier sent us a photo of production PBT keycap samples.

Almost all custom legends look fine, but Mod, Space, and right Shift will be revised.

Join the dark side

Mad props go to our fabulous contributor, Mikko Lakomaa, as he has almost single-handedly implemented Agent’s dark mode.

Update to the latest Agent version, go to settings, and join to the dark side.

Magnetic USB cable mod

Simon has written an excellent UHK USB magnetic cable modding guide, which you may want to follow.

You can join the conversation on Twitter.

Your tweets

You guys keep sending your awesome tweets, and we're always eager to read and feature them! If you got your UHK, please share your love!

We’ll be keeping you updated on all things UHK and are looking forward to talking to you in January or sooner.

2020 Aug 20

Right-side module mold progress

By |2020-08-20T08:59:00+00:002020-08-20 08:55 CEST|agent, features, firmware, manufacturing, modules, news|12 Comments

Hi there, and welcome to the monthly UHK status update!

TL;DR: Machining of the right-side module molds is well underway, and we should have plastic parts by the end of August. We keep developing the UHK firmware and Agent, and it’s worth updating – not just because of module support.

Our contractor has been making solid progress with the right-side module molds.

If everything goes as planned, we’ll have injection-molded right-side module plastic pieces by the end of August, and we’ll start shipping the modules in September.

We’ll be keeping you updated on a monthly basis, and feel free to change your shipping address any time.

Agent and firmware progress

We’ve been publishing about one Agent and one firmware release per month over the past couple years. These releases contain numerous improvements, so feel free to check out recent Agent releases and recent firmware releases to see them along with their changelog. Also make sure to star these projects to get notifications about their activity on GitHub.

Regarding the firmware, it’s worth mentioning a recent fix which made the UHK play nicely with Ryzen PCs. Previously, in some cases, the UHK only worked via USB hubs when connected to Ryzen PCs. Strictly speaking, the UHK firmware was actually bug-free in this respect. The Ryzen platform just happens to be unreasonably picky regarding USB descriptors.

Speaking of Agent, a new feature makes key swapping extremely easy. You just have to drag a key to another key to swap them.

Now we’re working on making Agent handle the modules. Agent will display the actual state of the UHK just as previously demonstrated, but with the modules included. This will result in a very seamless and intuitive experience.

Your tweets

You guys keep sending your awesome tweets, and we're always eager to read and feature them! If you got your UHK, please share your love!

We’ll be keeping you updated on all things UHK, and are looking forward to talking to you on 2020-09-15.

2020 Feb 19

Every module prototype is functional

By |2020-11-05T21:35:58+00:002020-02-19 18:14 CEST|agent, demo, features, firmware, modules, news, prototype, tech talk|6 Comments

Hi there, and welcome to the monthly UHK status update!

TL;DR: The trackpoint and touchpad modules are functional, and we’ve got demo videos. The mouse mode of the UHK is usable to create digital art. Agent had a Linux security bug, so it’s worth upgrading.

Module demos

This update is quite late, but I think it’s the coolest one so far. I’ve been knee-deep in the firmware of the modules recently which bore some delicious fruits… I mean functional modules.

The trackpoint turned out great, and it’s very precise. Thanks to the dexterity of the thumb, I find the usability of the trackpoint module to be excellent despite the unusual trackpoint nib position compared to other trackpoint implementations.

The touchpad is also finally usable now. It’s excellent for swift, long distance movements, but it has to be optimized a bit more for precision movements. The touchpad IC has numerous parameters, so my hopes are high that precision control can be sufficiently improved purely on the firmware side.

For the sake of completeness and comparison, see the trackball module demo, too. This demo was featured in our previous update.

As you can see, all of the four module prototypes are functional. This is a huge milestone as far as the modules are concerned. Now that we have functional prototypes, it’s time to mass produce them.

Mass production will take a number of steps such as creating tooling, procuring parts, doing EMC tests, and minor manufacturing optimizations – just to name a few. Luckily, many of these steps can be done in parallel, but they’ll still take months. We’ll announce an ETA in our next monthly update.

Creating digital art with the UHK

Speaking of mouse control, although not as capable as the modules, let’s not forget about the venerable mouse layer of the UHK, as it’s very powerful for what it is. So much so that apparently it’s possible to create digital art with it. Give it up for Brandon Yu, who’s about to demonstrate the seemingly impossible.

I don’t know about you, but I’m officially blown away by Brandon’s skills and talent. Brandon also happens to be a game developer, so feel free to get in touch with him on Twitter.

New Agent features and security fix

Bill Gates used to say that 640K ought to be enough for everybody. I’m here to say that 32K is enough for every UHK user. Well, as far as the on-board memory of the UHK goes.

Now that Agent shows the allocation of the on-board EEPROM memory of the UHK, it’s easy to see that about 4K is used by the default configuration of the total 32K. Even if you have dozens of keymaps and macros, it should still be enough.