Hello from Oakland!
TL;DR: everything’s moving forward. though progress in January was slower than we’d hoped for.
Since we last wrote, we sent our schematics and circuit board designs to our first-choice manufacturer for review. It took them a bit to get back to us, but they were generally happy with our design. The next step is to get prototype boards made. Because of the upcoming Chinese New Year holiday, the manufacturer hasn’t been able to make that happen this month. They’ve said that they’ll be able to get them put together soon after they’re back from vacation on Feb 15. To help hedge our bets, we’ve started the process of getting quotes for prototype boards from a few domestic shops.This PCB manufacturer Jesse found at CES seemed like they might be angling for our business.
Oddly, one of the most frustrating parts of designing the new revision of the circuit boards has been finding the right RJ45 (ethernet) jack for the interconnect between the two halves of the keyboard. For the Kickstarter prototypes, we were using a slightly different sort of jack (RJ11, like you’d see on an old telephone) that we’d mounted to the wooden enclosure and connected to the circuit boards with a hand-wired cable and a whole bunch of hot glue. Each jack took the better part of an hour to hand-build. This was a terrible solution, but let us get our circuit boards made before the wooden enclosure was finalized. The right solution is to mount the jacks directly to the edge of the circuit board. Finding a jack that fits in the space we have for it was…unexpectedly challenging. After evaluating more than 50 potential jacks, we finally found one that was small enough, sturdy enough and didn’t cost $10 (in production quantities.) There was only one problem: As of early January, nobody in the US had any stock of them. The manufacturer graciously agreed to DHL us samples from their factory in Taiwan. Those showed up last week. Meanwhile, Jesse talked to a half-dozen connector manufacturers at CES in mid-January and found a few reasonable backup options if these don’t work out.
In our last update, we told you that we were waiting for feedback from our first-choice manufacturer on our designs for the Model 01’s feet and interconnect mechanism. We got that feedback in early January. We’d been hoping for a little discussion of the tradeoffs of various designs, but what we got back was “we think you should pick this design” for the feet and “here’s an alternate version of one of your designs for the interconnect mechanism. We think this is your best choice.” Conspicuously absent was any discussion of the relative costs of the various designs. We’ve been pushing on them for more clarity on costs, but don’t yet have useful numbers.
In the interest of getting your keyboards sooner, rather than later, we decided to move forward with a complete system design based on the manufacturer’s recommendations. Frustratingly, this means that when they actually get us pricing, we may have to adjust our plans.
The interconnect mechanism the manufacturer recommended was a pair of spring-lock hinges. They have the advantage of being sturdy, adjustable and relatively low profile. With these hinges, you should be able to adjust the tent angle of your Model 01 without taking anything apart. You’ll also be able to fold the keyboard for travel. Because the hinges are attached to both halves of the keyboard with screws, it should be much sturdier than any of the mechanisms we’ve used on our prototypes.
This brings us to one of the design decisions we agonized over for the feet and interconnect mechanism. Our prototypes were designed to make it easy for you to separate the two halves of the keyboard. The two primary reasons folks want to separate their keyboards are for transport and to be able to independently position the two halves. By making it easy to fold the keyboard with the hinges attached, we’ve eliminated the need for folks to take the keyboard apart unless they want to independently position the two halves on a desk or the arms of a chair. The downside of this design is that in order to use the Model 01 in a fully split configuration, you’ll need to unscrew the two hinges and replace them with an included set of adjustable feet. We think this design is the best compromise between configurability and functionality.
We’ve known that this was one of the trickiest bits of mechanical engineering we were going to have to deal with for the Model 01 and we’re thrilled that we’ve finally got designs that we think are workable. As we get clarity on pricing and build the first physical prototypes of the interconnect and feet, we’ll keep you updated.
Over the past month, Jesse’s continued to work on cleaning up the Arduino USB keyboard drivers we’ll be using in our production firmware. He’s also started to refactor our prototype keyboard firmware, extracting some of the code out into reusable libraries and simplifying the core of the keyboard driver to make it simpler, more memory efficient and easier to modify. Going forward, he’ll be starting to integrate the drivers for the new keyscanning engine, improved LEDs, and new power management chip in the production design. This will, of course, be a lot easier once we’re testing the code on the new circuit boards, rather than breadboards. If you do take a peek at the current state of the new firmware, please try not to laugh too hard at the state of the code. There are fundamental technical reasons behind some of the craziness. (Of course, some of the code is just bad. We’re working on making it better.)
We believe that the last remaining parts of the mechanical design for the bid packet for the production version of the keyboard should fall into place over the next couple weeks. At that point, the Chinese New Year holiday will be drawing to a close and we should be able to get a firm quote and timeline out of our preferred manufacturing partner, as well as several backup options.
The manufacturing timelines we’ve gotten to date have been…all over the map. When talking to a salesperson at our preferred manufacturer, the numbers come in with mass production ramping up four months from contract signature. When talking to project management, it’s closer to six months. Of course, most of these estimates are based around the OEM doing a whole lot of the engineering we’ve already done, so we’re optimistic.
We hate not being able to give you a firm, realistic delivery date, but we’d hate it even more to do that and then blow it. As soon as we have real dates and estimates, we’ll share them with you.
Keyswitch datasheet archive
It’s a tiny little thing, but we’ve published our archive of keyswitch datasheets on GitHub: https://github.com/keyboardio/keyswitch_documentation - if you have datasheets for keyswitches other than those in the archive, please send ‘em our way.
Meet the Model 01Last week, Jesse gave a talk about what it’s like to visit factories in Shenzhen at Supplyframe/Hackaday’s HDDG10
As we’ve mentioned in the last couple backer updates, it’s been ages (years) since we’ve taken a vacation. With a surprising amount of encouragement from all of you, we did finally manage to schedule some time off. We’ll be on vacation and not working on firmware or manufacturing or design, no really, from the 5th to the 15th of February. (Our mechanical engineering contractors will, however, be working to finalize their part of the bid packet while we’re kicking back on the beach sipping Mai Tais.)
We’ll try to keep on top of email and Kickstarter comments, but may be a little bit slow to respond while we’re out of town.
If you happen to be in Hilo, Hawaii on Saturday, February 13 and want to meet the Model 01, we’ll be hanging out at Hilo Shark’s Coffee at the corner of Waianuenue Avenue and Keawe Street from 11 until 1. We should be easy to find–we’ll be the folks with the glowing butterfly shaped keyboard.