news

2019 Nov 11

Key cluster and trackball module progress

By |2019-11-11T21:30:08+00:002019-11-11 20:11|demo, modules, news, prototype, tech talk|2 Comments

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

TL;DR: The key cluster module is now fully functional, and the trackball module is partially functional. Some awesome UHK reviews have been released.

Key cluster and trackball module progress

In our previous update, we shared a video about the latest key cluster module prototype. It worked reasonably well, but the responsiveness of its mini trackball left a lot to be desired. I'm happy to report that we've fixed this issue as you can see in the following video.

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

As it turned out, the mini trackball only works well with bipolar hall-effect sensors, and now that we're using the right kind of sensor, it picks up every tiny movement just as expected. I'm very pleased with the usability and responsivity of the mini trackball, and it feels like a great tool for scrolling in all directions.

As for the trackball module, I assembled the new PCB and gave it a try. As seen in the above video, the buttons work as expected. I haven't yet implemented the most important part, which is the communication with the optical sensor IC – this will be my next task.

I'd like to make every module prototype work by the end of the year. The key cluster module already works well. The electronics of the trackball and trackpoint modules seem fine so far, and I have yet to write firmware for them, so they should be in close reach. The touchpad PCB is expected to be redesigned soon according to Azoteq's instructions, so it may take a bit more time.

Following the prototyping phase of the modules, mass production will take additional time. We don't have a solid ETA on the modules yet, and we'll be keeping you updated.

UHK reviews

Minimalistik is a powerhouse when it comes to keyboard reviews, and he's just made a UHK review. I believe he's captured the essence of the UHK very well.

The Techne has also reviewed the UHK in his contagiously enthusiastic style which I particularly enjoy.

As an internationally known strength coach/personal trainer, Bernd Stößlein is not our typical customer, which is exactly what makes his UHK review so interesting.

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 2019-12-10.

2019 Oct 11

New Agent release and module progress

By |2019-10-11T19:50:10+00:002019-10-11 19:10|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|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|design, electronics, features, modules, news, prototype, tech talk|4 Comments

Hi there, and welcome to our monthly status update!

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

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

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

Trackball

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

Trackpoint

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

Touchpad

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

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

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

Your feedback

You guys keep sending your awesome tweets, and we're always eager to read and feature them! If you got your UHK, please share your love!

We'll be keeping you updated on all things UHK, and are looking forward to talking to you on 2019-09-10.

2019 Jul 10

Module prototypes galore

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

Hi there, and welcome to our monthly status update!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your feedback

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

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

2019 Jun 13

Key cluster and trackpoint module progress

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

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

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

Production status

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

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

Module progress

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your feedback

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

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

2019 May 16

New orders ship in a week

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

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

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

Production status

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

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

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

DIY UHK carrying cases

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

Creating digital art with the UHK

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

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

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

Key cluster module progress

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

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

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

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

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

Your feedback

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

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

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 Mar 14

Coming up to on-demand manufacturing

By |2019-03-14T21:10:18+00:002019-03-14 21:00|manufacturing, news|7 Comments

TL;DR: We've been making steady progress with manufacturing, and we're about to switch into high gear. We expect to deliver every non-module pre-order by the end of March or the beginning of April. Afterwards, we'll transition to on-demand manufacturing.

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

Manufacturing progress

On February 27, we finally received the product boxes which were necessary to resume production, and we've shipped mini batches 55, 56, 57, and 58 since then.

Production has been mostly uninterrupted, except for a small shortage of foam parts that reside in the product boxes and protect your UHKs extremely well from any damage on the way. Luckily, we received plenty of foam parts today.

With the above issues out of the way, we expect to deliver every non-module pre-order by the end of March or the beginning of April, at which point we'll transition to on-demand manufacturing.

On-demand manufacturing means that we'll assemble orders as they come in. This translates to about a 0 to 5 working day delay from order to shipping depending on the actual demand.

Our current focus

Right now, our primary focus is to deliver every non-module pre-order, and streamline our operation. András is busy with the former, and I'm busy with the latter.

Improving our backend systems will allow us to devote the smallest amount of time possible to operational issues, and focus on R&D in general, and specifically the modules. So even though it's not directly related to development, it will accelerate development, which is a prospect I'm really excited about.

Your feedback

Jez Cope, an awesome backer of ours has written a short review about his UHK, and so has Melinda Wyers on her blog. Thanks so much, Jez and Melinda!

The Twitterverse was eventful as usual featuring the following tweets:

We'll be keeping you updated on all things UHK, and we're looking forward to talking to you on 2019-04-18.

2019 Feb 14

Shipping is about to resume

By |2019-07-19T09:06:01+00:002019-02-14 21:14|agent, manufacturing, news, tech talk|0 Comments

TL;DR: Delivery temporarily stopped due to the shortage of packaging material which should resume around February 20. We expect to ship every non-module preorder by the end of March. Regarding the ETA of your order, please check out the delivery status page, including its FAQ section.

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

Manufacturing progress

Since our previous monthly update, we've built plenty of UHKs, but we couldn't ship most of them due to a temporary shortage of packaging boxes.

It's taken more time for the printing factory to get up to speed after new year, and they expect to deliver the packaging boxes to us on February 20. We'll make quick progress once the boxes arrive, and expect to deliver every non-module preorder by the end of March.

We didn't simply ask for another batch of packaging material to be honest. We redesigned the boxes because they weren't sufficiently robust. The new boxes are not only fancy, but more robust (and more expensive).

I added a news section to the top of the delivery status page which you're welcome to check any time. This way, you can keep informed about delivery status the easiest way possible.

DeveloperWeek cancelled

In our previous monthly update, we told you that the we'll exhibit at DeveloperWeek in the Bay Area on February 21-22. Unfortunately, we won't be able to make it.

The reason is that our marketing contractor, Nikolai Lebedovsky of Crowdtoolz was fired because I found his work ethics to be poor. Without him, we can't staff our booth, so I ended up cancelling the event.

With the event cancelled, we won't be able to give away the free passes offered in our previous monthly update. I'm sorry about this, but now that we have cancelled the event, we can't do anything. I'll email all of you who asked for free passes shortly after publishing this update.

As far as the project is considered, I think not attending to DeveloperWeek is actually a good thing. We should fully focus on the delivery of preorders at this point. We'll have plenty of time to do expos later.

Module progress

Robi has implemented the kboot bootloader protocol natively in Agent. Previously, Agent used the external blhost command line utility which was unreliable. This will make firmware updates more reliable which is very important because the modules will require a new firmware version flashed to your UHKs. We have yet to release a new Agent version that contains this improvement.

In the meantime, András advanced the mechanical design of the key cluster module, so it's closer to the final design to be mass produced.

As stated in earlier updates, we can't fully focus on the modules yet. Only after shipping every non-module preorder and transitioning to on-demand manufacturing will be able to make heavier progress regarding the modules.

Your feedback

Mikko Ahlroth wrote a very nice UHK review on his blog. I love reviews like his which go into details and capture many facets of the UHK.

In the meantime, Brett Terpstra has been exploring the wonderful world of custom keycap sets. He pimped up his UHK, and wrote a blog post titled The addictive hobby of customizing mechanical keyboards.

We'll be keeping you updated on all things UHK, and we're looking forward to talking to you on 2019-03-14.