Feb 23, 2016 | By Alec

Without being noticed, keyboards have actually become one of the most important tools in our society and economy. There’s at least one in very home, office, store and school: a keyboard is truly universal. That reliance on this clever tool has already led to the development of various forms of ergonomic keyboards: keyboards that decrease the likelihood of developing wrist or hand related injuries, such as RSI. You’ve probably seen them or even worked on one: they tend to have a curve in the middle to more naturally accommodate the wrists. However, Matt Adereth has been working on a far more original model with the help of 3D printing: the Dactyl keyboard, that actually consists of two completely separate, curved keyboard segments.

It sounds strange and it looks strange, but a Dactyl keyboard might actually be part of the future. ‘Dactyl’ refers to an object curved to fit the natural shape of the hand, so it’s almost like an optimized version of an ergonomic keyboard. We just can’t imagine typing on it. Builder Matt Adereth, however, sees it as a fantastic solution to optimize keyboard use. Based in Oakland, he is actually a tool and infrastructure builder at Two Sigma, and is also a keyboard-mad collector. Though the owner of a sizable collection, this evidently wasn’t enough so he also builds his own keyboards. But even for DIY keyboards, the Dactyl keyboard is truly impressive. As experts Keychatter put it, “this is an extremely awesome DIY keyboard, but is definitely one for the more experienced builders out there.”

To add more fuel to the fire and an extra level of complexity, the Dactyl Keyboard is also a mechanical keyboard. If you’ve worked with computers for a few decades, you’ll have noticed that keyboards don’t have that satisfying sound or physical feedback anymore. Pressing buttons has become easier and less satisfying, and that’s because the classic IBM-type mechanical keyboards – that really engaged the user – are almost completely phased out of production. Instead, we are all using less expensive, spill-proof keyboards packed with rubber membranes that do all the work for us.

Many users, given the opportunity, prefer the satisfying feeling of working with a mechanical keyboard – which has already led to a community of DIY makers, among which Matt Adereth can also be found. As he explains on reddit, The Dactyl Keyboard is a mechanical design that has taken a bit of inspiration from other builds, including from the commercial Kinesis Advantage. “The layout is very similar [to that of the Kinesis Advantage] and quite comfortable. I've got the thumb cluster a little closer and angled and I think it makes it nicer. The only problem right now is the lack of palm rest, which some ergonomics folks think is actually a good thing. I'm working on one next,” he tells his fans.

If you’re interested, you can actually build one of these amazing keyboards yourself with the help of Matt’s GitHub files, but there isn’t really a detailed guide available. “Honestly, it's probably one of the most difficult keyboard projects I've seen,” he admits. “Ideally you'd have already built an Ergodox before trying this. Debugging it is pretty difficult and requires you to actually understand how it's all wired up. You can wire it by hand, but the case is an incredibly tight fit, so I highly recommend the flexible PCB approach. Right now, you have to etch the PCBs yourself, which is itself an involved process.”

To actually make that PCB, you can find printable sheets with the details on the GitHub repository. These can be etched onto Pyralux PCB sheets, which you will need to cut up to fit the frame. The 3D printed button caps themselves house Gateron Clear mechanical switches, which are reportedly smooth to use and won’t need a lot of power to press. “It's pretty stable. The only time it rocks is if I press down too hard on the furthest thumb cluster keys, but a different base style I'm working on should help with that,” he says.

In short, you’ll need a lot of engineering knowledge and experience already. At least 3D printing is easier. Matt himself designed the casing using a Makerbot 3D printer, and you could 3D print it all on a similar machine, though the final version visible above was made through 3D printing company. Quite a lot of filament will be necessary. “The models I've posted are about 130cm3 for each hand. 3D Printing just the bare frames to hold switches is about 30cm3 for each hand. On my latest print I finished it with Krylon Triple Thick Clear Glaze,” he says.

Of course, this will also greatly increase the costs involved. “All in, it's probably going to be around $300 - $400, assuming you already have all the equipment to do electronics work. The bulk of that is printing through Shapeways ($210). You could print it yourself, but it's a large print and requires a fair amount of accuracy. It's a very ambitious print to do on a hobbyist printer,” Matt says. But then you could be the proud owner of one of the most impressive keyboards in the world, and that means a lot too. For more information, check out Matt’s presentation below.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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Mark Senn wrote at 12/11/2016 7:44:12 PM:

I've used TypeMatrix 2020 keyboards with Dvorak keyboard layout for the past ten years or so. Love the 2020 (the 2030 is too small) and love the Dvorak keyboard layout with all vowels on the left hand home row. I'd be interested in borrowing or buying an assembled Dactyl. I'm already signed up to get a Model 01 keyboard from keyboard.io.

Mistborn wrote at 6/10/2016 6:47:24 PM:

@Mark Rehorst - yes, there is: depending on you land of origin Colemak, Dvorak, Neo and many others are more optimized.

Mark Rehorst wrote at 2/26/2016 5:25:42 PM:

All that work to optimize it and he kept the QWERTY arrangement of the keys? Surely there's a better way to arrange the keys!

Charles wrote at 2/24/2016 5:01:54 AM:

Dactyl comes from ancient Greek meaning finger, not curve.

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