electronics

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 May 23

Module schematic and BOM finalized

By |2020-05-23T17:58:20+00:002020-05-23 15:06 CEST|electronics, manufacturing, modules, news, prototype, tech talk|20 Comments

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

TL;DR: The schematics and BOMs of the module PCBs and FPCs (Flexible Printed Circuits) have been finalized. Every part has been ordered for the modules.

Our contractor keeps making progress with the key cluster mold. This is how it looks:

As for the right-side modules, András has been refining their mechanical design, and I’ve been tweaking their PCBs accordingly. These are some of the boards I’ve redesigned recently:

I consider the schematics and BOMs of each PCB and FPC to be fully finalized. András and I will meet over the next week and check how well the new 3D printed module cases fit with the new PCBs. Chances are high that everything will fit well, at which point the machining of the right-side module molds will begin.

I recently visited our EMC tester, TÜV, and we put the modules into the test chamber. The modules did not affect the measurements, which is exactly what I expected based on their small power consumption and small size. Given these results, the modules should pass the EMC tests with flying colors.

We’ve ordered every part of the modules from our suppliers. No parts shortages or delays are expected.

These days are unusually eventful due to the modules, hence this fabulously late monthly update. I’ll do my best to keep you up to date in a timely manner going forward, but I’ll keep prioritizing module development and production over the monthly updates for everyone’s sake.

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 2020-06-16.

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!

We’ll be keeping you updated on all things UHK, and are looking forward to talking to you on 2020-01-10.

2019 Oct 11

New Agent release and module progress

By |2019-10-11T19:50:10+00:002019-10-11 19:10 CEST|agent, demo, electronics, features, modules, news, prototype, tech talk|6 Comments

Hi there, and welcome to our monthly status update!

TL;DR: We’ve released a new Agent version after a long time without changes. We’ve made a functional key cluster module, and made progress with the trackpoint module.

New Agent release

It’s been a whopping ten months since we released the latest Agent version. We’ve actually been working on Agent since the latest release quite consistently, but weren’t able to publish a release due to the lack of a valid Windows Authenticode certificate. Long story short, we finally have a certificate, and recently released new Agent versions.

Feel free to check out the changelog on the GitHub Agent releases page. We’ve mostly fixed and polished a number of issues. A particularly useful feature is a dedicated Mac pointer speed preset which you should try out if the UHK mouse pointer movement feels slow on your Mac.

We’ve also implemented the fanciest UHK feature to this day: Agent shows whether the UHK is split or merged, and displays whether the left half is connected. Obligatory demo follows:

(UHKs are not backlit yet. We'll release a backlight upgrade kit at some point, and future UHK hardware versions will be backlit.)

Admittedly, this feature is pretty useless in itself, but it’ll actually be useful in the future. The same mechanism will be used to show the modules. Imagine connecting your modules, seeing them show up, and be able to configure them with a click of a button. And talking about modules…

Functional key cluster module

After a fair deal of prototyping, the key cluster module actually works. Again, obligatory demo follows:

You probably noticed the little thingie at the bottom of the key cluster module.

As you can see, it’s an FFC cable. Our current FFC cable manufacturer couldn’t make a cable of merely 13 mm length, so we used a much longer off-the-shelf cable for the time being. I actually doubt whether an FFC cable of such short length can be made, but an FPC (flexible printed circuit) can surely be made. But we’ll probably end up using a rigid-flex board as the best solution.

Apart from the above slight change, there’s another issue. I noticed that the responsiveness of the trackball is lacking compared to the previous prototype. The new, smaller hall-effect sensors are probably not sufficiently sensitive to pick up all the magnetic state changes of the mini trackball.

I wired the old mini trackball breakout board to the key cluster trackball board to be able to test it with the key cluster module, and the change in responsiveness was immediately apparent. The right board is super responsive, and the left one skips the beat very often, especially when moving it quickly.

I think we’ll revert to the previous hall-effect sensor, and try to pack them tighter to be able to fit them on the board.

Trackpoint module

We’ve made progress regarding the interconnection of the top and bottom trackpoint boards. There isn’t enough space for an FFC connector on the top trackpoint board which contains the actual trackball sensor, so the cable needs to be directly soldered to it. I designed an FPC for this purpose, and we plan to use hot bar soldering to affix it to the top board.

I used a soldering iron for prototyping purposes. So far, so good!

This module should work well, and I’m excited to write firmware for it, and for the rest of the modules.

UHK unboxing video

ShopzadaPH has made an awesome unboxing video of the UHK which you’re welcome to watch:

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 2019-11-11.

2019 Sep 10

Module PCBs assembled

By |2019-09-10T21:30:03+00:002019-09-10 20:31 CEST|electronics, modules, news, prototype, tech talk|0 Comments

Hi there, and welcome to our monthly status update!

First things first, we’ve finally delivered every UHK, including the ones with non-black cases! If you want to order a UHK, possibly with a non-black case, now’s the time. New orders ship in a week.

As for the modules, we keep making progress. Each of the module PCBs has been assembled since our last update.

Key cluster

The main key cluster PCB didn’t create any unexpected surprises.

His little brother, the key cluster trackball PCB, however, has proven to be more difficult.

The surface area of this board is merely 1 square centimeter or 0.15 square inch. This is not a whole lot of room for a dozen components, and we can’t make it larger due to the lack of space.

The PCB fab kept rejecting this board because the components were too close to the edges. The only solution was to use smaller magnetic sensor (which detect the rotation of the mini trackball). 

We ended up using a sensor with the HVSOF5 footprint, which is ridiculously small compared to the other components we use. I’m waiting for this part, and it’ll be quite an exercise to solder it. But I’m ready for the challenge, and so is my new microscope.

Trackball

The trackball board came out pretty nicely. It’s also completely useless, unfortunately.

While soldering the parts, I realized that the pinout of the ADNS-3530 optical sensors is backwards. The datasheet features the “top side” of the component, but as far as we’re concerned that’s the bottom side. Unlike trackballs, regular mice probably use this component in a reverse-mounted fashion, hence the misunderstanding.

Istvan has redesigned this board, and it’ll be fabbed soon.

Trackpoint

There’s not much to say about the trackpoint PCB. I haven’t found any issues yet. I think it’ll work well once I write firmware for it.

Touchpad

The touchpad PCB has turned out pretty well, too.

This board is hardly our final iteration though. Azoteq, the manufacturer of the IQS572 touch sensor IC that we use, reached out to us and offered to review our design.

They made suggestions on how to improve the ESD immunity of the design, but perhaps even more importantly, they suggested to use a finer pitched sensor matrix to improve the resolution and increase the sensing area of the touchpad.

We plan to implement their suggestions, and then we’ll send some samples to them for further review. The sensor IC is very sophisticated and has a myriad of configuration parameters, so having it tweaked by Azoteq will be extremely helpful. Azoteq provides the best support I’ve witnessed so far, and I’m very impressed by them.

As previously mentioned, we don’t have an ETA on the modules yet. We keep making progress, and we’ll announce the ETA when the time comes.

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 2019-10-10.

2019 Aug 13

Module PCBs are ready

By |2019-08-13T20:40:32+00:002019-08-13 20:40 CEST|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.