demo

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.

2020 Nov 05

Introducing the UHK 60 v2

By |2020-11-06T15:44:59+00:002020-11-05 17:54 CEST|demo, design, features, modules, news, prototype|172 Comments

Hot-swap sockets, per-key RGB backlighting, double shot PBT keycaps, USB-C, braided cables, and much more – Say hi to the UHK 60 v2!

The previous UHK version, the UHK 60 v1, is out of stock and discontinued. The UHK 60 v2 is expected to ship around the end of January 2021, and you can pre-order yours now. We haven’t raised the price yet, but we will eventually. If you own a UHK 60 v1 and want to purchase accessories, be sure to read the “UHK 60 v1 parts availability and compatibility” section at the end of this update.

Regarding the modules, we’ve upgraded every key cluster module pre-order for free to per-key RGB backlighting, hot-swap sockets, and double-shot PBT keycaps. All the modules are fully compatible with both the UHK 60 v1 and the UHK 60 v2, and firmware upgrades will be released as usual. We expect the first injection molded parts of every module type to be ready in a week, at which point we’ll publish a dedicated update about them. In the meantime, please read the “Hot-swappable, backlit key cluster module” and “UHK 60 v2 timing rationale” sections below.

A little history

Our first keyboard, which you know as the Ultimate Hacking Keyboard, or more precisely as the UHK 60 v1, has been exceptionally well received. But it's been three years since we started mass production, and based on your feedback, we could make it even more powerful.

That is why we've been working over the last few years to take the UHK to the next level, keeping all you loved and adding everything you yearned for. The result is the UHK 60 v2, and we're super excited to unveil it now. If you liked the v1, you will love the v2.

I'll list all the improvements we've made, so you'll know if it's time for you to upgrade or purchase your first UHK. Fasten your seatbelts for this long ride.

Hot-swap sockets

Hot-swap sockets have been becoming increasingly popular in recent years. It's no surprise because they enable switch swapping, which makes replacing faulty switches or installing alternative switches a breeze.

Speaking of replacing the switches of your UHK, we include a combined keycap and switch puller with every UHK 60 v2.

Regular, box, and silent switches

We can no longer offer the same switch types for the UHK 60 v2 that we provided for the UHK 60 v1 because they're not backlit-compatible. We also wanted to expand our switch range to offer a wider selection of quality product options. See the following switch matrix.

Let us first look at the vertical axis of the matrix. You're already familiar with regular MX switches, as their non-backlit version was available for the UHK 60 v1 and countless other keyboards. As for the box switches, they're my personal favorite. They feel more precise; they're better protected from dust and, in my opinion, offer a better typing experience. Last but not least, the silent switches make your UHK more bearable in noise-sensitive environments at the expense of some mushiness.

As for the matrix’s horizontal axis, I think clicky switches are the best typing choice, but your environment may not tolerate their noise. Gamers often prefer linear switches, and tactile switches are the best middle ground between typing and gaming.

The above switches are all made by Kailh. Currently, we offer every UHK switch option for the same price, but this will likely change eventually because some switches are considerably more expensive than others, especially the silent ones.

Double shot PBT keycaps

We have provided laser-etched ABS keycaps for the UHK 60 v1. Most were happy with them, but some pushed for PBT keycaps, and understandably so, as unlike ABS, the surface of PBT keycaps never gets shiny with use, and their legends never fade.

The parallel lines you can see on the above photo are the signature sign of double-shot keycaps. It's worth mentioning that these keycaps are best-in-class double shot PBT keycaps which offer unmatched shine-through performance, and the custom legends are easy to read even when they're not backlit.

The keycaps' side legends are here to stay, but they will be silk printed this time because laser-etching on PBT would have been very dark.

New keycap options

We've changed the keycap printing options for the UHK 60 v2. For the UHK 60 v1, you could choose Linux, Mac, Windows, Blank option, and ANSI vs. ISO was available as a separate option, resulting in 4 x 2 = 8 possibilities.

For the UHK 60 v2, you can select English US (ANSI), English UK (ISO), Blank ANSI, or Blank ISO. Being a backlit keyboard, we implemented the blank option by placing small translucent dots on every keycap. All these keycap options are made of double-shot PBT.

Functional per-key RGB backlighting

RGB backlighting needs no introduction, as you’ve probably seen countless backlit keyboards. The way the UHK uses RGB, however, is unique.

When I was thinking about adding RGB backlighting to the UHK, I had mixed feelings. I’ve seen loads of keyboards that tried to stand out by being flashy and utilizing all kinds of fancy colorful animations. In the true spirit of the UHK, it’s a professional tool, not a Christmas tree ornament, I thought, so I implemented what I call “functional backlighting.”

Based on the actual keymap and layer in use, every key has a function, and the keys light up according to the color of their function. See the following video.

As you can see, regular alphanumeric keys are white, modifiers are light blue, layer switcher keys are yellow, shortcuts are dark blue, mouse actions are green, macros are purple, keymap switch actions are red, and unused keys don’t light up. This color scheme is useful for learning what the keys of your UHK do, and Agent will allow you to configure the colors.

USB-C connector, adapter, and cables

USB-C needs no explanation as everything comes with it these days. What might not be so evident to some is that USB4 is on its way, and both ends of the USB cable will feature USB-C connectors. Naturally, we want the UHK 60 v2 to be as future-proof as possible while providing backward-compatibility.

As you can see, we offer a USB-C to USB-C cable with a USB-C to USB-A adapter, so you’re covered no matter what.

Unlike the USB cable of the UHK 60 v1, the new USB cable doesn’t have a ferrite choke at its end near the UHK, so it’s slimmer and also braided. For the sake of consistency, we’ve also braided the bridge cable.

We’ve made several improvements to USB connectivity besides simply switching to USB-C. The new USB connector is closer to the back side of the UHK, so it’s much easier to access it than the previous USB Mini-B connector, which sat deeper. And the redesigned cable recess mechanism should be more gentle with the cable and maximize its lifespan.

Hot-swappable feet

UHK 60 v1 feet were fixed by screws, and the legs had to be inserted into feet bases after screwing. This solution was reliable and worked well, but the feet’ installation and removal were quite time-consuming and demanding. This mechanism also discouraged experimentation with different setups, such as tenting versus negative-tilting.

The redesigned feet mounting mechanism makes all the difference as the legs are pre-assembled into the bases. You only have to gently insert the feet into the newly created recesses of the back of the UHK, then turn them clockwise. You can simply remove the feet by turning them counterclockwise.

Removable palm rest

The palm rest had to be screwed to the UHK just like the feet. Screwing it was less of an inconvenience than screwing the feet, but it’s still useful to easily remove the palm rest for transportation, so now it’s possible.

You only have to screw a pair of plastic bolts per keyboard half into the existing bronze inserts of the UHK once. Then you can simply pull the palm rest apart from the UHK to unmount it and mount it in the opposite direction. If you want to use your UHK flat, the plastic bolts are not in the way.

Hot-swappable, backlit key cluster module

Although this is not a module update, it wouldn’t be complete without mentioning that the key cluster has also been upgraded to hot-swap sockets, per-key RGB backlighting, and double shot PBT keycaps. This free upgrade includes every key cluster pre-order ever made.

Regarding switch options, the switches of existing key cluster orders remain unchanged, but new key clusters are only available with the new switch types mentioned above going forward. Feel free to purchase alternative switches from any shop and replace them.

Production progress and ETA

The design and procurement of the UHK 60 v2 have been underway for years, and it’s very close to completion. We have already had the product FCC and CE certified, had the first batch of PCBs manufactured, ordered almost all parts, and the firmware is working with Agent.

The main thing that’s missing is the modification of the mold of the UHK case. The modifications will be barely visible from the outside except for the USB-C connector and the recess for the USB cable, but they still take some time. Our mold making contractor is busy with the module molds and expects to have the UHK 60 v2 mold ready by about the end of January 2021.

Another contractor is working on PBT keycap and keycap legend tooling, which are nearing completion and should be done well before case mold modifications.

UHK 60 v1 parts availability and compatibility

We’re committed to supporting UHK 60 v1 owners for as long as possible, so let me elaborate on parts availability and compatibility.

The v1 palm rest is discontinued, and you can only purchase the v2 palm rest going forward. We’ve only changed the palm rest’s base plate, which is only compatible with the new hot-swappable v2 feet. So if you’re a UHK 60 v1 owner looking for a palm rest, purchase the v2 palm rest and v2 feet. This way, your UHK 60 v1 uses v1 feet, and your v2 palm rest uses v2 feet. Similarly, if you already have a v1 palm rest, you can use it with the UHK 60 v2, in which case the v1 palm rest uses v1 feet, and the UHK 60 v2 uses v2 feet.

We have an extensive inventory of v1 feet and black v1 cases that will likely last for years to come. These items are incompatible with their v2 counterparts, and you can purchase them in the “UHK 60 v1 parts” section of our webshop.

The UHK 60 v1 keycap set is discontinued. Still, you can purchase the new UHK 60 v2 PBT keycap set for your UHK 60 v1 or wait a few weeks until we announce the availability of the UHK 60 v1 backlight upgrade kit in a dedicated newsletter.

UHK 60 v2 timing rationale

Some of you who are waiting for your pre-ordered modules may be frustrated that we started to develop the UHK 60 v2 before delivering the modules. This timing is because we wanted to take our technology stack to the next level as soon as possible. As a direct result, we were able to upgrade the key cluster module, which benefits everybody.

Alternatively, we’d have to release the key cluster module as originally envisioned without all these improvements, then release another version with the upgrades. We knew we’d implement these upgrades anyway, so we’ve taken a bigger leap forward.

Rest assured, the funds required to release the modules have already been allocated for them, so we’re not using the funds of module pre-orders to develop the UHK 60 v2.

Thank you for your patience as we move forward with production. We’re confident the chosen path results in a more capable product line.

Closing words

If you’re still here, then you’re one of the brave few, and we appreciate your interest. This update was probably the longest I’ve ever written, but there was a lot of ground to cover, and I wanted to leave no stone unturned. 

The UHK 60 v2 is the culmination of all our experiences, and it’s been a huge effort to make it happen. It packs quite a punch, and it’s the best value we’ve ever provided, especially while we don’t raise its price. If you’ve been on the fence, it’s time to pull the trigger.

We’ll be keeping you updated about the UHK 60 v2 in our monthly updates, and I’ll publish an update about the modules in about a week.

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.

If you take another look at the above picture, you can notice the newly added configuration history section. Every time you save your configuration, a new entry gets created here, and you can restore any previous configuration with a click of a button.

Last, but not least, we’ve fixed a major security bug which affected the Linux versions of Agent. We suggest installing the latest Agent version which will fix the affected udev file upon starting it. Mad props go to Joel Eriksson of ClevCode for spotting this one!

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 2020-03-10.

2020 Feb 18

Controling the mouse with keyboard keys

By |2020-11-05T21:39:00+00:002020-02-18 15:27 CEST|demo, features|0 Comments

Although we never advertised the UHK mouse layer as a perfect substitute for a mouse, it's surprisingly powerful in the right hands. 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.

We don’t know about you, but we're 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.

Want to bring it up a notch? See the module demos.

2020 Jan 10

The trackball module is fully functional

By |2020-01-10T21:58:03+00:002020-01-10 21:49 CEST|demo, firmware, modules, news, prototype, tech talk|19 Comments

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

TL;DR: The trackball module is now fully functional. Modules will be more portable than expected. Some great UHK reviews have been published.

Trackball module demo

I really wanted to show up the trackball module in the previous UHK newsletter, but couldn’t because the pointer moved in a very erratic fashion. I’m happy to report that I’ve managed to fix the problem, so here comes the obligatory demo.

We’re very pleased with the usability of both the trackball and key cluster modules. They allow for fine-grained mouse control without leaving the home row, and work just as envisioned. The mini trackball of the key cluster is very handy for scrolling, and the trackball module is a great tool for moving the pointer.

Although the schematic of the trackball prototype contained minor errors, the fix mostly involved changing a couple of lines of the trackball module firmware. This was followed by the refactoring of the trackball module firmware, specifically, and then a massive refactoring of the module firmware codebase in general. As a result, the source code of the modules shrunk to merely 100-200 lines per module, allowing me to develop the firmwares of the remaining modules with minimum effort.

I’ve already started to develop the firmware of the trackpoint module, and the new touchpad PCB has just arrived, ready to be assembled. I’m looking forward to making these modules work, too. We’ll be keeping you updated.

Module portability

The modules make the UHK less portable in the sense that one can’t just merge the halves and pick them up with one hand, but as it turns out, even with the modules, portability is exceptionally good for a modular keyboard.

It spontaneously occurred to us when playing with the modules that the left and right modules merge, just as the keyboard halves. This isn’t surprising given that the keyboard halves merge, and the shape of the modules is the inverse of the keyboard halves.

Then it also occurred to us that, given that the back of the modules feature magnets and magnet counterparts just as the UHK does, the modules and the UHK can be stuck together.

This allows for great portability despite the modular nature of the UHK, and as a bonus, it’s quite a conversation piece.

UHK reviews

LearnCode.academy has made an outstanding video review of the UHK, which we were quite flattered by. Will has praised many facets of the UHK, including its build quality, feature set, and ease of configurability.

Another spectacular review has been made by TechPowerUp. This one is extremely in-depth, contains tons of high quality pictures, and doesn’t only explore the outside of the UHK but its inside, too.

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 2020-02-10.

2019 Dec 11

Trackball and touchpad module progress

By |2019-12-11T21:06:21+00:002019-12-11 21:06 CEST|demo, electronics, firmware, modules, news, prototype, tech talk|0 Comments

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

TL;DR: We’ve made progress with the trackball and touchpad modules. Some outstanding UHK reviews have been published.

Trackball and touchpad module progress

I recently thought I’d finished the firmware for the trackball module and it would be ready to demonstrate for all of you. I can give you a demonstration, but it’s not what I was hoping for.

As you can see, the pointer moves in highly erratic fashion, and it heavily drifts toward the top right corner. I can affect the pointer by moving the trackball toward the bottom left corner, but the erratic movement usually overpowers my movements. I believe that this is a side-effect of insufficient filtering on the PCB, but it’s really just a wild guess on my part, and I’ve contacted PixArt, the manufacturer of the optical sensor who will help.

As for the touchpad, we’ve increased its resolution and sensing area.

The big footprint is for an optionally solderable 2×20 pin 0.1" connector that directly mates with the Azoteq CT210A-S dongle for configuration and diagnostics purposes.

The new design is a clear improvement over the old one, but we still have some work to do based Azoteq’s new feedback. The ground must be routed in a very specific way to maximize sensor performance. It’s not rocket science, just finicky. István is working on the next PCB version.

Next up, I’ll be working on the firmware for the trackpoint module, and will implement the suggestions of PixArt to make the trackball module work flawlessly. I hope that I’ll be able to showcase at least one, but hopefully both of these modules in our next monthly update. The key cluster module prototype is already fully functional, and the touchpad module will come last.

UHK reviews

Quite a few UHK reviews have been made recently. Let’s take a look at them!

ShopzadaPH has made an extremely thorough review featuring an unboxing, the keycaps, layout, switches, and configuration of the UHK. He really left no stone unturned, and the production quality is great. This one is highly recommended if you’re considering purchasing a UHK.

Thomas Ran is the king of the hill when it comes to mechanical keyboard reviews on YouTube, and he’s just reviewed the UHK. In his review, he emphasizes that he’s not an ergo guy, and yet, he’s done a great job of explaining the fundamentals of ergo boards and reviewing the UHK.

I met Christian Bäuerlein in 2018, as he's the organizer of Mechanicon, the meetup for mechanical keyboard enthusiasts in Germany. He recently offered to review the UHK, and given his formidable experience with mechanical keyboards, I gladly said yes. I think he’s done a great job of capturing the essence of the UHK in his review, including unboxing, assembly, layout, configuration, switches and keycaps.

Hardware.Info may well be the largest testing lab for computer hardware, peripherals and consumer electronics in the Benelux, which shows in their UHK review, as it’s so detailed, it’s almost like a mad science experiment. Thanks to the magic of Google Translate, English readers can read the translated English review, or read the original Dutch review.

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!