Highway 1 + 1 month

Highway1 + 1 month

Hi everybody,

We were at OSCON in Portland last week. Opensource and OSCON have been a big part of our lives for a very long time and we’re thrilled that open hardware is becoming a bigger part of the OSCON ecosystem.  We pretty much lost our voices showing off our latest keyboards at the OSCON the Open Hardware Showcase. 


It’s been a month since Highway1’s demo day. Since then, we’ve moved out of our sublet and out of Highway1, spent a couple weeks in Jesse’s dad’s guest room and finally moved into our new live/work space in the Mission. We’ve been working on important business activities like setting up IKEA furniture and coaxing the cats out from their hiding place under the bed.

On the product front, we’ve made a ton of progress. One of the things we’re working on is a complete set of custom-sculpted keycaps. We’ve been really happy with how much custom keycap shapes improve the typing experience by guiding your fingers to the right keys. At the same time, it’s easy to see why “nobody does this.” We’ve been reaching out to vendors to get quotations for injection molding tooling – basically big blocks of aluminum or steel they can squirt hot plastic into to create our keycaps. So far, quotes are all over the map. At the low end, we’ve seen numbers as small as $15,000 for tooling made from aluminum. At the high end, we’ve seen estimates soaring to over $80,000 for tooling made from steel. The big difference in cost is because steel is harder than aluminum. Much harder. So it takes a lot more time to mill out and finish the keycap shapes. The advantage of going with harder steel is that the molds last longer. Ballpark numbers have aluminum tools lasting for 10,000 “shots”. (Shot is injection molding lingo for “copy of a part”.) Steel tools last for around half a million shots. For us, each shot corresponds to a whole keyboard’s worth of keys.

On the electronics front, things are going pretty well. We’re about to start the design for the second version of our logic board. It’ll still be a tiny little Arduino Leonardo compatible board. It’ll still have bluetooth and a battery charger on it. But this next version will be easier to assemble, less expensive and, with luck, will be available for purchase as a standalone board. It turns out that folks want a 1.5" square Arduino-compatible board with built in Bluetooth. We’re excited that we might be able to help them out. (It doesn’t hurt that we can get everyone a better price by making and selling more of them.)

The big news on the enclosure front is that we’ve come to the somewhat sad conclusion that the aluminum enclosure we designed isn’t really going to work. It’s too heavy and too expensive. Right now, each keyboard takes about 10 hours on a CNC mill and the product is…heavier than your MacBook. When we went back to the proverbial drawing board, we took another look at our original plan to sculpt the keyboard enclosures out of wood. And things look promising. With luck, we’ll have more to report on that front next month.

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