modules

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|2 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.

2019 Apr 18

Catching up with pre-orders

By |2019-04-18T23:49:46+00:002019-04-18 21:01|manufacturing, modules, news|0 Comments

TL;DR: We've been making rapid progress with manufacturing. We've shipped six mini batches since our last monthly update, two additional mini batches are assembled and we will ship them next week. Afterwards, only three mini batches remain to be shipped, and we'll be caught up.

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

Manufacturing progress

Since our last monthly update, we've shipped mini batches 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, and 64, which is decent, but not as many as we had expected.

Mini batches 65 and 66 (the latter is not displayed on the delivery status page yet) are already assembled, but we're waiting for palm rests. Our palm rest supplier is behind schedule, and is expected to ship enough palm rests next week to complete these mini batches. (We ship individual packages as quickly as we can, so no need to email about this, folks.)

Afterwards, we'll only have to assemble about three mini batches. Should the Keyboard Gods show their support, we'll catch up then.

That is, excluding orders which contain non-black cases. Those may take a bit more time. Which brings us to the…

Non-black case shortage

Due to a temporary shortage of non-black cases including non-black UHKs and non-black extra UHK cases, orders including such items are delayed until non-black cases roll into our factory. We emailed the affected customers, and offered them the option to switch to black cases to expedite shipping. So the opportunity is there. If you want to switch to black cases, just let us know along with your order id.

This shortage is expected to be resolved in about a month, and we don't expect that a similar shortage will happen again. We ordered literally tons of colored plastic pellets, so we may not run out for years.

Module progress

András has refined the mechanical design of the key cluster module and ordered a 3D printed version of it which has yet to arrive. Then we'll evaluate the robustness of the new design. Based on the CAD models, the design looks good. We shall see soon.

The mechanical design of the right-sided modules is being finalized, too. Some details are still unclear, but András made major progress recently, and we'll get them 3D printed, too. The bottom part of these modules look very similar, and we want to have a shared bottom part for them in order to minimize tooling costs and increase reliability.

The design of the modules is rapidly shaping up, and I'll have to develop the key cluster firmware soon.

Your feedback

Twitter was noisy, which has become usual when we ship a decent number of orders. Thanks everyone for sharing your nice tweets, and please keep them coming!

We'll be keeping you updated on all things UHK, and we're looking forward to talking to you on 2019-05-16.

2019 Jan 17

Churning out UHK webshop preorders

By |2019-06-29T19:53:34+00:002019-01-17 19:55|manufacturing, modules, news|7 Comments

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

Manufacturing progress

Since our most recent monthly update, we have shipped mini batch 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, and 55. As stated in our previous update, we had already shipped every Crowd Supply non-module pre-order, so all of the above orders were made in our own webshop which is a huge step forward.

We knew that transitioning from Crowd Supply orders to UHK webshop orders wouldn't be easy, and in reality, it's been way harder than anticipated. Compared to the fulfillment of Crowd Supply orders, the big change is that we don't just ship to the EU anymore (we used to ship to non-EU countries via Crowd Supply), but worldwide ourselves, and we have to generate invoices upon shipping.

We learned a lot. For example, we learned that DHL, UPS, and FedEx are unwilling to ship to Russian individuals, but fortunately EMS is willing to take the job. We learned that the City field is not mandatory for Singapore which makes the DHL API unhappy. We learned that ZIP codes are not mandatory in Vietnam which made our invoicing system not create invoices. We learned that we have to validate order data upon checkout to avoid contacting some customers when trying to create waybills.

The above is a short glimpse of the issues we've been encountering. I've been tweaking our fulfillment system since our previous update, even during holidays, and András has been taking more than his fair share of these issues. We have now dealt with enough international packages that I can finally see the matrix, and I know what needs to be done to streamline our international fulfillment operation. When done properly, and it will be done properly, it'll end up being a highly streamlined, and low overhead operation, but until that point, it kind of feels like we're walking in mud.

Estimated delivery dates

TL;DR: If you order now, your UHK order is expected to be delivered by the end of February (barring modules, of course).

Right now, we're held back by a temporary shortage of various components, including product boxes and plastic cases. We could foresee this shortage, and did our best to mitigate it, but companies were closed during holidays which slowed our progress.

If everything goes according our plans, this shortage will be resolved in two weeks, at which point production will get back to normal. We're doing our best to deliver every one of your orders as soon as possible.

Module progress

We've had a get-together with our injection molding supplier and his mold designer specialist to finalize the mechanical design of the modules and optimize them for mass production.

Each module has its own set of challenges. Some are complicated from an electronics standpoint, others from a mechanical standpoint, and there's also a significant difference in the firmware complexity of the individual modules.

We agreed that we will start with the key cluster module. The main reason is that its shape completely differs from every other module, so no parts of its mold can be reused for other modules. It's also the most complicated module mechanically.

We had a fruitful discussion, and now we have a much better idea how to optimize the design of the key cluster module for mass production. The most challenging aspect of the key cluster module is its tiny trackball, and the compact design of the module in general, but all in all, it's doable.

Please note that the aforementioned mud regarding international fulfillment is clearly not helping us accomplish heavy R&D on the modules, so right now we're primarily focused on streamlining our fulfillment operation and transitioning to on-demand manufacturing. Once that's done, the modules will get our full attention.

DeveloperWeek

We'll exhibit at DeveloperWeek in the Bay Area on February 21-22, and you're welcome to visit us! We happen to have 3 x EXPO PLUS passes ($795 value each) and 25 OPEN passes ($295 value each) to give away. Speakers at the DevWeek include:

  • Cal Henderson, Slack CTO and Co-Founder
  • Renaud Visage, Eventbrite Technical Co-Founder
  • Chet Haase, Google Lead, Android Toolkit

And many more… Check out the full schedule!

Want to get one of these passes? Please retweet this tweet. We will draw the winners on January 29th.

UHK reviews

If you're into keyboards, the name of Xah Lee probably sounds familiar. He's a hardcore keyboard geek who's seen it all, and he recently reviewed the UHK.

According to his verdict:

  • "This is one of the best ergonomic keyboard on the market. I'd say, among top 3."
  • "Among compact keyboards, this one is the best, period."
  • "The programing capabilities of this keyboard is the best out there. The software, is also best on the market, bar none"
  • "The keyboard is highest quality built."

The UHK was also reviewed by Frank Müller of Euronics. According to the article, Frank has a high opinion about the UHK, especially its configurability.

Your feedback

We'll be keeping you updated on all things UHK, and we're looking forward to talking to you on 2019-02-14.

2018 Nov 16

Wrapping up Crowd Supply orders

By |2018-11-16T20:55:23+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.

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.

2018 Jun 14

Production and module progress

By |2018-10-23T19:59:20+00:002018-06-14 16:58|modules, news, prototype, tech talk|8 Comments

Important: Please make sure that your shipping address is up to date! You can change it on your Crowd Supply account page. Please also check out the delivery status page.

Hi there, and welcome to our monthly status update!

TL;DR: Since our last update, we've sent out mini batches 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9. This is the highest volume we've produced so far, but not as high as we ultimately aim for. We've fallen behind with pre-assembly due to the aforementioned staffing issues, but we're catching up, and the ramp up is still underway. The development of the modules is in progress.

First up, let us share a beautiful and very original picture that we love very much. It's made by Yukio Miyamoto. He is a masterful illustrator who also happens to be an awesome backer of ours.

Your recent feedback

The feedback you keep giving to us continue to be amazing.

The following is an interesting one. Did you know that when armed with a USB OTG cable, you can connect your UHK to your Android phone, and you can probably also control the mouse pointer? (Recent Android kernels tend to support USB mice.)

Lastly, this one made us laugh out loud:

Please keep them coming! We're excited to hear about y'all.

Module progress

Production does keep us busy, and we can't yet devote as much time for development as we'd like to, but we've made some progress with the modules.

The following is sitting on my desk, and it might just be the weirdest keyboard ever.

But most importantly, this Frankenstein keyboard is a proof of concept! This is 1 UHK right half and 3 left halves interconnected. The top left half simulates a left module, and the top right half (which is a left UHK half) simulates a right module.

The keyboard halves and modules communicate via the main I2C bus of the UHK. The right UHK half is the I2C master which initiates all communication on the bus. The rest of the devices are I2C slaves. From the standpoint of the firmware, there is no difference between the left keyboard half and the modules.

I basically dremeled a protoboard to size, and created a passive 4 port 4P4C hub out of it to interconnect the pieces. Then I added test keymaps for the modules, and reflashed the firmwares of the left module and the right module, so that their I2C addresses don't clash with the I2C address of the left UHK half.

This proof of concept works as intended, and now I can type on all the 4 keyboard halves, making me seem like I overcompensate for something.

As you can imagine, this is the first step of many to follow. Next up, I will extract the part of the firmware that will be shared across the modules and the left half, and then create separate firmware projects for the modules, utilizing the extracted code.

Then I'll attach the peripherials specific to the individual modules to these development UHK left halves, and write firmware code to drive them.

In the meantime, András will finalize the plastic cases and mechanical design of the modules, so that they'll be optimized for manufacturing. This will, in turn, enable me to design the custom PCBs of the modules.

In a way, developing the modules is like developing additional products – 4 products to be exact, and even though we've gained a lot of experience, realistically speaking, there's no way the modules will be ready by the end of August as originally planned.

Given the above, we're changing the estimated delivery date of the modules to the end of December which should be more realistic. None of us are happy with delays, but we'd much rather take our time than compromise the quality of the product even the slightest bit. According to your feedback, it's the right thing to do.

Thank you for reading this update! As always, we'll be keeping you updated on all things UHK, and we're looking forward to talking with you on 2018-07-12.

2018 Jan 19

Pilot run success and what's next

By |2018-10-23T19:49:06+00:002018-01-19 02:36|agent, manufacturing, modules, news, tech talk|23 Comments

Hi there, and welcome to our monthly status update!

TL;DR: The first 50 UHKs and palm rests of the pilot run were delivered, and according to the feedback we received it was a huge success! The recipients of the pilot run gave us a ton of feedback, so we'll go over the issues they encountered, and tell you how we'll fix them in upcoming batches. We're raising the price of the palm rest to $55, and we'll raise the rest of the items by 10% soon. We plan to deliver the remaining 1,950 UHKs of the first batch from February to April. We're putting an increasingly heavy emphasis on finalizing and manufacturing the modules.

The Pilot Run Was a Huge Success

It's one thing to design a product, and another to ship it to all over the world. András and I poured our hearts and souls into this project, we obsessed about the smallest of details, and even though we were definitely hoping for the best, we couldn't know for sure how much you'd like the end product, so it's safe to say that we were excited.

I'm happy to say that the feedback we received from the recipients of the pilot run was absolutely fantastic! You praised the overall build quality, the nice packaging, the onboarding experience, and the ease of use of Agent among other things.

Let me feature a couple of your tweets:

Thanks so much for the posts, everyone! Your enthusiasm and support have been overwhelming!

Pilot Run Issues

Despite its success, the pilot run wasn't without issues. In the spirit of transparency, we'll go through all of the issues you encountered.

Smashed Boxes

There are two small boxes within the main UHK box which got smashed on four occasions out of the fifty pilot run units. We believe that some of these occurrences went unreported, and there may be more. This is what a smashed box looks like:

We spent a ton of time and a fortune on packaging, so this is a big deal. Even worse, on one occasion, even the case of a keyboard snapped apart. Luckily, the owner managed to snap it back with a bit of pressure, but this doesn't make the issue any more acceptable.

According to the reports we received, only USPS-shipped UHKs were affected. We're not sure whether it was due to the holiday madness, or if it's a general issue, but we reinforced the boxes, which will hopefully resolve this issue in the long run.

Sharp USB Cable Recess

There are two recesses in the case which hold the USB cable and they're way too sharp and chew up the USB cable quickly.

The mold has already been modified, so the edges should be smooth going forward. A backer reported that he easily managed to sand down the sharp edge, resolving the issue in no time. If you're affected, you might want to do the same, but if you want a replacement case, please just let us know.

Loosely Connected LED Display

Some of you reported strange artifacts appearing on your LED display, which is a sure sign of a loose FFC cable.

The FFC cable connects the display with the left main board. Apparently, we could have done a better job connecting them during the assembly process. As a result, the cables of two UHKs got loose during shipping. We'll try our best to more thoroughly assemble future batches.

This issue called for our first ever repair guide. We have already emphasized the importance of repair before, and this was the golden opportunity to follow our words up with action. Both affected backers were able to fix the issue using the guide and they even contributed to it. Thanks so much!

Just to get things straight, we don't expect anybody to repair his/her UHK, but the opportunity is there, and we encourage repair in general. It's certainly much faster than sending it back and forth to the other side of the world, and especially useful after the warranty period is over.

Feet Molding Issues

On two occasions, visible artifacts were noticeable on some feet.

This is clearly an injection molding issue. We'll do heavier QA in this respect.

Software and Firmware Issues

A number of issues have been reported recently in the firmware and agent repos. The vast majority of these issues are not critical, but they affect usability in one way or another.

Understandably, we've been mostly busy with the critical issues. The most critical was a firmware issue that made the UHK freeze after a while. This was really annoying because it was super hard to find the root cause of it. Luckily, it looks like we've been able to resolve this, and it shouldn't affect more people.

There was another critical issue in which the left keyboard half got bricked during the firmware update process. I've made the update process more robust, and improved the update script, which unbricked the unit. This script feature will be integrated into Agent soon. The UHK should very rarely get bricked, and when it happens it should always be unbrickable.

Going forward, we'll be addressing all of the issues of the agent and firmware repos, but there's a lot on our plate nowadays, so some may take a while. We're doing our best.

All Hail Our Contributors

Mikko Lakomaa, an early contributor of ours, switched into high gear after receiving his UHK, and implemented two much-welcomed issues. Thanks to the fruits of his labor, now we can adjust mouse speed and LED brightness via Agent.

Thanks so much for your contributions, Mikko! It's nice to see Agent improving so rapidly.

Price Increases

Effective immediately, we're raising the price of the palm rest to $55, and we'll raise the rest of the items by 10% soon. Let me explain why.

When we originally envisioned the UHK palm rest, its design wasn't finalized, and we weren't sure about the materials and technologies we'd ultimately use to craft it. We were also unfamiliar with the costs involved. As the design progressed, we were consistently moving toward an increasingly high-end, premium product which inevitably added to its cost, so much so that up until this point we haven't had any profit on the palm rests when selling them for $30.

For what the palm rest is worth, $55 is still a bargain considering the market prices. If you search for "wooden wrist rest", $40 is a usual price tag, but those palm rests are made of one wood piece, not two pieces, don't feature powder coated black plates, and their geometry is less ergonomical (simpler, thus cheaper to machine) than the UHK palm rest.

Eventually, we'll further raise the price of the current wooden UHK palm rest to about $80 which is a reasonable market price, but before doing so, we plan to offer a less premium, and more affordable palm rest in addition to the current wooden palm rest.

We'll also soon raise the price of the other items by about 10%, including the UHK, extra keycap sets, extra cases, and the modules. This is justified by the heavy weakening of the US dollar during 2017. We pay our suppliers primarily in Hungarian forint, so this very much affects us. 10% is actually less than the weakening of the dollar which is about 15%, so we're trying to not raise prices too heavily.

Nobody likes price increases, but we'd much rather take this route than sacrificing quality, or allocating less funding for R&D. We hope you understand and resonate with our mindset.

Expected Delivery and What's Next

Going forward, our most immediate goal is to deliver the remaining 1,950 UHKs and accessories (everything but the modules) of the first batch. We expect to deliver these items from February to April, and then the second batch will closely follow.

Our assembly operation is admittedly micro-scale compared to the assembly lines of China. As we previously stated, instead of hiring a Chinese OEM for assembly, we opted to set up our own assembly line in Hungary and operate it in the long term. This has numerous benefits, like rigorous QA and direct control, but the downside is that the throughput of this line is rather low.

It wouldn't make sense to massively scale up production because the accumulated preorders translate to a huge peak regarding assembly. It'll considerably settle down after delivering the pre-orders, so hiring a bunch of people only to fire them soon afterwards doesn't seem like a good idea.

We plan to keep assembly going continuously, and ship so-called mini batches on a weekly basis. We'll remind you in a future update to change your shipping address before orders start going out, but please do check/change your current address by going to your Crowd Supply account.

As for the modules, fear not, we didn't forget about them. We'll be allocating more and more resources to finalize and manufacture them. András has been working on them recently, and this is the latest, and probably final design of the trackball module.

I think András did a great job designing this module. I cannot wait to see it work and give it a whirl (pun clearly intended).

Thank you for reading this update! We hope you enjoyed it, and we're excited to talk to you on 2018-02-15.

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!