Recreating the Lisp keyboard

vsedach

08 Apr 2011, 19:24

After the really strong response on Hacker News and the many page views the Lisp Keyboard topic has gotten, it seems there is strong demand for a Lisp Machine-style keyboard from programmers. I've wanted one when I first heard about it a few years ago, but thought it was impractical to build one. Now with so much demand I think it's possible to get a batch manufactured at an economical price.

To estimate demand, I've put together a wait list: https://spreadsheets.google.com/embedde ... em1DVVE6MQ

Now as to actually how to get this done. Does anyone here have experience with manufacturing keyboards, or getting keyboard companies to do smaller production runs?

Now as to what I was thinking for keyboard specs:

Symbolics Ivory keyboard layout so that the top half of keyboard plastic casing has just one rectangular cutout for the keys (easier to prototype and manufacture). Plate mount for switches. Cherry MX blue switches.

I don't know how to source key caps or get them custom printed.

The keyboard controller is going to have to be programmable - one of the reasons is that the parentheses get their own (second) set of keys on the Lisp Machine keyboards, where the [] brackets normally are (the |\ symbols are split into two keys, and the {} brackets are produced by shift-modifying those).

I'm not sure what the minimum run size existing keyboard manufacturers would be willing to do. If none are willing, the PCB, plate mount, and PCB assembly can all be done in small batches. I'm not sure what the minimum batch size would be for the plastic keyboard body (I assume I could source it in small batches because the Symbolics keyboard body is very simple). The one thing I'm really uncertain about is getting small batches of key caps custom printed.

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Peter

08 Apr 2011, 19:53

How much are all you 15.000 people willing to pay for it to happen ?

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7bit

08 Apr 2011, 20:18

vsedach wrote:After the really strong response on Hacker News and the many page views the Lisp Keyboard topic has gotten, it seems there is strong demand for a Lisp Machine-style keyboard from programmers. I've wanted one when I first heard about it a few years ago, but thought it was impractical to build one. Now with so much demand I think it's possible to get a batch manufactured at an economical price

....

I'm not sure what the minimum run size existing keyboard manufacturers would be willing to do. If none are willing, the PCB, plate mount, and PCB assembly can all be done in small batches. I'm not sure what the minimum batch size would be for the plastic keyboard body (I assume I could source it in small batches because the Symbolics keyboard body is very simple). The one thing I'm really uncertain about is getting small batches of key caps custom printed.
I'm one of those who would like to have something like that. It should be an improved layout which allows for cursor keys and should come in either a long space bar version (7 units at most, the original Symbolics keyboard space bar is too long) and a short space bar version (2 units).

Coincidentally I got a price quite this week:
500 EUR per unit, made in Germany, including key caps, shipping across Europe and 20% VAT.

It would have n-key roll-over, plate mounted switches and a programmable controler.


Top: PCB matrix
Bottom: Symbolics layout
Attachments
SymbolicsCloneMatrix.png
SymbolicsCloneMatrix.png (11.02 KiB) Viewed 13853 times
SymbolicsLayout.png
SymbolicsLayout.png (28.5 KiB) Viewed 13853 times

sburson

08 Apr 2011, 20:40

I searched Google for "custom keycaps" and quickly found this: http://www.keycapsdirect.com/

They do insert molding, which is highly desirable -- it means the legend is embedded in the keycap and can't ever wear off.

I'm not familiar with the Cherry MX. I take it the blue one is the one Cherry describes as "click tactile"? I might prefer the "soft tactile" one, or even the linear one (the original Space Cadet used a linear switch). Anyway it seems like you could let people pick which MX model they wanted to use -- particularly if you sell the whole thing as a kit.

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7bit

08 Apr 2011, 20:58

sburson wrote:I searched Google for "custom keycaps" and quickly found this: http://www.keycapsdirect.com/

They do insert molding, which is highly desirable -- it means the legend is embedded in the keycap and can't ever wear off.

I'm not familiar with the Cherry MX. I take it the blue one is the one Cherry describes as "click tactile"? I might prefer the "soft tactile" one, or even the linear one (the original Space Cadet used a linear switch). Anyway it seems like you could let people pick which MX model they wanted to use -- particularly if you sell the whole thing as a kit.
I don't think that it will be possible to have too many swich choices. Maybe the 2 most popular ones for the start. Key caps are the least problem and are quite cheap. Just organized a group buy ...

The most expansive thing is the PCB including switches and all that.

xbb

08 Apr 2011, 21:00

500 isn't a bit too much?

vsedach

08 Apr 2011, 21:03

Agree 100% about the cursor keys. I think they can go into the repeat/mode lock/scroll space, but the constraint should be that the shape of the the key block remain rectangular. If you make the space bar shorter on the right, it looks like everything will fit nice.

For the Japanese-style space bar, are you thinking of making the right meta-super-hyper keys larger? The concern I have is that a short space bar version would need a different PCB layout and plate mount, unless you get really clever with how you mount the space bar and have key caps that go across two switches.

I think it's a good idea to drop caps lock and mode (get rid of LEDs).

This is 500 eur with how many units minimum? At that point I don't think we can get more than 5 orders.

I'm thinking around $250 is a price many people would be willing to pay. Since I'm just planning to cover costs when making these, I think that should be doable for a small production run.

I'm going to get quotes for PCB manufacturing and assembly.

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7bit

08 Apr 2011, 21:15

vsedach wrote:Agree 100% about the cursor keys. I think they can go into the repeat/mode lock/scroll space, but the constraint should be that the shape of the the key block remain rectangular. If you make the space bar shorter on the right, it looks like everything will fit nice.

For the Japanese-style space bar, are you thinking of making the right meta-super-hyper keys larger? The concern I have is that a short space bar version would need a different PCB layout and plate mount, unless you get really clever with how you mount the space bar and have key caps that go across two switches.

I think it's a good idea to drop caps lock and mode (get rid of LEDs).

This is 500 eur with how many units minimum? At that point I don't think we can get more than 5 orders.

I'm thinking around $250 is a price many people would be willing to pay. Since I'm just planning to cover costs when making these, I think that should be doable for a small production run.

I'm going to get quotes for PCB manufacturing and assembly.
I aggree about the price. I was a bit taken aback. I thought of 300 EUR plus taxes etc. Price is for around 200 units. I did only contact one manufacturer. Others might be cheaper.

The layout: This is just an idea. The 7 units space bar is totally centered on this layout.

Personnaly I would opt for the version without a traditional space bar. There exits key caps which fit over 2 keys. There are a lot of possiblities for an individual layout!

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Brian8bit

08 Apr 2011, 21:20

What software are you using to generate the schematics above 7bit?

vsedach

08 Apr 2011, 21:26

Here are the quotes I received from http://www.screamingcircuits.com/ and http://www.sunstone.com/:

$25 USD each for PCB
$80 USR each for soldering/assembly (no idea if they can do plate mount)

I suppose putting together a kit with different kinds of key switches is an option, that will certainly be cheap and customizable, but that's a lot of soldering!

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7bit

08 Apr 2011, 21:35

vsedach wrote:Here are the quotes I received from http://www.screamingcircuits.com/ and http://www.sunstone.com/:

$25 USD each for PCB
$80 USR each for soldering/assembly (no idea if they can do plate mount)

I suppose putting together a kit with different kinds of key switches is an option, that will certainly be cheap and customizable, but that's a lot of soldering!
Originally I asked them for PCB mount and they told me that PCB mounted switches would break off easily and that they only produce quality etc.

To be honest, typing this on PCB mounted switches, I would not care if the price would be significantly lower.

$105 for the whole keyboard? Or cost the switches extra?

How many units?

The controler would be around 50 EUR which are around $80. If they are so cheap with the PCB+switches, the controler should not be that expansive!
Brian8bit wrote:What software are you using to generate the schematics above 7bit?
It's my own creation. Input is a text file in which lines and other elements are specified and output is a TeXdraw code.

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sixty
Gasbag Guru

08 Apr 2011, 21:44

A keyboard controller should not cost more than $3-4 bucks. An ATMega32 does everything you need. See all the Korean custom boards for example. 95% of those are running ont he same $3 ATMega. If you decide to go with the custom PCB option, you might as well design your own controller around it.

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7bit

08 Apr 2011, 21:49

sixty wrote:A keyboard controller should not cost more than $3-4 bucks. An ATMega32 does everything you need. See all the Korean custom boards for example. 95% of those are running ont he same $3 ATMega. If you decide to go with the custom PCB option, you might as well design your own controller around it.
The man at the phone said that these east Asian electronics will last only a year, then break when heavily used!
What is 'Verunsicherung' in english? :?


Edit: If it is even cheaper, the better!

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webwit
Wild Duck

08 Apr 2011, 22:05

You could 3D print the case, and release the 3D design for people who want to make something better themselves such as an alu case. This would keep the cost down. I doubt a batch will work though, of the 15,000 who are willing to glamor over LISP keyboards, there won't be many willing to pay over $200. You can still buy the later LISP keyboards, and convert them to PC. The fact they are still for sale proves not a lot of people actually bought one.

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sixty
Gasbag Guru

08 Apr 2011, 22:14

Should get woody involved in this. This might be a good chance to get something going. And yeah I agree. Its probably best to offer a cheap case, plastic 3d printed or similar and make the cnc files available for download for those who want to go out a bit further. Once a PCB and controller is designed, the rest is pretty easy. Keycaps are "cheap", PCBs are "cheap". Problem is finding actual people capable of doing the PCB design.

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7bit

08 Apr 2011, 22:15

webwit wrote:You could 3D print the case, and release the 3D design for people who want to make something better themselves such as an alu case. This would keep the cost down. I doubt a batch will work though, of the 15,000 who are willing to glamor over LISP keyboards, there won't be many willing to pay over $200. You can still buy the later LISP keyboards, and convert them to PC. The fact they are still for sale proves not a lot of people actually bought one.
You know one for sale?

BTW: My version would have been without a case. I don't think it would be a good idea to have the case included. So I think your idea would be best to have cases made for those who want to pay for these.

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7bit

08 Apr 2011, 22:18

sixty wrote:Should get woody involved in this. This might be a good chance to get something going. And yeah I agree. Its probably best to offer a cheap case, plastic 3d printed or similar and make the cnc files available for download for those who want to go out a bit further. Once a PCB and controller is designed, the rest is pretty easy. Keycaps are "cheap", PCBs are "cheap". Problem is finding actual people capable of doing the PCB design.
My plan would be a wood plate underneath. Much cheaper than plastic or metal.

woody? You think in Bulgaria are the costs for workers cheap enough to hand-solder the switches?

vsedach

08 Apr 2011, 22:32

7bit wrote:To be honest, typing this on PCB mounted switches, I would not care if the price would be significantly lower.
I think plate mounting is the way to go. Exposing the PCB board would be ugly and the keyboard would flex a lot, and it seems that having a plastic plate made to go over the switches like on cheaper keyboards isn't practical for small production runs (moulds take too much money to set up).
7bit wrote:$105 for the whole keyboard? Or cost the switches extra?

How many units?
$105 just to print the PCB and solder the switches onto it, for a run of 100 units. The switches would be extra.
7bit wrote:The man at the phone said that these east Asian electronics will last only a year, then break when heavily used!
What is 'Verunsicherung' in english? :?
Haha, now I can see why the keyboard would cost 500 eur! I'm 100% certain they would use the same east Asian electronics inside.

I was thinking of prototyping with the Teensy AVR: http://www.pjrc.com/teensy/
webwit wrote:You could 3D print the case, and release the 3D design for people who want to make something better themselves such as an alu case.
I thought of that for prototyping, particularly since I can get some time on a 3d printer, but most of them can't make a single part that large.
webwit wrote:The fact they are still for sale proves not a lot of people actually bought one.
I don't think so. I don't want to buy a Symbolics keyboard because it comes with weird key-mappings and needs a hacked-on USB controller that you make yourself and doesn't work very well. This keyboard would work out of the box without needing to remap keys on your machine.
sixty wrote:PCBs are "cheap"
Apparently at keyboard-size (14" x 5") they are quite expensive! Many prototyping places don't even offer PCBs that large.

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webwit
Wild Duck

08 Apr 2011, 22:41

7bit wrote:
webwit wrote:You could 3D print the case, and release the 3D design for people who want to make something better themselves such as an alu case. This would keep the cost down. I doubt a batch will work though, of the 15,000 who are willing to glamor over LISP keyboards, there won't be many willing to pay over $200. You can still buy the later LISP keyboards, and convert them to PC. The fact they are still for sale proves not a lot of people actually bought one.
You know one for sale?
You can probably still buy the Symbolics 364000 and 365407 from here (UK):
http://www.asl.dsl.pipex.com/symbolics/index.html
or here (USA):
http://www.symbolics-dks.com/
I got mine from Peter Paine (first link), who also passed the KPS keyboard to me.

Image

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7bit

08 Apr 2011, 22:41

vsedach wrote:
7bit wrote:To be honest, typing this on PCB mounted switches, I would not care if the price would be significantly lower.
I think plate mounting is the way to go. Exposing the PCB board would be ugly and the keyboard would flex a lot, and it seems that having a plastic plate made to go over the switches like on cheaper keyboards isn't practical for small production runs (moulds take too much money to set up).

Cherry PCBs are painted in dark brown or black. But if plate moiunted is affordable ...

Haha, now I can see why the keyboard would cost 500 eur! I'm 100% certain they would use the same east Asian electronics inside.
No, no! An elephant can step upon it and dance polka!
sixty wrote:PCBs are "cheap"
Apparently at keyboard-size (14" x 5") they are quite expensive! Many prototyping places don't even offer PCBs that large.[/quote]
^^^ This is something I've heard before ... €€€ ...

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webwit
Wild Duck

08 Apr 2011, 23:56

Split them into two PCBs..then you get the extra option to make a split keyboard case for it. If you don't want that, you just mount the two parts in a normal case.

Image

More pics here.

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webwit
Wild Duck

09 Apr 2011, 00:33

bl1978 should be recruited to create the case.

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Minskleip

09 Apr 2011, 00:55

Could these network and local keys be used for anything, or would they just be do-whatever-you-want with a network keycap?

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webwit
Wild Duck

09 Apr 2011, 00:58

Someone suggested to me that many of those keys outside the main area are OS specific and in fact are not used in modern OS, having no relevance in these times, and should be changed to F keys and such.

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Minskleip

09 Apr 2011, 01:42

Thought as much. Could use network and local to alternate between a local shell and a remote! Cool idea!

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7bit

09 Apr 2011, 07:48

webwit wrote:Split them into two PCBs..then you get the extra option to make a split keyboard case for it. If you don't want that, you just mount the two parts in a normal case.

Image

More pics here.
My own idea was also to have a main keyboard (5x16) and additional PCBs which could be added like 5x2 fields for the sides and 1x8 or something like that for the function row. So other individual layouts (including a mini-keyboard similar to No Poo or HHKB) would be possible.
Minskleip wrote:Thought as much. Could use network and local to alternate between a local shell and a remote! Cool idea!
If we come forward with this, Round 4 will contain all keys necessary for this keyboard in different colors and styles ...

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Minskleip

09 Apr 2011, 13:24

7bit wrote: If we come forward with this, Round 4 will contain all keys necessary for this keyboard in different colors and styles ...
Very cool :D

asciilifeform

10 Apr 2011, 18:50

The solution to the PCB size problem is this:

One PCB per key.

This PCB should hold only:
  • one keyswitch.
    the cheapest available low-pin-count microcontroller (for instance, the PIC10F200, which comes in SOT-23 packaging!)
    two small connectors for daisy chaining (simple one or two-wire bus)
    two or more screw holes for anchoring to the baseplate.
A larger microcontroller will be used to master the bus and translate signals from the many key units into the PS/2 or USB keyboard protocol.

Stamp these out in huge quantities. Each one is a key.

Transparent keycaps are available, under which users can place home-printed labels.

Result: anyone can build a true custom-layout keyboard.

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7bit

10 Apr 2011, 23:45

asciilifeform wrote:The solution to the PCB size problem is this:

One PCB per key.

This PCB should hold only:
  • one keyswitch.
    the cheapest available low-pin-count microcontroller (for instance, the PIC10F200, which comes in SOT-23 packaging!)
    two small connectors for daisy chaining (simple one or two-wire bus)
    two or more screw holes for anchoring to the baseplate.
A larger microcontroller will be used to master the bus and translate signals from the many key units into the PS/2 or USB keyboard protocol.

Stamp these out in huge quantities. Each one is a key.

Transparent keycaps are available, under which users can place home-printed labels.

Result: anyone can build a true custom-layout keyboard.
This idea is ingenious!

I thought of components (5x2 and 1x8 or so). But your idea is brilliant in the way that you think more radical to reduce it to 1x1!

Every keyboard layout will be possible. No more whining over too long or too short keys!

Thanks a lot!

This will be the way we go.

IanM

11 Apr 2011, 00:23

asciilifeform wrote:One PCB per key.
7bit wrote:This idea is ingenious!
Interesting, but before you get carried away will the cost work out better? Even in quantity you're looking at something like €30 per keyboard just for the controllers suggested? PIC10F200 @ Mouser Electronics Of course these are typical inflated EU prices so you can probably get the cost down a lot by buying from somewhere else?

It's a very promising concept to supply hobbyist builders, maybe there is potential to mass produce enough to bring the cost to a modest level.

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