firmware

2020 Feb 19

Every module prototype is functional

By |2020-02-19T18:14:42+00:002020-02-19 18:14|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 Jan 10

The trackball module is fully functional

By |2020-01-10T21:58:03+00:002020-01-10 21:49|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|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 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 Oct 12

UHK at Mechanicon, and fixing the freeze bug

By |2019-01-08T22:05:08+00:002018-10-12 21:56|firmware, modules, news|4 Comments

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

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

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

Mechanicon

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

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

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

Progress on the freeze bug

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

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

Brett’s review

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

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

Max’s new keycap set

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

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

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

Module ETA

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

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

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

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

Given the above, I decided to not lay out an ETA for modules right now, only later when we'll be sufficiently close to their production. I’m confident that we’ll make tremendous progress with them as soon as things settle down, and I welcome you to join to our journey of making the modules by following us via our blog or newsletter.

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