design

2020 Nov 05

Introducing the UHK 60 v2

By |2020-11-06T15:44:59+00:002020-11-05 17:54|demo, design, features, modules, news, prototype|147 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.

2019 Aug 13

Module PCBs are ready

By |2019-08-13T20:40:32+00:002019-08-13 20:40|design, electronics, features, modules, news, prototype, tech talk|4 Comments

Hi there, and welcome to our monthly status update!

István, our PCB designer, has been on steroids, and he finished the PCBs for every module! The boards are being fabricated right now, and are expected to arrive in a week – at which point I’ll assemble them.

We already showed an inside look of the key cluster module in an earlier post, so this time, I’d like to showcase the right-side modules. I’ll feature three images per module: the assembled version, the half-assembled version, and the latest PCB which is being fabricated.

Please note that the following modules are only prototypes. Their color is not representative, and neither is their surface quality, which will be way smoother once the modules get injection-molded. The color of the PCBs will also differ, as we’ll use black soldermask for the final boards.

Trackball

The trackball only has a single PCB. It utilizes the ADNS-3530 optical sensor, which happens to be the most compact optical sensor according to my knowledge. The retaining ring can be removed by rotating it counter-clockwise, so one can easily clean the ball.

Trackpoint

The trackpoint is composed of two boards. The top board is provided by our supplier and contains the actual trackpoint module. The bottom board is designed by us, and its purpose is to do protocol translation between the PS/2 protocol of the trackball PCB and the I2C module protocol of the UHK.

Touchpad

The touchpad module is composed of two boards. The bottom board is a trivial one which simply routes the pogo pin header to an FFC connector, supplying power and data to the top board. The top board does the actual sensing using the Azoteq IQS572 touchpad sensor IC. The top side of the touchpad will be covered by black film.

When I said that that the boards are ready, what I really meant is that these boards should be fully functional. Their design is not set in stone yet, but we expect only very minor changes going forward. Even our mechanical design is fairly advanced and should contain the mechanical features needed for injection-molding.

As I previously mentioned, we don’t have a solid ETA on the modules yet. As you can see, we’re making rapid progress, and we’ll get there, but we surely won’t rush them, as we want to get them right.

Your feedback

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 2019-09-10.

2019 Jul 10

Module prototypes galore

By |2019-07-10T20:00:30+00:002019-07-10 20:00|design, modules, news, prototype|4 Comments

Hi there, and welcome to our monthly status update!

We’ve been making quite a bit of progress with the modules, and have mechanically prototyped the key cluster, trackball, and trackpoint modules.

The overall mechanical design, the shape of the PCBs, and the way the PCBs are interconnected inside the modules are pretty much finalized at this point.

All of these prototypes are 3D-printed, and even though we use state-of-the-art SLS (selective laser sintering) 3D-printing technology, their quality, finish, and accuracy is a far cry compared to the final injection molded plastic parts. To give you a reference point, this is how the final key cluster module is expected to look.

Right now, the key cluster prototype features a PCB without traces, only meant to be used for mechanical prototyping. But we’ve designed a functional PCB in the meantime, sent its design to the fab, and the manufactured PCB should arrive in a couple of days. This will allow us to make a fully-functional key cluster prototype.

Similarly to the key cluster module prototype, the above trackball module is only a mechanical prototype, but the functional PCB has been designed in the meantime, was sent to the fab, and should be manufactured soon.

The design of the the trackpoint module PCB is in progress, and we’ll submit it to the fab as soon as we can. Afterwards, the touchpad will follow.

Let’s see some UHK pictures with the modules mounted.

We’re super excited to see the modules coming to fruition after such a long time. I’ll make demo videos as soon as we’re ready with the functional module prototypes. We still don’t have a solid ETA on them, but we’ll be keeping you updated.

Your feedback

You guys keep sending your awesome tweets, and we’re always eager to read and feature them! If you got your UHK and haven’t tweeted yet, you’re welcome to share!

We’ll be keeping you updated on all things UHK, and are looking forward to talking to you on 2019-08-13.

2019 Jun 13

Key cluster and trackpoint module progress

By |2019-06-14T00:20:19+00:002019-06-13 23:23|demo, design, electronics, firmware, modules, news, prototype, tech talk|6 Comments

TL;DR: We’ve been making progress with the key cluster and trackpoint modules. New orders ship in a week, except non-black UHK cases.

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

Production status

If you want your UHK shipped in a week, you should pick the black UHK case option. Otherwise your order will take longer due to temporary parts shortages. This shortage was mentioned in our previous monthly update, and we’ve been working on resolving it, but it’s taking more time than anticipated.

If you have any questions about the ETA of your order, please do read the delivery status page. We keep this page up-to-date, and we’re unable to provide more accurate information, not even if you email us.

Module progress

In our previous monthly update, I included a picture of the development board for the key cluster module. In the meantime, I’ve also written firmware to drive it, so here comes its obligatory demonstration:

From a technical standpoint, the BlackBerry trackball is an interesting little beast. The ball itself is not even electrically connected to the PCB. Instead, its four spindles rotate when pushed in the four directions. The spindles contain magnets which alter their magnetic fields about 9 times during a 360 degree rotation, and the alternating magnetic field is detected by the hall-effect sensors on the PCB.

Given its limited resolution, the BlackBerry trackball is hardly an ideal device for controlling the mouse pointer (right-sided modules will perform far better in that department), but it’s very well suited for scrolling in every direction. I’m actually surprised how well it’s already working, even though it’s the first working prototype. Over time, we’ll make the acceleration and speed of the mini trackball configurable, which will make it even more useful.

As far as the firmware goes, firstly, I slightly extended the UHK module protocol responsible for the keyboard halves and modules to communicate with each other. This allowed for the transmission of not only key states, but also pointer movement information. Then I wrote a driver for the BlackBerry trackball purely using interrupt handlers, which is the most efficient approach there is. Finally, I made the key cluster transmit the pointer movement information of the BlackBerry trackball to the right keyboard half which is the brain of the UHK.

The above pictures feature our most recent mechanical key cluster prototype. The creation of a working PCB is underway.

We’ve also made a mechanical prototype of the inside of the trackpoint module:

We may change the trackpoint component depending on various design constraints, but the overall mechanical design is expected to be close to final.

We’ve actually made progress with every one of the modules, but haven’t yet prototyped the others. We’ll be sharing all their juicy details in our upcoming newsletters.

Your feedback

You keep sending your nice tweets which we’re grateful for! Please keep them coming!

We’ll be keeping you updated on all things UHK, and we’re looking forward to talking to you on 2019-07-10.

2019 May 16

New orders ship in a week

By |2019-05-16T21:20:32+00:002019-05-16 20:25|design, electronics, firmware, modules, news, prototype, tech talk|5 Comments

TL;DR: We caught up with pre-orders, and new orders ship in a week! Our customers made some awesome carrying cases for their UHKs. The UHK mouse mode is surprisingly useful, and viable for creating digital art. We’re making progress with the key cluster module.

Hi there, and welcome to our monthly status update! Ready for warp? Let’s punch it!

Production status

We’re thrilled to say that we’ve finally caught up with pre-orders, and incoming orders now ship in a week!

There are two exceptions regarding order parameters, though. If you want your UHK shipped in a week, you should pick the black UHK case option and a non-blank keycap printing option. Otherwise your order will take a bit longer due to temporary parts shortages. Feel free to check out the delivery status page for more information.

Please note that the order numbers have been removed from the delivery page. If your order hasn’t shipped yet, it’s because of the above exceptions. According to the delivery status page, you can shoot us a mail to change your order parameters to expedite delivery.

DIY UHK carrying cases

Some of you shared your DIY UHK cases, and they’re so awesome that I ended up writing a dedicated blog post about DIY UHK cases. I’m very impressed by these cases, and I’m sure they’re of interest of many UHK owners.

Creating digital art with the UHK

There are few keyboards with a dedicated mouse mode, and the UHK might just have the best implementation of all. Brandon Yu’s drawing is a testament to this.

I’m super impressed by Brandon’s work, and wouldn’t have ever thought that anyone would create such a beautiful drawing purely with the UHK.

The UHK mouse mode will never be as good as a dedicated mouse, but it’s surprisingly capable in the right hands. This is due to the implementation of the mouse pointer acceleration and its number of configuration options.

Key cluster module progress

We’ve been making progress with the key cluster module. András got the latest CAD model 3D printed, and we’re glad to say it’s more robust than ever.

In the meantime, I’ve been doing some electronics prototyping.

On the right side, you can see a breakout board designed by SparkFun, featuring a BlackBerry trackball – the kind of mini trackball that will be put into the key cluster. It’s wired to an old hand-soldered UHK left half. The left half of the UHK is just like a module from an electrical, firmware, and protocol standpoint, so it’s a great development board for modules. The design of the key cluster PCBs is in progress, and this is the whole Frankenstein keyboard on my desk:

(Yes, my UHK is backlit. We’ll release a backlight upgrade kit eventually.)

I also started to extend the firmware, and created a dedicated project for the key cluster module based on the firmware of the left keyboard half. The two projects contain a lot of duplicate code right now, so I’ll be gradually extracting the shared code to a module API which will be consumed by all the modules.

Your feedback

You’ve been sharing more than your fair share of tweets over the last month. Thanks so much, and as always, please keep them coming!

We’ll be keeping you updated on all things UHK, and we’re looking forward to talking to you on 2019-06-13.

2018 Nov 16

Wrapping up Crowd Supply orders

By |2019-12-13T00:18:05+00:002018-11-16 19:22|design, modules, news|6 Comments

  • We’ll be exhibiting at TechCrunch Disrupt in Berlin on November 30. Come and meet us!
  • Share Your UHK experience with Quora readers and help us to be the the best split mechanical keyboard for programmers.
  • Early-bird special pricing will end on December 1st. Pre-order Your UHK now, or as many did, get the 2nd one before the early-bird pricing expires.
  • 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!

Delivery progress

We keep churning out the mini batches. With this pace, we’ll deliver every Crowd Supply order in 1-2 weeks. (This doesn’t include the modules which we’ll deliver later.)

As it turned out, the fulfillment process of Crowd Supply orders differs substantially from our own webshop. Shipping Crowd Supply and UHK webshop orders together would have resulted in quite a chaos, so we opted to ship them separately.

Given the above, we’ll only start the delivery of the orders from our own webshop after delivering every Crowd Supply order. Originally, we believed that we will be able to deliver every non-module order by the end of December, including the orders of our own webshop, but the recent sales volume has been higher than anticipated, and some orders will slip to January.

This is not ideal, but we’re doing so much better than recently. Not so long ago, our earliest backers were waiting for 2 and half years to get their orders. We’ve been gradually closing the gap, and by the end of the year the wait time will be reduced to about a month, and then we’ll transition to on-demand manufacturing which will reduce the wait time to less than a week, and possibly to a work day or two.

We’re not sure which orders we will be able to deliver by Christmas or before the new year. Please feel free to check the always up-to-date delivery status page any time.

What is the best keyboard for a programmer?

As surprising as it might sound, some people have never heard about the UHK! Please help us to let them know by sharing your experience with the UHK and showing your support by upvoting on Quora.

Early-Bird Pricing

As most of the Crowd Supply orders should be shipped in the next two weeks, we will stop early-bird pricing for the UHK on December 1st, so if you haven’t done so yet, pre-order your UHK now, before the special pricing expires. If you have ordered your UHK, now it’s the best time to get a second one too.

Mechanicon

I’ve had a blast at Mechanicon! It’s been great to meet so many of you, and talk about keyboards, although I’m jealous of you guys, because I really wanted to check all the weird and wonderful keyboards at the meetup, but I had to stay at our booth.

Christian Bäuerlein, the organizer of Mechanicon, is a super nice guy with a huge passion for mechanical keyboards. Pulling together such an event is no small feat, and he’s done a great job. According to the Meetup page, there were 266 attendees this year, which gets doubled on a yearly basis, based on its track record so far. Feel free to check out the photo collection of Mechanicon 2018.

Max wanted to make it, but couldn’t, so he was feeling blue. So blue that he felt an irresistible urge to express his deepest feelings via his most authentic way by assembling a blue UHK.

Being true to his spirit, he posted the details on Reddit, so you can pimp out your UHK the same way he did.

Review video

Jemin You reached out to us, asking for a UHK to be reviewed, and as soon as he received it, he made a review video of it in no time. His enthusiasm is contagious, I like his style a lot, and I think he’s done an outstanding job capturing the essence of the UHK, and demonstrating every major feature.

To be perfectly honest, I don’t know a word of Korean, but YouTube offers translated captions, which help a bit.

The state of the modules

András has been hard at work lately. Besides running our factory, he was busy with the key cluster module, so let’s take a peek.

But I know you guys aren’t just interested in the outside. The inside is at least as interesting.

We’re getting increasingly closer to a manufacturable product. The shape of the PCB is crazy and nearly final. Fitting the mini trackball into the module is quite a challenge, but it seems to be solvable.

Luckily, the other modules are simpler than the key cluster from a mechanical standpoint. At this point, we can see quite clearly how they’ll fit together. Here are some renders of them.

I’m extremely pleased by the looks of these modules. The initial design looked neat, but András has truly taken them to the next level.

As previously stated, there’s no ETA on the modules yet. We’ll announce it as soon as we get sufficiently close to their production.

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 2018-12-13.

2017 Jun 15

Tweaking the molds and preparing for the pilot run

By |2018-10-21T19:28:58+00:002017-06-15 20:37|agent, design, electronics, features, manufacturing, modules, news, prototype, tech talk|19 Comments

Hi there, and welcome to our monthly status update!

TL;DR: The BOM is fully finalized and ordered. The UHK prototypes have improved a ton in the EMC department. Agent and the firmware has evolved a lot. The key cluster and trackball modules have been mechanically prototyped and tested. New developers joined our forces. We've tested the molds and found some issues which will introduce some delay. We plan to ship a pilot run of 50 UHKs in July. The rest of the UHKs are planned to be shipped starting from August. Please read on!

You can always check out the expected delivery date and update your shipping address on your Crowd Supply account page.

EMC improvements

We've been visiting the EMC lab of TÜV since our first successful test. The reason is twofold. First, we wanted to improve on the results, and second, there were some further tests to be done.

The testing results that we shared with you the last time already passed, but the safety margin was only 2 dbμV/m, instead of the recommended 5 dbμV/m. Our worry was that the margin was so thin that it was possible for the final test to fail. We really wanted to avoid any potential failure, so we have been tweaking various resistor and capacitor values, and have been trying various bridge cables and USB cables to make the margin wider.

You know what made a drastic difference? The USB cable. As soon as we tried a USB cable with a ferrite choke on the keyboard end, the EMC graph changed very substantially. Don't worry, this ferrite choke is only 24 mm x 14 mm in size, and it's very light so it doesn't weigh down the cable.

The updated EMC graph

According to this graph, we went from a 2 dbμV/m safety margin to about 18 dbμV/m! (See the vertical distance between the blue mark around 100M and the red line.) Given these results, we'd be extremely surprised not to pass the final test.

We've also conducted some further tests that we haven't done before. First, we put the prototype into the test chamber and tried to disturb it with focused radiation. We were watching it with a camera to see whether the LEDs go out, and checked it after the test. The prototype didn't break a sweat and kept functioning perfectly.

In the second test, the USB cable was put into a metal cage, and got a healthy dose of radiation. The criteria for this test is that the device can go out of service, but ultimately, it must recover by the end of the test.

The first time this test was executed, the LEDs on the left keyboard half went out and it didn't recover. After that, I made the firmware much more robust, and as a result, the left keyboard half was able to recover like a champ.

Speaking of LEDs, we got so many inquiries about backlighting that it justified its own post, so here you are: Everything about UHK backlighting.

Things are looking so good in the EMC department that I fully finalized and ordered the BOM for the PCBs of 2,000 UHKs, and if everything goes well the UHK will be certified very soon, possibly in June.

Agent progress

A lot has been happening to Agent, our configuration application recently. Józsi is still involved in the development of Agent, but he told me that going forward, he cannot guarantee a fixed number of working hours per month because his life got a lot busier. This made me search for the right candidates, and I'm happy to report that I found two excellent developers.

Róbert Kiss is busy with some of the most pressing Agent issues. Agent has an initial OS-specific privilege escalation step that allows it to access the USB interface of the UHK. Robi implemented the missing Windows-specific part of the privilege escalation step. He's also set up a build process, so that now Travis generates releases for Linux and Macintosh, and AppVeyor generates releases for Windows, and these files get uploaded to the releases section of GitHub. He's also mostly finished the auto-update mechanism of Agent.

Attila Csányi will be busy with a number of important but less time consuming issues given his limited time. He's already made the macro layout more responsive and made the currently selected key highlight and animate very nicely. These seemingly small issues add up big time when it comes to user experience.

Luckily, Józsi is still involved with the development of Agent. Lately, among other things, he's implemented ISO/ANSI layouts. Agent used to display only the ANSI layout but this change will allow it to show the correct layout, be it ISO or ANSI as soon as you plug in your UHK.

Firmware progress

Substantial progress has been made with the firmware recently. The easier part was making the communication between the halves more robust. First up, I added a CRC16-CCITT checksum to the messages between the keyboard halves to improve message integrity. Next up, I implemented a recovery mechanism for LED drivers so that the LEDs also recover when disconnecting/reconnecting the halves. I also made the communication packets between the halves more efficient and smaller.

The harder part is upgrading the firmware of the left keyboard half and modules via USB. You see, it's fairly easy to upgrade the firmware of the right keyboard half because it's directly connected to the host computer. The modules and left keyboard half however are not directly connected via USB. They're connected via an I2C bus to the right keyboard half.

The plan is to implement a proxy mode for the right keyboard half, so that it can route the firmware from the USB host to the left keyboard half and to the modules via I2C. Luckily, such a protocol translator is already implemented so we can use it. It's called BusPal, and it's part of the KBOOT (Kinetis bootloader) package. Unfortunately, it's not nearly as mature as KBOOT, and it was obvious that integrating it to the UHK firmware won't be a walk in the park. I was searching for a proficient developer to make this happen but despite my best shot, I couldn't find a right candidate, so I had to try to integrate BusPal myself.

There were three variants of BusPal within the KBOOT package but I noticed that only one supported USB, so I picked it. In the beginning, I couldn't even build it because it was developed using the the proprietary IAR embedded workbench, not with the free Kinetis Development Studio that is based on Eclipse and GCC. I simply started by putting BusPal into a subdirectory of our firmware repo and trying to make it work. It was an uphill battle at first because BusPal has a huge codebase of which we need very little functionality. Just making the compiler happy has taken days, and after that it was even more work to make it functional. Luckily, over the course of about two weeks, BusPal enumerated over USB and could talk to the left keyboard half. Well, mostly.

Now, I can send protocol commands to the left keyboard half via BusPal but they don't work every time. As it turns out, the ROM bootloader of the KL03, the processor of the left keyboard half is buggy as documented by errata ID 8060, and these bugs have to be worked around. I can erase the processor and query properties, but the firmware upgrade command breaks. Given my myriad of responsibilities, I'd much rather delegate this last step, and it seems that I might have just found the ultimate developer. More about him later.

The state of modules

Up until this point, not too much has been said about the progress of the modules. That's because our primary focus is getting the UHK to market, so András only works on the modules when he has some free time.

At last, I'm happy to show you the first version of the 3D printed modules:

These prototypes were printed using a white, powder-like material, but the final modules will be offered in black color.

Originally, we created two versions of the modules, one of them being totally flat, the other one being angled.

Flat key cluster module on the left, angled key cluster module on the right

We've been experimenting with a front and a top mini trackball on the key cluster module, but concluded that the top one is much more usable, so we'll ditch the front-sided mini trackball.

Angled trackball module on the left, flat trackball module on the right

The trackball module from the inside without the PCB

The reason we've made two versions is to test them and see which version is more ergonomic. The flat modules made our thumbs stretch significantly less, so we're confident that they're a better choice. This is also very fortunate from a manufacturing standpoint as the space inside of the modules is very limited, and even more so in their angled versions, so the flat versions will be easier to design and manufacture.

We also found that it's not a good idea to use two buttons per module because the inner button which is closer to the UHK usually gets pressed when pressing the case button of the UHK. Our plan is to only feature a single button per module, the outer button that is farther from the case button of the UHK.

This is a big step forward, but there's still a lot to do in the future. These plastic cases don't contain PCBs yet, so they will have to be designed. Luckily, the left keyboard half is an module from an electrical, firmware, and protocol standpoint, so we will be able to reuse its schematic and firmware. These plastic cases of the modules are only made for mechanical testing purposes and need to be redesigned here and there because they are not manufacturable, and lack structural support.

Molding plastic parts

I'm a software developer by trade, so I have little knowledge about injection molding. A couple days earlier however, I was fortunate enough to observe the process up close in an injection molding facility where we tested our molds.

The mold of the top right case

As so many things, injection molding looks deceptively simple. Plastic flows into a mold, and the perfect plastic part falls out of the machine. Just like on this video:

In practice, lot of things can make a plastic part less than perfect, such as warping, which is the major issue we have mostly fixed.

You see, warping is a very common phenomenon, and it's usually so slight it doesn't matter. In our case however, it does. As it turns out, of all the keyboards ever created, the UHK is probably the most sensitive to warping. This is because when the plastic cases of the two keyboard halves are merged, it becomes extremely pronounced.

When the UHK is merged and the halves warp even slightly, a very slight V shape can be noticed. This shape raises the four outer legs while the four inner legs firmly touch the ground which is obviously unacceptable.

Surface finish issues, such as sink marks and surface defects are another category of injection molding issues we have to deal with which we have also mostly fixed.

One way to fix the above issues is to tweak various mold and injection parameters which we were actively pursuing quite successfully during our three-day stay at the factory. It's mind-boggling how many parameters can be tweaked, such as the injection speed, pressure, after-pressure, mold temperature, the duration of the molding process, and many more. To make things even more complicated, these parameters are not single numeric values but rather graphs, and multiple points of the graph can be set along the time axis!

The other way to fix these issues is to modify the molds themselves. This is usually more time consuming and involves machining the molds in various ways. Some of our issues can only be solved this way.

We have a rough schedule in place regarding the plastic parts:

  1. Within days, the injection-molded cases will be scanned with a 3D laser scanner to reveal the inaccuracies for the molds to be fixed.
  2. In the next week, the left and right bottom molds will be fixed according to the above results.
  3. Another week later, we'll mass-produce the bottom parts for the pilot run.
  4. Within a month, we'll get all the molds fixed, fine-tune technological parameters, and manufacture every plastic part for the pilot run.

As for the big picture schedule:

  1. In July, we’ll manufacture a pilot run of 50 UHKs and send them out to our pilot testers, which include the various developers, contributors, and backers who have helped us along the way and indicated a willingness to help us rigorously test the UHKs before the main production run and work out any final kinks should they arise. All 50 pilot run units have been assigned, but if any of our pilot testers drops out and we need to fill a spot, we'll solicit volunteers. We haven’t talked about the pilot run yet, but we think it’s critical for the first UHKs to be tested before we actually start the main production run.
  2. In August, we'll launch the mass production of the remaining 1,950 UHKs. The goods will flow out continuously and be shipped approximately in the order they were purchased. Since we are using fulfillment centers in both Hungary and the US, there will be some variation in when your order is shipped, depending on your shipping address, but, basically, the sooner you ordered your UHK, the sooner you'll receive it.

Thank you for reading this update! As you can see, we have to deal with the molding issues which do introduce some delay, but at the same time, we're also making rapid progress. We're asking for your patience and support during these last miles. We'll make sure the UHK will be worth the wait.

As always, we'll be keeping you updated on a weekly basis on social media, and on a monthly basis in this blog and our newsletter.

Talk to you on 2017-07-13!

2017 Apr 13

A huge influx of parts

By |2017-04-13T15:26:47+00:002017-04-13 15:26|design, electronics, manufacturing, news, prototype|12 Comments

Hello again and welcome to this month’s UHK update!

TL;DR: We’re inching towards mass production. We’ve received tons of parts from our suppliers. The design of the palm rest is finalized, and our new PCBs are being fabricated.

Our delivery date is unchanged, which you can always check out on your Crowd Supply account page.

Now let’s delve into the nitty-gritty!

Big boxes galore

Not long after the previous update, a van arrived, chock full of goodies.

The majority of the boxes contain switches. Lots of them. 127,000 to be exact.

You can see all the 6 switch types including brown, blue, red, black, clear, and green.

A fair number of boxes contain 131,000 keycaps. A single bag contains 1,000 keycaps of the same type.

Yet another box contains 11,000 stabilizers and 5,500 stabilizer wires. Assembling these little guys will be quite an exercise.

When seeing all the boxes neatly arranged, I couldn’t help myself, so I posted the following picture on April 1st.

You guys totally got it by immediately replying with the (in)famous 1970’s Bill Gates centerfold on social media. Well done!

Small bits and pieces

In the shipments were plenty of smaller parts, too. Let’s see what we’ve received.

A small sample of the nearly 2,000 LED displays

10,000 pogo pins

2,000 neodymium magnets

As a matter of fact, we’ve received another block of 2,000 magnets, but we didn’t dare to put the two blocks close to each other. The combined force of these magnets is formidable, which could have shattered the magnets, or even worse, our hands.

Final palm rest design

A while back, we showed you a palm rest version we thought was very close to final. Boy, were we wrong. As it turned out, the milled aluminium base plate had a tendency to bend a little bit when the legs were flipped out and force was exerted on the palm rest. András was looking into alternative design and came up with something we’re very proud of.

Now, we’re using a steel baseplate to connect the wooden part of the palmrest to the keyboard. This results in a stronger connection, making flexing a non-issue. As you can see, a recess was designed right where your thumb resides, which will make it easier to press the thumb button. We think it’s quite a useful feature.

The wood is more emphasized in this design, resulting in a classy minimalism. We plan to choose graphite color instead of the current brown color. We believe it will look just as beautiful as brown, and it will gel better with the black color of the keyboard.

We’re waiting for yet another sample, then we’ll pick a manufacturer, and launch the mass production of the palm rests.

Redesigned PCBs

In our last update, we let you know about the EMC test results of the v7.1 UHK PCBs which were a lot better than v7.0, but still not good enough. Since then, we’ve finished the design of the v7.2 UHK PCBs.

The PCBs were redesigned by István based on Endre’s suggestions to reduce EMC emissions. Right now, they’re being fabricated, and should arrive soon. As soon as they arrive, we’ll assemble a half dozen prototypes and head to the EMC lab.

Speaking of the lab, instead of going to T-Network, we’ll go directly to TÜV from this point on. I recently contacted TÜV, and realized that they also do EMC pre-testing for a reasonable price. Even better, they will do the final EMC testing and issue the certifications, so it’s better to familiarize them with the UHK as soon as possible.

On the assembly front, we’ve just ordered electrical screwdrivers, screw dispensers, a glue dispenser, and a number of jigs are being made to speed up mass production.

A lots of further progress is expected soon. We’ll get 2,000 metal plates manufactured in the upcoming days, and the mold is almost fully ready, too, making it possible to manufacture the cases very soon.

In our true style, we’ll keep you updated on a weekly basis on social media, and on a monthly basis in these newsletters.

Talk to you on 2017-05-18!

2016 Sep 15

Monthly progress and choosing a switch brand

By |2018-09-17T19:08:08+00:002016-09-15 14:52|agent, design, manufacturing, news, prototype, tech talk|18 Comments

Welcome to this installment of our monthly progress update! This series is composed of two parts: 1) the major happenings of the month, and 2) choosing a switch brand. Let’s get started!

Monthly progress

A lot has happened since our last update. Let’s see the nitty-gritty!

The first plastic case and metal plate samples

Our Serbian contractor has manufactured the first samples of the bottom parts of the case, the case buttons, and the metal plates.

This is the case freshly injection molded:

Right bottom UHK case in the mold

And then it’s ejected from the mold:

First test sample of the right bottom case

It’s easy to see the protruding pole-like plastic part where the case has been shot. This gets manually removed after molding.

Some more samples with the protruding part removed:

Don’t worry about the aesthetics. These are just test shots.

Don’t worry about the aesthetics. These are just test shots.

The first sample of the case buttons:

Case button samples

The first sample of the metal plates:

First samples of the metal plates

Let’s put the plate into the case:

Metal plate in plastic case - first sample

The plastic parts look pretty good for the first try, but they have some minor inaccuracies that will need to be corrected. This is nothing unexpected, and corrections like this are usual in the world of manufacturing.

Palm rest

András and I visited a nearby company who cuts foam of various types. We asked for a couple of samples:

Foam samples

Pretty quickly, the 3D printed base plates also arrived (which will be ultimately crafted of aluminium):

3D printed base plates for the palm rest

And then the time has come to cover the foams with drape and put everything together:

Palm rest prototype

This is how the palm rest looks like when fixed to the UHK:

Palm rest prototype on UHK

We’re not ready yet. The type of the foam, the technology, and the drape to be used are not final. This continues to be an active area of development, and in our true style we’ll be keeping you in the loop.

LED display

Our LED display manufacturer has finished the mold of the display and created a couple of samples. This is the front side:

UHK LED display plastic part - front side

And the back side:

UHK LED display plastic part - back side

Next step, the PCB of the display will be put into the plastic shell, then it will be filled with epoxy, and a sticker featuring the graphics will be put onto the front side. We should get a ready-made sample pretty soon.

Finding our PCBA manufacturer

We’ve already picked about a dozen of suppliers who will provide all the different parts of the UHK, but a major manufacturer had yet to be found for assembling the PCBs.

So I started to request quotes from foreign companies, but when I received them, I stopped for a moment. “Wouldn’t it be great if we could find a nearby company?” – I thought. And then I emailed all 20 of the PCBA companies of Hungary and waited for quotes.

Then the impossible happened. It turned out that one of them is located in Kalocsa, the same small city where we’ll assemble the UHK. Not only are they next to us but they’re very responsive and interested in the project. We toured their facility and concluded that they’re the kind of guys we want to work with.

We’ve exchanged many emails and made a number of phone calls since then. These conversations are supremely useful, as we can heavily optimize the design of the PCB for manufacturing. As an added bonus, it seems like they can assemble not only surface mount components, but all the through-hole parts, so we won’t have to take care of those separately. We couldn’t wish for more.

And this is how we managed to insource PCBA by finding a company who is not 8,000 but 2 km away from us.

All hail our awesome contributors

Agent has been developed at a rapid pace lately, which leads me to introduce our latest and greatest contributor – Give it up for Mr. Mikko Lakomaa!

Mikko

I'm Mikko Lakomaa, a web developer from Finland. I've worked as a full stack developer for about a decade now but have shifted my emphasis towards front-end JavaScript development in the last few years. I got interested in the UHK when I was looking for a more ergonomic keyboard and it just happens that their software uses technologies I wanted to learn so I decided to help them out.

Over the last few weeks, Mikko has managed to push the Macro UI of Agent to the next level, so mad props go to him along with a UHK with all the bells and whistles. Thank you so much for your contribution, Mikko!

Jozsef and Nejc are also pushing hard and have been making solid progress. Nejc has implemented the add keymap UI of Agent and now working on the data layer which manages the internal state of Agent. Jozsef has been implementing his fair share of refactorings and reviewing a fair number of pull request as the lead developer of Agent.

And now to the second part…

Choosing a switch brand

We have just decided which switch brand will be used for the UHK. Our campaign page mentions Gateron or Greetech as possible candidates, but in order to make the best choice we ended up considering other brands, too.

It’s important for us to share our thought process with you, so we’ll go over all the brands one by one and highlight some major points.

Cherry

Cherry MX switches

Cherry is hardly stranger to anyone, given that they’re the original designer and manufacturer of Cherry MX switches. Then their patents eventually expired, and other brands entered to the market and replicated their switches.

Cherry is the most trusted brand because they started the show, and they’re still in business after all these years, so it’d make logical sense to pick them over the others except for one thing: availability.

The supply chain issues of Cherry MX switches have been prevalent over the years. Cherry is known for striking exclusive deals with the top keyboard manufacturers of the world, much to the dismay of smaller manufacturers who weren’t able to source Cherry switches in a consistent-enough manner to manufacture their products.

Some manufacturers switched from Cherries to alternative brands, and were accused of cheaping out. We doubt that these guys were actually cheaping out. Some of them might have, but others simply wanted to get their products manufactured. We don’t want to be ever put into this situation.

Availability issues have been well known for long time, so back in the day I ended up phoning Cherry’s German sales office only to be informed that there’s nothing they can do about supply chain issues.

Given the above, we’ll only use clear and green Cherry switches because no other manufacturers create switches of such types, but for everything else we’ll use another brand.

Gateron

Gateron switches

Gateron switches are well known and loved by the keyboard enthusiast community. Gateron manufactures quality switches and trusted by many, so it’d make sense to pick them. We have two issues, though.

The first issue is the lack of direct contact with Gateron. Call us old school, but we like to get involved with manufacturers to be able to discuss any potential issues. We weren’t, however, able to reach Gateron neither across the Internet, nor via phone. We even asked a friend of ours in Hong Kong to try to get in touch with them, but he wasn’t able to.

We would much rather do business directly with a manufacturer than using a buying agent. Again, it’s not because of the slight added cost, but the ability to directly communicate with them.

The second issue is that Gaterons use milky white plastic for their housing. This shouldn’t be a problem for most keyboards because the switches underneath the keycaps are hardly visible, but it’s a different story for the UHK. When the halves are split the milky white color becomes visible, and it doesn’t gel well with the rest of the keyboard which is usually black.

Because of this, we don’t consider Gateron an ideal choice for us, and would rather pick an alternative brand.

Greetech

Greetech switches

Greetech switches resemble the look of Cherry switches the most closely. It’s very easy to miss the difference because the shape of the two seems identical. Only the text featured on the housing of the switch tells whether it’s a Cherry or a Greetech.

The Greetech switches we tested felt great. Being very similar to Cherries makes them a great choice for us, not only functionally but visually. They offer 4 MX switch types (each with or without stabilizer pins) and 2 low profile switch types.

Greetech is a great candidate, but our story doesn’t end here. We wanted to go all the way and consider every switch type.

Outemu

Photo is courtesy of Massdrop

Photo is courtesy of Massdrop

Truth to be told, we don’t know a whole lot about these switches. We can see them being used in various, mostly Chinese keyboards, but we couldn’t even find their website, and have no way of reaching them directly, so our main concern is the same as for Gateron switches.

Kailh

Initially, Kailh wasn’t on our radar because we assumed that they only strike deals with large companies and don’t serve small startups like us.

Eventually, our keycap and keyswitch supplier recommended Kail switches. He’s a guy who is also a keyboard designer, deeply passionate about keyboards, and very concerned about quality. In his opinion, Kailh switches are better than other MX compatible switch brands.

Today, I tested about 500 Kailh switches by hand and although I’m not a perfect switch testing machine, every one of them felt great and consistent. András has made a couple of blind tests and he put Cherry and Kailh into the same group 3 times in a row and put Gateron and Greetech into another group. This doesn’t necessarily mean anything, but it might mean that the feeling of Kailh switches resemble Cherry more than other brands.

There are a couple of points to be noted about Kailh. They’re a major MX switch manufacturer with more than 2,000 employees. Their manufacturing process is highly automated which should translate to great and consistent quality across their products. Their supply chain is robust and they have plenty of stock, so they can serve their customers without significant delays. Their sales channel is responsive. Kailh also manufactures automotive parts which is encouraging, because automotive manufacturers have to comply very strict quality guidelines.

Kailh’s MX switch offering is unusually rich. They offer switches of different case colors (black and transparent), optimized for regular LEDs, RGB LEDS, and SMD LEDs, and are available with or without pins.

From the innovator’s point of view, an even more interesting fact is that Kailh is not just a copycat. They recycle a significant portion of their capital into R&D, resulting in new products like the following:

Special Kailh keyswitches

Most of these keyswitches are not MX compatible but they offer various advantages over standard MX switches, like lower form factor, improved backlighting, and such, allowing developers to create new keyboards that stand out in various areas. We consider this a good thing.

Making the decision

When googling for keyswitch comparisons, one can find tons of opinions and very few facts. Some people or communities pick a brand to glorify or berate for little or no reason. We always try to be as objective as possible, and make the best choice that will result in an exceptional keyboard.

Considering all the factors, we have decided to use Kailh switches for blue, brown, red, and black, and Cherries for clear and green.

It’s important to mention that our decisions are not primarily governed by the price. There’s little difference between the price of Cherry MX compatible switches, and if we really wanted to cheap out, the first thing we’d do is to replace the super high quality Omron SS-01D microswitches of the case buttons with a cheaper part. One SS-01D switch costs about as much as 10 MX switches but the alternatives of the SS-01D have inferior durability, so we’re not willing to use those.

2018-04-28: As it turns out, Omron microswitches are reasonably priced when purchased in bulk, but they're hard to purchase in large quantities. Our PCBA contractor suggested an alternative part, the Diptronics MS2-5PN-1D(Ag) microswitch. After examining this part, we found that it represents the same high quality as the Omron SS-01D. I wanted to clarify this before being accused of cheaping out. As a general rule of thumb, we never use alternative components unless we're sure that they're of the same high quality as the parts in our BOM.

As you can see, there are a lot of factors, such as quality, availability, and aesthetics that come into play when picking a part. We think that, given the above, Kailh is an excellent choice and we’re excited to use their keyswitches in the UHK.

Should you have any opinions, you’re always welcome to let us know.

It’s been a pleasure to talk to y’all! Let’s touch base on 2016-10-13.

2016 Aug 18

Updated delivery schedule and a bonus

By |2018-10-21T19:24:00+00:002016-08-18 15:57|demo, design, electronics, features, manufacturing, modules, prototype, tech talk|22 Comments

Another month has passed, and so it’s time for our monthly status update! This one will contain a bad bit of news, a good bit of news, and lots of news bites on our progress.

Updated delivery schedule

Over the last few months, a lot of you have been giving positive feedback on our progress and appreciated the detailed updates. According to our Crowd Supply campaign page, the goods are expected to ship at the end of September.

We’re trying our best to deliver on time, busting our ass day by day, usually even on weekends, and still, it’s quite apparent that we can’t meet this deadline even if we bend over backwards. So the delivery schedule needs to be revised:

  • The keyboard and palm rest are expected to deliver by the end of December
  • The modules are expected to deliver in April 2017

Please let us explain the reasons.

Our April delay that was caused by our previous bank (which we abandoned forever) has definitely contributed to this one, as it caused a lot of overhead, and we could only pay to our mold making contractor in a delayed manner.

Another reason is design delays. We have just finished the design of the feet and the palm rest. Getting the design right has definitely taken longer than expected and now the molds of the feet are about to be made. As a rule of thumb, we rather take the time to get the design right than to rush things and end up with a mediocre product.

We have to focus on the core keyboard first and implement the modules afterwards. So the mold of the modules will be created right after the mold of the keyboard. We will pay the extra shipping fees because of the separate shipment of the modules. That’s the least we can do.

We’re running things in parallel as aggressively as we can to hit our updated schedule. For example, a mold of our special keycaps just got ready in Taiwan, the mold of the case and the cutting tool is being created in Serbia, and our contractor for the LED display has just started to work on their mold.

We’re very sorry for this delay. We understand that you can’t wait to put the UHK under your hands and waiting sucks. We’re asking for your patience and to remedy the situation a bit we’d like to offer something, which is an…

Anodized aluminium palm rest

There are plenty of ways to make a palm rest and we have considered various designs over time. One of the candidates involved a beautiful anodized base plate milled from solid aluminium.

Of course they come in pairs. This is the left one.

Of course they come in pairs. This is the left one.

It was clear from the get go that it won’t be cheap and we were thinking about making it available as a premium product later. But now, it’s our golden opportunity to make up for the delay of the project schedule. So I’m here to announce that we will provide this anodized aluminium palm rest to those who purchase the palm rest pledge before keyboard shipment! The price for the aluminum palm rest will go up afterwards.

Now that we wrapped up the bad and the good news let’s move on to the rest.

Tented UHK prototyped

Since our latest update we got the feet 3D printed, screwed it onto the back of a prototype and shoot a picture of it.

Tented UHK prototype

Everything feels right about the feet and we’re satisfied with the overall design. The palm rest is yet to be fabricated. We’ll make sure to show it to you as soon as it gets ready.

The state of the mold

The molds of the bottom cases are complete. This is the left one.

The molds of the bottom cases

The remaining molds are also in the works, and in our true style, we’ll be posting more pictures as they get made.

Injection molded UHK keycaps

The UHK features two keycap types that are non-standard. One is a concave-shaped, 1.75U, row 4 keycap used by the Mod and Space keys, and the other is convex-shaped, 1.5U, row 1 keycap used by the backspace key.

I’m happy to let you know that recently, our keycap supplier got the molds ready for these keycaps and sent us a couple of samples:

Injection molded Mod and Backspace keycaps, take 1

Injection molded Mod and Backspace keycaps, take 2

These custom keycaps are impeccable and totally consistent with the rest, just as expected. They put a smile on our faces because custom parts like these are major milestones for the project.

The state of the modules

Not much has been said about the modules recently, so it’s time to share some information on them. We’ve actually made a couple of videos of them in action, so that you can get an idea how the modules feel and behave.

Please note that the plastic case and electronics of the modules are not ready yet. So far, the key components have been chosen so we show you the guts of the modules directly connected to the PC.

If you are curious about the exact ICs that we use inside of the UHK, or in the modules then you’re welcome to delve into our datasheets repository.

As for the number of buttons of the right-handed modules we’re not exactly sure yet but we’re aiming for two buttons per module.

Let’s see what we have!

Trackball module

The trackball module features an ADNS-3530 optical sensor which is remarkably tiny and communicates over SPI. This demo board translates SPI to USB but we’ll use a KL03P24M48SF0 microcontroller to translate SPI to I2C which is spoken by the UHK.

Trackpoint module

The trackpoint module features a sensor of an unknown part number (our supplier signed an NDA with the manufacturer so we don’t know) but it’s remarkably similar to the now defunct SK8702 trackpoint module which features the SK7102 controller. Our supplier only provided an incomplete datasheet to us, which is not a major problem because the module speaks PS/2.

We’ll use the FlexIO capability of the KL03P24M48SF0 microcontroller to implement a protocol translator which will translate from PS/2 to the I2C protocol of the UHK.

Touchpad module

This is an Azoteq ProxSense TPS43 touchpad driven by the Azoteq IQS572 capacitive controller. The touchpad is connected via the Azoteq CT 210 configuration tool to the PC.

Being an I2C device, the controller will directly connect to the UHK. We’ll have to design a custom-sized touchpad, however, featuring the IQS572. Luckily, Azoteq provided a design guide for that.

It’s not a coincidence that I mentioned the name of Azoteq a fair number of times above. Back in the day I blogged that we’re looking for a suitable part, then they contacted to us and provided the most awesome support ever!

Key cluster module

The key cluster module features a couple of keys and buttons which are simple to scan by the microcontroller. The tiny trackball is a Blackberry trackball which uses hall effect sensor along the 4 axis. We haven’t yet hooked up the Blackberry trackball to control the mouse pointer but you can find plenty of videos on YouTube of its various applications. I recommend watching Sparkfun’s video of their trackballer breakout board which explains it in detail.

Introducing our firmware developer

A while ago, we reached out to you looking for a firmware developer. We’ve gotten quite a few excellent applications and please let me take the opportunity to thank every one of the applicants for contacting us.

Without further ado, let me introduce you our firmware developer, Santiago González Fabián from the sunny city of Madrid.

Santiago González Fabián

My name is Santiago González and I've been playing with electronics and computers since I can remember, but I discovered the amazing world of embedded systems in the Electronics Engineering Bachelor where I felt in love with 8051 and ASM code.
I've programmed 8 bit and 32 bit MCUs in C and Assembly mainly, and my focus the last 4 years has been the Cortex M world, working at Freescale and NXP as Field Application Engineer trying to solve all kind of issues with Embedded Systems all over Spain, from Automotive to Industrial equipments, from 8 Kb Flash devices toggling LEDs to 2 MB Cortex M7 doing Ethernet, Motor Control and RTOS scheduling at the same time.

Embedded systems are my job and my hobby (Although I also climb mountains in the weekend) so in my free time I look for new challenges in several places (Stack Exchange, HackADay, Electronic Forums…) and that's how I met László and UHK, in my weekly check of NXP Community. After having a look into the project and the open source philosophy behind it, I decided I would love to help if possible. Now the UHK PCBs have arrived to Spain, so I can begin the Bootloaders development :). I cannot wait to start coding!

The new prototype sitting on Santiago’s desk

The new prototype sitting on Santiago’s desk

Since first getting in touch with Santiago, I’ve exchanged almost a hundred emails with him about deep technical stuff. It’s apparent to me that he’s highly knowledgeable, a truly excellent communicator, and his enthusiasm clearly shows. We couldn’t ever wish for more than that.

The bootloaders of the UHK are a lot more complex than those of regular keyboards (not that most keyboards have a single bootloader to begin with). This is because our design is highly modular, composed of separate keyboard halves and modules, each running separate firmware images. So naturally, we want to enable you to upgrade the firmware of every module over USB with a click of a button.

The idea is that the right keyboard half will run the master bootloader that will directly upgrade the application firmware from the PC. The left keyboard half and the modules will run the slave bootloader which will connect over I2C to the master bootloader, which will in turn relay the firmware image from the host computer over USB.

KBOOT 2 already supports the above scenario, but a fair amount of customization has to be done by somebody who really knows what he’s doing.

Apart from implementing the bootloaders, Santiago will be working on parts of the firmware that require deep knowledge of the Kinetis platform, like the FlexIO based PS2 to I2C protocol translator of the trackball, and such.

Still reading? Then pat yourself on the back because you deserve it! Talk to you on 2016-09-15.