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How to build your own keyboard, or as I like to call it, spending way too much money on a computer peripheral you could get for like ten bucks. Hearken back to the old days, though, a true aficionado knows the glory of a loud, heavy, indestructible keyboard, like the IBM Model M, which has a cult following to this day. I was surprised to find out that there is a small but thriving community of manufacturers and hobbyists making mechanical keyboards, keycaps, switches, firmware, and all. You can design and assemble the entire keyboard yourself, and it can be fully customizable, with the firmware running on a Teensy 2.0 microcontroller.

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I’d like to thank matt3o, who wrote the guides I followed to build this keyboard, and helped with a few issues in my design. His guides are linked below [0]. I’ll probably refer to them a lot, as my keyboard is pretty much a stright run through his guides, though with a different layout and a (what seems to be) novel and much faster way to solder the diode grid to all the switches. I also added a nifty transistor switched LED strip to illuminate through the acrylic layers on the case. I hope this guide can convince anyone interested in custom keyboarding to take the plunge and build their own!

Pictured above are the three keyboards I made. The first one, with the unlabelled keycaps, I considered purely a prototype, but it turned out perfectly functional. It’s made out of clear acrylic and some wood middle layers. The goal was to just test out my layout, CAD design, LED strip, minimize costs, and develop firmware before dropping the huge moneybomb on aluminum/wood cases. What I like to refer to as the ‘executive’ version is made of of waterjet cut 6061 Aluminum 0.06″ sheet, laser cut 0.15″ Poplar wood, and 0.062″ clear acrylic. The switches are all handwired with bare pre-tinned 28 AWG wire and heatshrink on the columns to prevent shorts. The keyboard with the NERV key is a work in progress and is basically the same as the DSA dolch keyset, but with different keycaps and a teensy++ microcontroller.

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On to the tutorial! I’m going to break it up into multiple posts since it is a fairly long process. Here are the categories:

1. Case design and manufacture
2. Switches and keycaps and stablizers
3. Assembly and soldering
4. Firmware, LED strip, and transistor

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[Part 1 – Case Design and Manufacture]
This part was the biggest learning curve for me to deal with, but thankfully there are a few tools made by members of the keyboarding community that takes a lot of the tedious gruntwork out of the situation.

You’ll first want to check out www.keyboard-layout-editor.com [1]. I highly recommend sticking with a straight ANSI layout pictured below, which is the standard you will find on most stock keyboards. My custom layout is similar to an ANSI 60% layout, but I added a column and scrunched in the arrow keys at the bottom right. I like it a lot, but buying keycaps is a pain, you’ll have to use a blank layout or pay too much for a special modifier pack to get the correctly sized right shift key and function keys. I designed it to fit a stock DSA Dolch kit from Signature Plastics. I’ll comment more on choosing keycaps in the next section, for now keep in mind that, when planning your layout, you are going to have to later spend money on the keycaps.

 

 

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The nice part about keyboard-layout-editor.com is that you can export your layout as text in the Raw data tab. Cut and paste my layout below if you want to follow along. It will also come in handy with the next tool, which can do the majority of the CAD design for you. You can import your design from keyboard-layout-editor and http://builder.swillkb.com/ will make a CAD file for you [2]! That’s easily 90% of the work done right there! It’s an ongoing project, so you’ll want to open the output files in CAD and make any changes or modifications you want. Here’s the code for my keyboard layout, pictured below:

[{c:”#f16f3b”,a:7},”ESC”,{c:”#909596″,f:6},”1\n1″,”2″,”3″,”4″,”5″,”6″,”7″,”8″,”9″,”0″,{a:4,f:3},”-\n_”,”+\n=”,{c:”#f16f3b”,w:2},”Backspace”,”DEL\n~`”],
[{w:1.5},”Tab”,{c:”#909596″,a:7,f:6},”Q”,”W”,”E”,”R”,”T”,”Y”,”U”,”I”,”O”,”P”,{a:4,f:3},”{\n[“,”}\n]”,{c:”#f16f3b”,w:1.5},”|\n\\”,”Pg up”],
[{w:1.75},”Caps Lock”,{c:”#909596″,a:7,f:6},”A”,”S”,”D”,”F”,”G”,”H”,”J”,”K”,”L”,{a:4,f:3},”:\n;”,”\”\n'”,{c:”#f16f3b”,w:2.25},”Enter”,”Pg dn”],
[{w:2.25},”Shift”,{c:”#909596″,a:7,f:6},”Z”,”X”,”C”,”V”,”B”,”N”,”M”,{a:4,f:3},”<\n,”,”>\n.”,”?\n/”,{c:”#f16f3b”,w:1.75},”Shift”,{c:”#909596″},”\n\n\n\n\n\nup”,{c:”#f16f3b”},”End”],
[{w:1.25},”Ctrl”,{c:”#909596″},”Win”,{c:”#f16f3b”,w:1.25},”Alt”,{w:6.25},””,{w:1.25},”Func”,”Ctrl”,”Home”,{c:”#909596″},”\n\n\n\n\n\nleft”,”\n\n\n\n\n\ndown”,”\n\n\n\n\n\nright”]

 

 

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I’ll explain more about stabilizer types in the next section, but a quick intro will suffice for now. When you press a key, stabilizers transfer the force from the sides of larger keys to the switch. There are a few different types, but I recommend going with costar stabilizers, since they fit in a rectangle and are easy to work with and readily available to purchase on The Internet (don’t ever underestimate how difficult it can be to source the parts you want for a keyboard).

When I first used swillkb it only output the top plate design, but it was easy enough to start from there with some basic CAD knowledge and make all the other layers for a the entire case. Use cut and paste and try your best to run up the learning curve of your CAD program of choice.

Without having and 2D CAD experience I tried out a few software packages before settling on Draftsight [3]. It’s free once you register and pretty straightforward to use. I also ordered the aluminum plates from eMachineShop, which has its own CAD program you can import dxf files into and order your own custom parts, which made it easy to get an instant quote on the design cost. Incidentally they were also the cheapest option. I ordered the Poplar wooden middle layers from Big Blue Saw, which was cheap but it turned out they were out of stock, so it took a month before the parts arrived in the mail. It’s worth sending off an email to double check what they have in stock if their website isn’t explicit.

Once you have your top plate designed, and if you already ordered your keycaps or have a spare set laying around, go ahead and print off, to scale, a paper version of the top plate. It’s an easy way to double check your layout and design before sending the CAD files off to be manufactured.

 

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I lucked out, and have a friend in a design shop who cut out the entire design in acrylic so I could first verify the layout and case design before dropping the cash on a metal and wood case. Thankfully the layout was spot on, all I had to do was raise the stabilizer holes 0.25mm on the y axis to get them to work smoothly. With the tight tolerances in the design, you may end up having to file down the stabilizers to get a smooth travel. That’s fine and almost expected, I haven’t had any issues with it after filing down a bit of the plastic.

Next article I’ll talk about the fun part, choosing the switch types and keycaps to get the right look and feel for your keyboard!

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Links:
[0] http://deskthority.net/workshop-f7/brownfox-step-by-step-t6050.html
[1] http://www.keyboard-layout-editor.com
[2] http://builder.swillkb.com/
[3] https://www.3ds.com/products-services/draftsight-cad-software/

 

Making the Hivelord [Part 2]

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It’s been a while, but here’s the second post on making the Hivelord. This post will focus on the frame of the Hivelord mask, which is mostly made of copper tubing and scrap wood. Unfortunately this means it is relatively heavy for something mounted around my head, but I found a military external frame backpack that works well to transfer the weight to my hips. The length of the mask helps balance it over the frame, and I added an adjustable strap to the back to hold the laptop screen in the right position in front of my face. The end result is surprisingly comfortable!

To start, check out those copper tubes. This may have been the most expensive part of the project, I spent around $60 on copper tubing. I bought a few lengths from Home Depot, cut them into fourths, and then hammered the ends flat. You can also squish the ends in a vice to flatten them, but hammering it was a lot more fun. Once the end was flat, I carefully used the drill press to put a hole in them, then bent the end to an appropriate angle. Use a vice to hold the flat part while you bend it. I used some spare nuts and bolts to hold the copper tubing to the wood part of the frame.

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Here’s the mount for the screen. The backside of the repurposed laptop screen sits on those wooden blocks, which are glued to the wooden board. I drilled those holes in the block and then hot glued the nuts inside them so you can tighten the bolts into place with the screen installed on the front. There’s enough space between the laptop screen and the mounting board to house the screen converter. I was originally going to put a camera on the inside to project my face onto the screen, so I designed the mask to be around 9 inches in front of my face.

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Here I am making sure my head fits in there.

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Now, to attach the screen. I had some scrap copper tubing left over, so I made some custom brackets to hold the screen in place. Flatten the tube with a hammer and bend it in the vice. Hit the bend with the hammer a few times to express yourself and give the bracket a nice 90 degree angle. I pretty much made these up as a went along, marking where the bend had to be and then making it in the vice.

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The whole thing is held onto the backpack frame with a few zip ties. I was originally just testing it out with the zip ties, but they worked so well I kept them there. You can see a metal wire coming down from the back mount board. That was replaced with a backpack style strap, allowing me to adjust whether the head is looking down or up and counterbalance the mask.

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Here’s the periscope. It took me a few beers to convince myself that this would be a good idea, but I was surprised at how well it works. It’s made entirely out of hot glue, square dowel rods, two mirrors, and some math. If I had to make it again I’d make the mirrors a little larger, you can only really see out of it with one eye.

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Next I tested out the electronics. The screen was upside down but that was simple enough to change in the raspi. I mounted the electronics to the wood board behind the laptop screen. It’s always been a wonder to me what’s the best way to mount electronics to a solid surface. This time around I penciled in where the mounting holes were on the pcb, then I drilled some pilot holes in these spots. A dab of hot glue held the boards in place as I put in screws and or wood nails through the pilot holes. Of course, most of these stuck out the other side of the board, so I used the dremel to cut off the pointy ends. In the end it was pretty solid but the process was a bit nerve wracking.

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Last but not least I had to cover up the sides of the frame. I found some scrap foam board, cut them out to size, and then spray painted the panels orange. They are held to the frame with EL wire threaded through the foam board, with the copper tube in between. I marked every half inch, then used the drill press to make some clean holes in the foam board. It took a while to thread the wire though, but I was amazed that each side required exactly 15 feet of EL wire. Sometimes you luck out when wingin it.

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Thanks for reading. Next up will be a post on the Boomfists I designed for the Hivelord; speakers attached to my fists. They haven’t made a public appearance yet, but chances are high they will make an appearance with the rest of the costume at MAGFest in January!

 
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I heard there were smoothies here?

Salutations, flatlanders! Your electron based mail message reached my hyper-dimensional lair, I was lured out of the 67th dimension by word of snacks, refreshments, and of course, your attempts to augment your meaty forms with your so called ‘technology.’ The idea: to design artifacts made 50 years in your future. How will they affect the fragile social human construct? More specifically, are these items you’re designing to simplify and enhance your lives creating one step forward in the inevitable march toward a dystopian hellscape? I’d answer these questions, but I’m technically not allowed to break causality.

But I digress, I’m really here to show you all the souls I stole pictures I took with my face. It only took a few years off your lifespan, and there’s a 50/50 chance they were bad years anyway. Thanks for being such good sports!

Click here -> The Hivelord at UArts Design Charette 2014 <-

And here’s a soul-theft in action. Looks painful!

 

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Hackers! Need to finish your costume and/or decorations before the spooky festivities begin? We will be hosting a Halloween themed open build night this Friday, October 24th, 7pm – late o’clock! Suggested themes include wearables, microcontrollers, LEDs, and blood. Bring something to work on!

WHAT: Halloween Open Build Night
WHERE: Hive76 Global Headquarters
WHEN: October 24th, 7pm – ????
WHO: Wizards, witches, warlocks
WHY: ?????

 

Making the Hivelord [Part 1]

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Oh hai

Hello, meatbags! Perhaps you saw me at Maker Faire, jukin and jivin and havin a time. You probably wondered “where did this guy get his slick get-up?” And,  “is it possible for me to build something similar in his glorious image?” And then your dreams were consumed each night by a vivid nightmare of a distant planet, covered in entirely in evergreen trees and a deafening roar. “What is this place, and why am I forced to wander it every night?” No? Well consider yourself one of the lucky ones then.

Anyway, this is part one of the build log for the Hivelord costume. The inspiration was based on the scramblesuit from the novel A Scanner Darkly, by Philip K Dick, which is a suit that anonymizes its user by constantly projecting a changing image of different people on the outside of the suit. I figured that’s not technologically feasible, but making a mask version certainly is. I originally wanted to record short videos of the inside of the mask, with different people wearing it, but as I built the mask it became obvious that it wouldn’t be feasible, or as cool as using it to take photos. There is a raspberry pi running some python code to control the slideshow and picture taking functions along with an arcade button connected to the raspi’s GPIO. Pressing the button puts the screen into preview mode, which shows what the camera is looking at. When the button is released, the picture is taken and added to the slideshow.

Parts list:

  • raspberry pi with camera
  • old laptop screen
  • output converter for the laptop screen
  • arcade style button
  • 12V lead acid battery
  • 5V step down converter (for raspi)
  • HDMI cable
  • military backpack frame
  • copper pipe
  • pipe insulation for padding
  • various nuts and bolts
  • mirror for periscope
  • scrap wood, square dowel
  • orange spandex suit

This first post will focus on creating the screen. I was surprised to find many vendors on ebay selling boards that will convert the proprietary pinout of the laptop board to something useful, such as HDMI or VGA. If you have an old screen laying around, you can even make a new monitor for yourself for $35.

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Found an old laptop screen in the hackerspace

Take the case off the screen and read the model number from the back. Look around on ebay for a converter board. It seems like most of them are made to order, so if you don’t find a listing, try contacting a seller. Below is a picture of the board I used, which runs off 12V. Thankfully I found a 12V wall wart in the space to test it.

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The deconstructed screen

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The screen connector. This will be converted to something useful, like HDMI.

The converter board came with all its own cables and its own separate board to control the screen functions, like resolution, alignment, and an on/off button.

Here’s the pic from the ebay listing. Nifty!

Once everything is plugged in, turn it on to test it out. The screen worked perfectly, and automatically configured itself to the correct resolution. There was enough cabling for me to run the wires outside of the original laptop screen case, so I just put everything back the way it was, with the converter board hanging off. All the electronics will eventually be mounted to the wooden frame of the mask.

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First try running the screen.

Next, connect everything together, screen to converter to raspi, and power it up. Here I am testing out the camera after I changed all the settings to portrait mode.

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The creator’s visage!

I then connected it all to a bench supply so I could see how much power the whole set up consumed. It uses just about an amp at 12v. I found a 7 amp-hour 12V lead acid battery on amazon that did a decent job, though I’d probably buy a spare since I did run out of battery at maker faire. There’s a 5V downcoverter thrown in there too, to power the raspberry pi off the 12V supply.

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Powering up this mess with a sneak peek of the copper frame.

Thanks for reading! Next post will be on the making of the frame.

 

 

Hive76’s Yard Sale Give Away!

The theme of this weeks open house?

Yard sale Giveaway! 
Hive has been accumulating a lot of stuff, and now its time to pass it on to you! 
IMG_0802We have all sorts of stuff!

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A blender for blending your things!? A George Foreman Grill for Grilling them?!

A working stereo system could be yours! Do you like printers? We have two of them for you!

Get your Halloween presents NOW!

 

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Hive will be at the Philadelphia Museum of Art TONIGHT from 5:00 to 8:45!

Come out and support us on the museum’s PAY WHAT YOU WISH ADMISSION night. For as little as a penny, you can see some amazing art and play our 12-foot high Connect Four in the grand stair hall!

 
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We had a lot of fun yesterday building a Time Machine with Pafa’s Art Summer Camp. The kids helped us add lots of awesome features like an Ejection button for Time Warp Emergencies. Also, who could forget invisibility and cloaking!? Thanks Pafa and Sue Liedke for having us! We had so much fun!  
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Tonight’s MMMM

I regret to have to cancel tonight’s microcontroller night, but I am out of town and won’t be able to make it in this evening. We’ll pick MMMM up on July 14th.

See you then!

 

Philly Tech Week 2014: Arcade At The Oval

Edit: The arcade jawn is now April 5th @7pm because of weather.

Arcade @ The OvalPhilly Tech Week 2014 kicks off on April 5 at The Oval in front of the Art Museum, and we’ll be there! The big draw, of course, is Tetris on the Cira Center. But just to show that we can play the gimmicky-oversized-kid’s-game game too, we’re building our own gimmicky oversized kid’s game:

Frame Under Construction!

Frame Under Construction!

Light-Up Disk Wiring

Light-Up Disk Wiring

While everybody’s staring at the Cira Center, you can play our giant electronic game of Connect Four. The jams will be pumping while you skillfully use a DDR pad to strategically place your checkers. Pretty sneaky, sis.

Plus: The whole oval is gonna be filled with games from local developers, presentations, musical performances, food trucks, and a Yards Beer Garden. Nice! The fun begins at 7pm. See you there!

 
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