Hardware prototyping advice?
October 1, 2012 5:19 PM   Subscribe

I have a design for a new keyboard. Any ideas/advice on where to look for help with the circuits, driver programming and anything else I'm forgetting?

The plan is to have the prototype body 3D printed, but I have no clue how to actually interface with the computer. Google wasn't too helpful, but I could easily have been searching the wrong thing.

Have: 3D body/case design
Need: everything else
posted by TheNegativeInfluence to Technology (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If you're just prototyping is there some reason you're just not pulling the guts out of an existing keyboard?
posted by bitdamaged at 5:41 PM on October 1, 2012

Assuming you're talking about a typing keyboard, and not a music keyboard.

Seconding bitdamaged's advice. You most likely don't want to create your own keys. I'd just buy an existing keyboard with the closest form factor to what your new body requires, since this is a prototype.

Here's what I would do, I guess:

Once you've carefully cut all the old case away, it should be a matter of carefully measuring screw post and connector cable positions and sizes, and incorporating that into your 3D design.

If you're remapping keys, you'll want to take off each key, and label where it goes. Then find a high quality plastic paint to dip each one into for the desired color (just the outside). Create key labels by printing on plastic transparency, cutting carefully to your key head shape, and then using a clear glue and multiple clear finish coats. A hobby shop will probably have the best quality paints for this (not Home Depot).

Finally, download some key remapping software for your prototype system to simulate any non-standard mappings you're using.
posted by hanoixan at 6:14 PM on October 1, 2012

If it's a smaller number of keys than a full-on 101-key keyboard (say, up to about 15 or 20) you could use an Arduino or one of the clones. A friend of mine makes an Arduino-compatible microcontroller with USB that is cheap and well-suited for projects like this.
posted by spacewrench at 6:27 PM on October 1, 2012

If you're going to be building the electronics from scratch, the Arduino Leonardo will emulate a generic USB device (keyboard/mouse).

Look at the getting started guide and Keyboard library docs and examples to see how it can be used.
posted by tip120 at 6:28 PM on October 1, 2012

Yes, it is a typing keyboard. I actually have pulled apart this keypad and have done some testing with those electronics, but my device needs non-standard modifier keys. It sounds like key remapping software could work initially, but I'd rather have a dedicated driver (it would be cool to sell this thing). Anyway, it looks like maybe one of the Arduino kits would be a good place to start.
posted by TheNegativeInfluence at 6:48 PM on October 1, 2012

If you get to thinking about production, I always look to app notes. For instance, I've done a bunch of stuff with the Atmel AVR chips, so I typed "Atmel AVR app note usb keyboard" into Google and got AVR271: USB Keyboard Demonstration
, though I note there are a couple of other USB HID app notes that might be reasonable.

And the AVR series are the same microcontroller the Arduino uses, so you can prototype on that, then when you start looking to reduce parts count and manufacturing costs you can think about how to change things.
posted by straw at 7:36 PM on October 1, 2012

I think digikey has keyswitches.
posted by sebastienbailard at 7:42 PM on October 1, 2012

You might want to look at the collaborative product development process at Quirky.

I've developed a keyboard before and found that from a cost perspective, for mass production you are best off using existing keys made by a keyboard manufacturer (who presumably would also be your final product assembler) because new plastic injection molding tooling for keys is extremely expensive. Of course the tooling for your case won't be cheap either. The intelligence aspects will be the least of your challenges.
posted by Dansaman at 3:07 AM on October 2, 2012

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