Hello from Oakland!
TL;DR: Things are moving forward, if a bit slower than we'd like.
We're in the process of negotiating a Statement of Work with our first-choice manufacturing partner. The SoW isn't a full-on contract. It's more of a one-pager that spells out minimum order quantities, major milestone dates and deliverables, a fee schedule, the rough process for design changes, certifications, warranty, and how the product will be delivered to us. Once the SoW is worked out, we'll have honest-to-goodness deadlines and rough delivery dates for the first order of Model 01s. At that point, we'll be able to tell you just how close to our April 2016 estimated shipping date we might be. (See how we cleverly didn't say "Your keyboard will probably be a bit late"?)
Your keyboard will probably be a bit late.
Having backed over 150 projects on Kickstarter ourselves, we knew going in that the chances of delivering a first product on time were vanishingly low. So we gave ourselves a fair amount of extra time to get the Model 01 built, carefully taking Hofstadter's Law into account. We're making forward progress, but everything's taking longer than we'd expected.
In our last update, we talked about the the problems we'd run into with the keyboard matrix scanning chips we'd chosen. Shortly after that update, we finally got the manufacturer to admit to us that the chips wouldn't actually do what we needed them to do, despite all earlier assurances to the contrary. Meanwhile, Scott Perry, who'd actually discovered the issue with the matrix scanners had finished the Arduino driver library for talking to them. You can find it on GitHub: https://github.com/numist/Is7326
Scott told us that the protocol was actually pretty well designed and proposed that we just clone the matrix scanners on commodity microcontrollers. Well, more accurately, he proposed that he could just write an open source clone of the matrix scanners on commodity microcontrollers of our choosing. And then he did just that. Once again, you can find it on GitHub: https://github.com/numist/is31io7326_clone
At the same time, we were working on the design updates for the the Model 01's electronics (mostly described in the previous update). Because Jesse is a...junior...EE at best, we brought on a contractor to help out with the schematic updates and layout of the new board. It took the better part of a month to figure out that things weren't really working out.
Over the past couple weeks, Jesse picked the board design back up and, with a bit of help, got the schematics, Bills of Materials and board layouts into reasonable shape. They combine the old keyswitch boards and LED boards, have an extension bus that lets you get at all of the pins you'd ordinarily find on an Arduino and ensure that Resistor 2 and Capacitor 2 are placed in close proximity.
The new boards have had one round of external review, but could certainly use another. Once the boards get a bit more scrutiny and have drill holes placed for the updated enclosure, they should be ready for testing. When we test them, we'll be looking to make sure that they're easy to assemble, that connectors are easy to access, the new IO expanders work well, the new LEDs shine brightly, the keyswitches are stable, and that we've fixed a lingering issue we've seen that made the Kickstarter prototypes hard to reprogram.
If you're an opinionated electrical engineer with an eye for detail, we'd absolutely love to get your input before we get the next beta boards fabbed. Drop us a line at email@example.com
For a variety of reasons, we ended up parting ways with the mechanical engineering firm we were using. We've brought on a new Mechanical Engineering contractor and we're hoping that things will move much more quickly now. He's now working on replacing the interconnect bar from the Kickstarter prototypes with something less clunky and prone to failures, and we're much happier with what we've seen so far. After that, we'll be working on feet. Over the past couple weeks, we've been iterating on an updated design for the Model 01's enclosure. It's not 100% set in stone, but the current iteration looks something like this:
Other than the thumb and palm keys, the next iteration of the keycap design is pretty much ready to get milled as soon as we have an enclosure and circuit boards to mount them on. The palm and thumb keys still aren't quite right, though they're getting closer. The tests we've done with convex, rather than concave, thumb arc keys have been pretty positive.
Our office hours in SF and Oakland were smaller, quieter affairs. We spent a lot of time talking about the trials and tribulations of vendor selection, firmware design and keycap sculpting. One of the folks who came to the SF office hours admitted that he was surprised to see us there. He thought we lived in Portland and hadn't read the last backer update. He just happened to show at Coffee Bar five minutes after the event started. Apparently, a lot of folks seem to think that we live in Portland. Go figure.
This time, in lieu of "office hours", we're going to be exhibiting at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View at their annual Holiday Product Demo. The date is Tuesday 12/15 and hours are expected to be 6:00-8:30pm (exact details will be posted on the Kickstarter comments page once we have them, and in our December newsletter as well). We're expecting to be joined by a bunch of other cool makers of hardware, tentatively including Goldieblox, Anki DRIVE, and our Oakland neighbors, NextThingCo.
Running a small company is a job that never really stops. The upside of running a small company with your spouse is that your partner understands what you're going through. The downside, is, of course, that they're going through it too. As much as we're frustrated that everything is going slower than we'd like and feel like we really need to keep pushing forward to get your keyboards, neither of us have had a vacation in a long, long time. Between Highway1, being "a couple months from Kickstarter" for most of a year, our roadshow, scouting factories and trying to get the new design finalized, there hasn't really been a time that felt reasonable for both of us to step back from our keyboards and recharge for a bit.
We're not sure quite when yet, but at some point in the not too distant future, we'll probably disappear off the internet for a week. We'll give you a heads-up once we know in the newsletter and the comments section on Kickstarter.
You can, however, rest assured that no matter where we go, we'll pack a couple of Model 01s and find a nice cafe to host office hours.