Author Topic: [IC] Conundrum - 40% ortho, QMK, EC (UPDATE + GB POSTPONED)  (Read 20796 times)

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Offline ThereminGoat

  • Posts: 65
  • Location: Ohio
Re: [IC] Conundrum - 40% ortho, QMK, EC (IMPORTANT STATEMENT + GB THIS WEEK)
« Reply #100 on: Tue, 23 June 2020, 11:19:14 »
I may have been too harsh, I admit, but you've been adding more fuel to the fire when it was already obvious how it ends. If you're a proven designer and have an established brand I'm more than happy to even collaborate on this particular GB.

Maybe I am being daft, but what is there left to collaborate on with this GB? You've already decided your (decently insane) prices after having begrudgingly moved on from a Vickrey auction, attacked a well known maker in the community, and are now trying to defend all of the poor choices along the way with this IC/GB/Thing. I can't imagine anybody is going to want to collaborate with you on this, and that's just the optics of it from someone who wasn't even that interested.

Offline ykill

  • Posts: 37
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Re: [IC] Conundrum - 40% ortho, QMK, EC (IMPORTANT STATEMENT + GB THIS WEEK)
« Reply #101 on: Tue, 23 June 2020, 11:19:38 »
I wanna see that PCB. I'd be super excited about this board if I could see  the proto.

Sent from my Pixel XL using Tapatalk

qed on the gram @quality_enforcement_dojo
qed in 40% Discord

Offline i luv chuletas

  • Posts: 188
Re: [IC] Conundrum - 40% ortho, QMK, EC (IMPORTANT STATEMENT + GB THIS WEEK)
« Reply #102 on: Tue, 23 June 2020, 11:21:25 »
this pricing wouldn't even cover my development costs, but how would you know.

Why not consider reaching out to known vendors such as Jae, or even Cannonkeys? If you have a proven concept, it may help with scaling up productions and lowering costs for everybody. Sure, less margins for you and delay on the running of the gb itself, but it would help you establish your brand successfully, and open up the doors for you to recoup your development costs with subsequent releases?

Should be a bit of a win win in the long run, and at the end you do away with the bad rep that some of the missteps garnered on this IC.

Food for thought.

Offline mewa

  • Thread Starter
  • Posts: 33
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Re: [IC] Conundrum - 40% ortho, QMK, EC (IMPORTANT STATEMENT + GB THIS WEEK)
« Reply #103 on: Tue, 23 June 2020, 11:28:58 »
Don't mean to be that guy but I think I am still waiting on pics of the PCB to determine whether or not this can even be trusted. What has transpired has really made me step back from something I was interested in. IC to GB too fast, cash grab vibes. 650 for your first GB is outrageous with no reputation. Thanks, but no thanks. GLWS though!

Sorry, here's a shot of the PCBs. This is the rev1 though. The GB will go with rev2 (that I have currently manufactured and I'm waiting for them) that looks slightly different.


Offline ThereminGoat

  • Posts: 65
  • Location: Ohio
Re: [IC] Conundrum - 40% ortho, QMK, EC (IMPORTANT STATEMENT + GB THIS WEEK)
« Reply #104 on: Tue, 23 June 2020, 11:33:16 »
Don't mean to be that guy but I think I am still waiting on pics of the PCB to determine whether or not this can even be trusted. What has transpired has really made me step back from something I was interested in. IC to GB too fast, cash grab vibes. 650 for your first GB is outrageous with no reputation. Thanks, but no thanks. GLWS though!

Sorry, here's a shot of the PCBs. This is the rev1 though. The GB will go with rev2 (that I have currently manufactured and I'm waiting for them) that looks slightly different.

Show Image

You haven't even tested the PCBs that you are going to run in the GB that's in less than a week?

Offline p3dstore

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Re: [IC] Conundrum - 40% ortho, QMK, EC (IMPORTANT STATEMENT + GB THIS WEEK)
« Reply #105 on: Tue, 23 June 2020, 11:34:02 »
Don't mean to be that guy but I think I am still waiting on pics of the PCB to determine whether or not this can even be trusted. What has transpired has really made me step back from something I was interested in. IC to GB too fast, cash grab vibes. 650 for your first GB is outrageous with no reputation. Thanks, but no thanks. GLWS though!

Sorry, here's a shot of the PCBs. This is the rev1 though. The GB will go with rev2 (that I have currently manufactured and I'm waiting for them) that looks slightly different.

Show Image


So is there a reason why this GB is being rushed for this weekend already if you don't have the final PCB yet? Is there some timelines that need to be hit? Rushing into GB stage this early is a little sketchy, especially based on all the feedback here.

Offline mewa

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Re: [IC] Conundrum - 40% ortho, QMK, EC (IMPORTANT STATEMENT + GB THIS WEEK)
« Reply #106 on: Tue, 23 June 2020, 11:35:32 »
Don't mean to be that guy but I think I am still waiting on pics of the PCB to determine whether or not this can even be trusted. What has transpired has really made me step back from something I was interested in. IC to GB too fast, cash grab vibes. 650 for your first GB is outrageous with no reputation. Thanks, but no thanks. GLWS though!

Sorry, here's a shot of the PCBs. This is the rev1 though. The GB will go with rev2 (that I have currently manufactured and I'm waiting for them) that looks slightly different.

Show Image

You haven't even tested the PCBs that you are going to run in the GB that's in less than a week?

No changes have been made about how the PCB works. Just the shape will be slightly different and also the colour.

Offline Drewbadour

  • Posts: 2
  • Location: Texas
    • Vestigl Creations
Re: [IC] Conundrum - 40% ortho, QMK, EC (IMPORTANT STATEMENT + GB THIS WEEK)
« Reply #107 on: Tue, 23 June 2020, 11:55:04 »
You'll have to excuse the fact that this is my first post. I typically don't care to post on Geekhack, but I felt compelled to comment based on how curious this whole IC/GB is.

Let me establish some context for who I am and why you might want to trust me. I have a personal website (linked in my bio) in which I released full plans on how to use an RC circuit to sense ESC pads on keyboards. You can read the guide on how the tech works (and what R&D I've done, free of charge) right here: https://vestigl.com/keyboard/hardware-behind-dopre/. I then went on to build a keyboard using this sensing technology in order to test its viability. You can read the full breakdown on the results I had from that experience here: https://vestigl.com/keyboard/northpaw-one-postmortem/. Furthermore, it looks like you're using an ARM chip based on that DC-DC voltage converter that you have on the board. If you're using QMK with this keyboard, then you're (in some part) using ADC code that I contributed to QMK. You can find the pull request for that code here: https://github.com/qmk/qmk_firmware/pull/7681. Also more notably, here's my variant of QMK that supports ESC keyboards: https://github.com/FranticRain/qmk_firmware/tree/esc.

It's hard to tell from your blurry pictures, but it looks like your PCB consists of an ARM uC, DC-DC converter, decoupling capacitors, two resistors used to handle device-type/selection on the USB C connector, and a third resistor that is likely used for an RC circuit. From this, I'm going to assume that you are using an RC circuit to sense these pads. This leads to several questions.

1. The voltage out of the RC circuit is going to be really small unless you let it charge a significant amount of the 5 time constants required to hit 99% of max voltage. Is there a reason you opted to not use an op-amp for this application? Have you noticed any issues with latency due to this lag? And have you had to edit QMK in some way to account for this time lag?

2. By the same token, it will take an equal amount of time for the RC circuit to discharge after it has been charged. Have you made any affordances for this time lag? It doesn't appear that you are using any sort of drain resistor to alleviate this problem.

3. There doesn't appear to be any multiplexing being done on rows/columns here. Is this implying that you are strobe-ing pads one at a time, allowing that circuit to charge and discharge one at a time by connecting every pad to an individual pin?

4. How has your experience been with the actuation point using this sensing solution? Since there aren't any mounting points at the center of the PCB, it appears that the center of the PCB would flex more than the edges, resulting in poor spring contact. This could result in inconsistent keypresses from the center of the board. Do you have any plans to mitigate that problem?

5. How is the PCB attached to the plate? Since there are no keyswitches to hold the housings/sliders to the PCB, the spacing between the PCB and plate is fairly important, as the springs need to make good contact. On a typical Topre PCB, this manifests as about 20 screws that run up from the PCB into threaded holes in the plate in order to ensure even pressure. Have you noticed any issues by eliminating these mounting points?

I have a few more questions, but lets start with those as I might find answers to some of the other ones in your responses.

EDIT: Syntax. Didn't proof-read, like a fool.
« Last Edit: Tue, 23 June 2020, 11:57:47 by Drewbadour »

Offline godinjointform

  • * Destiny Supporter
  • Posts: 175
Re: [IC] Conundrum - 40% ortho, QMK, EC (IMPORTANT STATEMENT + GB THIS WEEK)
« Reply #108 on: Tue, 23 June 2020, 13:10:13 »
I'd enter a vickrey auction for this guy's board ^

Offline TheMilkmen

  • Posts: 32
  • Location: MD, USA
Re: [IC] Conundrum - 40% ortho, QMK, EC (IMPORTANT STATEMENT + GB THIS WEEK)
« Reply #109 on: Tue, 23 June 2020, 13:54:56 »
You'll have to excuse the fact that this is my first post. I typically don't care to post on Geekhack, but I felt compelled to comment based on how curious this whole IC/GB is.

Let me establish some context for who I am and why you might want to trust me. I have a personal website (linked in my bio) in which I released full plans on how to use an RC circuit to sense ESC pads on keyboards. You can read the guide on how the tech works (and what R&D I've done, free of charge) right here: https://vestigl.com/keyboard/hardware-behind-dopre/. I then went on to build a keyboard using this sensing technology in order to test its viability. You can read the full breakdown on the results I had from that experience here: https://vestigl.com/keyboard/northpaw-one-postmortem/. Furthermore, it looks like you're using an ARM chip based on that DC-DC voltage converter that you have on the board. If you're using QMK with this keyboard, then you're (in some part) using ADC code that I contributed to QMK. You can find the pull request for that code here: https://github.com/qmk/qmk_firmware/pull/7681. Also more notably, here's my variant of QMK that supports ESC keyboards: https://github.com/FranticRain/qmk_firmware/tree/esc.

It's hard to tell from your blurry pictures, but it looks like your PCB consists of an ARM uC, DC-DC converter, decoupling capacitors, two resistors used to handle device-type/selection on the USB C connector, and a third resistor that is likely used for an RC circuit. From this, I'm going to assume that you are using an RC circuit to sense these pads. This leads to several questions.

1. The voltage out of the RC circuit is going to be really small unless you let it charge a significant amount of the 5 time constants required to hit 99% of max voltage. Is there a reason you opted to not use an op-amp for this application? Have you noticed any issues with latency due to this lag? And have you had to edit QMK in some way to account for this time lag?

2. By the same token, it will take an equal amount of time for the RC circuit to discharge after it has been charged. Have you made any affordances for this time lag? It doesn't appear that you are using any sort of drain resistor to alleviate this problem.

3. There doesn't appear to be any multiplexing being done on rows/columns here. Is this implying that you are strobe-ing pads one at a time, allowing that circuit to charge and discharge one at a time by connecting every pad to an individual pin?

4. How has your experience been with the actuation point using this sensing solution? Since there aren't any mounting points at the center of the PCB, it appears that the center of the PCB would flex more than the edges, resulting in poor spring contact. This could result in inconsistent keypresses from the center of the board. Do you have any plans to mitigate that problem?

5. How is the PCB attached to the plate? Since there are no keyswitches to hold the housings/sliders to the PCB, the spacing between the PCB and plate is fairly important, as the springs need to make good contact. On a typical Topre PCB, this manifests as about 20 screws that run up from the PCB into threaded holes in the plate in order to ensure even pressure. Have you noticed any issues by eliminating these mounting points?

I have a few more questions, but lets start with those as I might find answers to some of the other ones in your responses.

EDIT: Syntax. Didn't proof-read, like a fool.

This is legitimately good information to have asked here.
I have little knowledge of how these really work but I at least noticed that there was a lack of screws in the middle to support the housings, as stated above.

I think that these things are something that OP should look into since this really does seem like a bit of a misstep over what could have been the next big breakthrough in the community.

Offline Knocking

  • Posts: 13
Re: [IC] Conundrum - 40% ortho, QMK, EC (IMPORTANT STATEMENT + GB THIS WEEK)
« Reply #110 on: Tue, 23 June 2020, 14:40:07 »
Yeah, I was really interested in the concept of a 40% ortho EC board, but the way you've handled this GB has been a huge turn off for me. Not to put any more fuel on the fire, but the incredibly high price and your difficulty with accepting criticism does not give me any faith that this will be a well-run GB.

Offline KingOfMemes

  • Posts: 787
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Re: [IC] Conundrum - 40% ortho, QMK, EC (IMPORTANT STATEMENT + GB THIS WEEK)
« Reply #111 on: Tue, 23 June 2020, 15:04:58 »
each unit will cost $650+shipping (and tax, if applicable

this is an absurd price. i am working on a staggered layout electrocapacitive 40% right now called Subrosa and knowing what these parts cost individually, the justification for this price point is paper-thin. this confirms you're interested in making as much money as you can, not introducing a new and interesting concept at a reasonable price to the community.
I 100% agree with everything you said, and I'm definitely not trying to defend a $650 pricepoint because its hilariously steep, but I feel like "introducing a new and interesting concept at a reasonable price to the community" is priority number 2 to "making as much money as you can" for like 90% of any group buy nowemdays. This IC is just making that fact blatantly obvious

Offline stevesie

  • Posts: 9
  • Location: US-Fl
Re: [IC] Conundrum - 40% ortho, QMK, EC (IMPORTANT STATEMENT + GB THIS WEEK)
« Reply #112 on: Wed, 24 June 2020, 21:04:53 »
Regarding the typing video, OP edited the thread on June 16th with a typing test. I also missed that completely.

Okay, so I'm not usually one to respond to these types of threads, but I noticed some inconsistencies with this video and I have to know why.

The typing does not match up with the screen in the video. At all. I noticed it at 0:18 where the word is about to be "point" and the N remains untouched.

It feels like the typing is not matched up at all and if you watch and listen to it, I don't feel it is correct.

What I don't get is why anyone would feel the need to fake a typing video. The only thing I can think is to convince people that your board is working when it isn't. And we know the PCB hasn't been tested as of yet from other responses in this thread.

So why fake it? If the idea is to show people the sound which I believe is the point of a typing test, you don't need to prove the keyboard works. It would be nice, but it's not a necessity IMO.

Offline jjoejimmy

  • Posts: 28
Re: [IC] Conundrum - 40% ortho, QMK, EC (IMPORTANT STATEMENT + GB THIS WEEK)
« Reply #113 on: Wed, 24 June 2020, 21:22:25 »
Am... I going crazy? What he's typing on the keyboard doesn't match the words on monkey-type, and monkey-type definitely tells you if you typed the wrong letter.

The layout I use is Colemak-DH, that's why ;)

Offline Pyk_

  • Posts: 55
Re: [IC] Conundrum - 40% ortho, QMK, EC (IMPORTANT STATEMENT + GB THIS WEEK)
« Reply #114 on: Wed, 24 June 2020, 21:39:14 »
Regarding the typing video, OP edited the thread on June 16th with a typing test. I also missed that completely.

Okay, so I'm not usually one to respond to these types of threads, but I noticed some inconsistencies with this video and I have to know why.

The typing does not match up with the screen in the video. At all. I noticed it at 0:18 where the word is about to be "point" and the N remains untouched.

It feels like the typing is not matched up at all and if you watch and listen to it, I don't feel it is correct.

What I don't get is why anyone would feel the need to fake a typing video. The only thing I can think is to convince people that your board is working when it isn't. And we know the PCB hasn't been tested as of yet from other responses in this thread.

So why fake it? If the idea is to show people the sound which I believe is the point of a typing test, you don't need to prove the keyboard works. It would be nice, but it's not a necessity IMO.
Some people use alternate layouts while leaving the keys as qwerty, myself included. In fact, Iíve even replaced the top row of my Planck with the number row.

My question to OP is, if you want to get as many people in at the lowest price, why not just do tiered pricing? The main difference that I see between the two is that the auction lets you optimize what makes you the most money. Iím not saying this is the case, itís just how it feels to me.

Offline wencan008

  • Posts: 40
Re: [IC] Conundrum - 40% ortho, QMK, EC (IMPORTANT STATEMENT + GB THIS WEEK)
« Reply #115 on: Thu, 25 June 2020, 01:05:25 »
Regarding the typing video, OP edited the thread on June 16th with a typing test. I also missed that completely.

Okay, so I'm not usually one to respond to these types of threads, but I noticed some inconsistencies with this video and I have to know why.

The typing does not match up with the screen in the video. At all. I noticed it at 0:18 where the word is about to be "point" and the N remains untouched.

It feels like the typing is not matched up at all and if you watch and listen to it, I don't feel it is correct.

What I don't get is why anyone would feel the need to fake a typing video. The only thing I can think is to convince people that your board is working when it isn't. And we know the PCB hasn't been tested as of yet from other responses in this thread.

So why fake it? If the idea is to show people the sound which I believe is the point of a typing test, you don't need to prove the keyboard works. It would be nice, but it's not a necessity IMO.

This was addressed before but the typing test is fine, he's using Colemak-DH

Offline Ja3_420

  • Posts: 40
  • Location: Netherlands
Re: [IC] Conundrum - 40% ortho, QMK, EC (IMPORTANT STATEMENT + GB THIS WEEK)
« Reply #116 on: Fri, 26 June 2020, 07:15:22 »
each unit will cost $650+shipping (and tax, if applicable

this is an absurd price. i am working on a staggered layout electrocapacitive 40% right now called Subrosa and knowing what these parts cost individually, the justification for this price point is paper-thin. this confirms you're interested in making as much money as you can, not introducing a new and interesting concept at a reasonable price to the community.

Is it as absurd as your $400 on a plain keyboard which requires no R&D, especially when selling 200 units?

At least now I can see why you've been slandering me lately - you have a direct monetary incentive. And please let me be the judge how much the countless hours and days spent developing this keyboard are worth.

Cajal is pretty far from plain imo.

You are getting "slandered" (you aren't) because this whole thing is a cash grab.

Offline dklein

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Re: [IC] Conundrum - 40% ortho, QMK, EC (IMPORTANT STATEMENT + GB THIS WEEK)
« Reply #117 on: Fri, 26 June 2020, 09:57:25 »
You'll have to excuse the fact that this is my first post. I typically don't care to post on Geekhack, but I felt compelled to comment based on how curious this whole IC/GB is.

Let me establish some context for who I am and why you might want to trust me. I have a personal website (linked in my bio) in which I released full plans on how to use an RC circuit to sense ESC pads on keyboards. You can read the guide on how the tech works (and what R&D I've done, free of charge) right here: https://vestigl.com/keyboard/hardware-behind-dopre/. I then went on to build a keyboard using this sensing technology in order to test its viability. You can read the full breakdown on the results I had from that experience here: https://vestigl.com/keyboard/northpaw-one-postmortem/. Furthermore, it looks like you're using an ARM chip based on that DC-DC voltage converter that you have on the board. If you're using QMK with this keyboard, then you're (in some part) using ADC code that I contributed to QMK. You can find the pull request for that code here: https://github.com/qmk/qmk_firmware/pull/7681. Also more notably, here's my variant of QMK that supports ESC keyboards: https://github.com/FranticRain/qmk_firmware/tree/esc.

It's hard to tell from your blurry pictures, but it looks like your PCB consists of an ARM uC, DC-DC converter, decoupling capacitors, two resistors used to handle device-type/selection on the USB C connector, and a third resistor that is likely used for an RC circuit. From this, I'm going to assume that you are using an RC circuit to sense these pads. This leads to several questions.

1. The voltage out of the RC circuit is going to be really small unless you let it charge a significant amount of the 5 time constants required to hit 99% of max voltage. Is there a reason you opted to not use an op-amp for this application? Have you noticed any issues with latency due to this lag? And have you had to edit QMK in some way to account for this time lag?

2. By the same token, it will take an equal amount of time for the RC circuit to discharge after it has been charged. Have you made any affordances for this time lag? It doesn't appear that you are using any sort of drain resistor to alleviate this problem.

3. There doesn't appear to be any multiplexing being done on rows/columns here. Is this implying that you are strobe-ing pads one at a time, allowing that circuit to charge and discharge one at a time by connecting every pad to an individual pin?

4. How has your experience been with the actuation point using this sensing solution? Since there aren't any mounting points at the center of the PCB, it appears that the center of the PCB would flex more than the edges, resulting in poor spring contact. This could result in inconsistent keypresses from the center of the board. Do you have any plans to mitigate that problem?

5. How is the PCB attached to the plate? Since there are no keyswitches to hold the housings/sliders to the PCB, the spacing between the PCB and plate is fairly important, as the springs need to make good contact. On a typical Topre PCB, this manifests as about 20 screws that run up from the PCB into threaded holes in the plate in order to ensure even pressure. Have you noticed any issues by eliminating these mounting points?

I have a few more questions, but lets start with those as I might find answers to some of the other ones in your responses.

EDIT: Syntax. Didn't proof-read, like a fool.

The lack of response to this should be incredibly concerning to anyone who was still considering this board

Offline mewa

  • Thread Starter
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Re: [IC] Conundrum - 40% ortho, QMK, EC (IMPORTANT STATEMENT + GB THIS WEEK)
« Reply #118 on: Fri, 26 June 2020, 21:37:25 »
Hi everyone,

This is going to be a long post but I'll try to answer a couple questions and also tell you the story that ended in the (unfortunate) group buy. I'm juggling between this project and a day job, so ultimately it took me a while but I hope you understand as most of us are in this situation :)

First of all - and this is something I probably should've started with in the first place - I would like to give you a little background about who I am.

So, to start over - hi, I'm Marcin! I'm a software engineer, currently involved more in site reliability and other cloud-related topics, but I've always had a passion for low level stuff. My journey with programming and the tech industry started with learning and writing code in C++ and it soon developed into several other technologies and at this point I'm very versatile. I've touched and written programs in a variety of languages - including some of the more obscure ones such as Common Lisp and ones that are much closer to hardware such as the assembly (x86, x64). Or even bare machine code.

However, it wasn't until a couple years ago that my friend and I entered this hobby. At that time we were often scrolling through r/unixporn tweaking our setups for optimal performance and comfort. i3, XMonad, spectrewm and that kind of stuff. Yes, I'm an optimization freak. Occasionally some of the cool pictures found there linked to r/mechanicalkeyboards and incidentally that's how we entered another geeky hobby. I started with a cheap board off of Aliexpress with Gateron reds. It was a refreshing experience but soon I started noticing all those intriguing small keyboards. And then ortholinear. I knew I had to get one - and so I did. I got my first 40% programmable ortholinear board and frankly, I was amazed. To keep the momentum I decided to switch to Colemak-DH layout. Spoiler alert: getting up to speed on a new layout is several orders of magnitude more time-consuming than just switching between stagger and ortho. But I can't complain - and it's still the layout I use on a daily basis.

Then I discovered those expensive rubber dome keyboards and soon enough I found myself with a HHKB and a Realforce. Having been a huge fan of the linear switches I must say I was amazed and really liked the typing experience on the Topre boards. But something was lacking. I already tried ortho and even though the feel was great and I've come to love the tactility I found myself switching often between my 40% and the Topres. The lack of programmability was also a huge drawback. I realised that *my* end-game keyboard was going to be a programmable 40% ortholinear with electro-capacitive switches.

That's how the seed was planted. This was back in 2018. After researching the topic for some time I created my first IC for a 40%, split (as that was something I was exploring back then) ortho EC keyboard to see if there would be other people interested as well. The response I got was mixed and fairly limited, but it was a start and soon enough I started developing the very first prototype.

One of the problems that haunted EC development was that there were no available parts. In order to have a custom EC board you needed a Realforce first. Then again, even if you had one you might want to alternate between keyboards and sourcing parts renders the donor keyboards essentially useless.

As such, I knew I needed to focus on creating capacitive conic springs - often sought by people that lost a couple during dome swaps. Apart from the different looks, these springs are somewhat unsual in that they are not the major component dictating the weight of an EC switch. They are also not linear. However, they are crucial for the operation of the keyboard as they're the medium for the electric charge to move around and causing the change in capacitance we're measuring. The fact that they're not the major component of how the switch feels has another important implication to their design - they are extremely lightweight. To the point where it's actually difficult to manufacture a spring so light with such a shape. Nevertheless, I started development and soon enough I had a first prototype.

Apart from the springs I obviously needed to design a PCB.

Back in the days the resources on EC boards were very scarce and weren't nearly as thorough as the recent analyses by Gondolirim or Drew. Anyway, I devoured all of them. Most notably I was heavily influenced by the guide written by Tom Smalley. It was extremely helpful and has laid foundations for this project. I've learned that sensing capacitive circuits is very tricky. The biggest advantage of the EC keyboards is also it's great pitfall - the signal is analog. Unlike digital signals, analog signals are very susceptible to external factors. Like Tom has noticed, we're measuring changes in capacitance on the order of a couple picofarads. This is an incredibly small value and any noise can affect the circuit badly. On top of that, extreme care has to be taken when laying traces on the PCB as inappropriate wiring can easily incorporate additional parasitic capacitance that causes - at best - the performance of the circuit to deteriorate. The magnitude of unwanted effects will vary based on the measurement method but the worst case scenario is that the device ceases to work. So even when you have a proper circuit it may still fail for non-obvious reasons.

How do you ensure it's working despite all the hurdles? To find the answer I went to study an enormous amount of datasheets, application notes and all sorts of pdfs tackling this problem. I read a lot of resources on designing smartphones - yes, smartphones - as, incidentally, that's probably also the largest cap industry making use of touch sensing technologies, and in particular of capacitive touch sensing.

The last piece of work was to implement QMK on the microcontroller of choice. Most new keyboards aren't actually that innovative in terms of firmware. They usually lean onto the same code and microcontrollers that've already been implemented in QMK. Building an EC board meant foregoing both the hardware - as I had to pick something capable of reliably sensing capacitance - as well as the code that was written for it - both because of the hardware as well as the different workings of an EC keyboard. I knew from the start that was going to require a significant amount of time.

Anyhow, in the meantime I started designing a PCB, and to ease the burden I decided to base my design on an improved but somewhat neglected chip from the AVR family. My intention was to make the integration with QMK as painful as possible, granted AVR powered the lion's share of the keyboards powered by QMK. The chip itself was rather big which was both a pro and a con. A pro, since it meant soldering it by hand was doable, and a con because, well, it was big. Unlike classic Cherry MX based designs, EC PCBs have much less real estate where you can place the microcontroller, which resulted in the PCB having a pronounced top. This is due to the aforementioned sensitivity, but also due to the fact that unlike in Cherry MX designs the PCB is also a part of the switching mechanism, so you can't try to stuff something in between the pins. Being a fan of thin bezels this additional space was something I was definitely not pleased with. However, for the time being I had to accept it.
In the end, despite being quite big for the package, the chip turned out to be small enough to be a pain to solder correctly.

What was supposed to be a boon quickly turned into a curse. Instead of making the development easier the architectural similarity actually made things worse. There are a lot of places in QMK (actually, in TMK) where it is implicitly assumed that AVR only consists of the older chips favoured by hobbyists. Eventually, I managed to get it to work and even showed something in another IC - this time with photos of the hand-soldered PCB and the spring prototypes. But I feared that due to those implicit assumptions there may be still bugs lurking, especially ones that might be very hard to debug later on.
I also learned that this chip wasn't actually that great for a capacitive touch sensor and was very inflexible in terms of development.
Shortly after I found out that the chip is to be soon phased out, which concluded with the decision to switch chips.

In the meantime I was improving the springs' design and in total I did another 3 rounds of prototypes, with great success. Finally, that was one component off the list! And the springs from my last run are actually powering my HHKB and Realforce to this date.

Anyway, back to the main venture. Having been made aware of the limitations of my previous chip I started looking for a viable alternative. Something more flexible. Something smaller, to get rid of that ugly top. This time I knew exactly what I was looking for. The chip turned out to be an ARM-based one, designed specifically around capacitive touch sensing.

This was great, both because ARM is an awesome family of microcontrollers (also much more powerful) but also because it gave much more control about individual parameters of the capacitive sensing process, including resistance and amplification. As I've already mentioned, we're operating on extremely low values here - and since the capacitive sensing circuits are acting on such low values and almost anything plays a factor, one of the key elements in capacitive sensing is tuning the circuit to achieve satisfactory performance. More parameters to control means we can come to a solution quicker.

The microcontroller change meant the PCB had to be adjusted slightly, but it wasn't too bad. The worst part was again getting everything soldered, as the package was again, very small. I failed miserably and lost almost all the parts and PCBs (and I swore not to ever solder by hand anything so small by hand). I managed to have it soldered and eventually implemented QMK on that board. It took a nice while to do that, but at least the development of the EC features has been a breeze compared to the previous chip. I never got around to implementing I2C though, since I started worrying about bringing this design to production.

Knowing I would focus on having all the components soldered profesionally I decided to switch to a smaller chip in the family so I can design a case that looks more natural. If you saw the renders of the case design for the first prototype you know what I'm talking about.

It was then that I decided to undo the split. You see, I realized how niche of a category I picked up. Not only EC, but also 40%, ortholinear and split!

I have a very clear outlook on how the future of custom electro-capacitive keyboards might look like. 5x12 grid orthos, macropads, numpads and splits. And not just keyboards. I would like to make the development of custom EC boards a breeze for everyone, similarly to how anyone can build their own custom Cherry MX keyboard.

If time has taught me anything, it's that it's hard to get proper parts for building custom ECs - and those that do have them, have little intention in sharing them. In fact, those of you that saw the original IC may even remember that creating those parts was one of my initial goals. Unfortunately, I bounced off the high costs of entry - as is usually the case with injection moulding.

My previous decision struck me, as out of all the keyboards projects I had on my list the one I chose was bound to have the lowest interest - meaning there would be less traction to keep all the other projects I have in mind.

So I doubled-down and got down to work. I thought a Planck-format keyboard would do much better and ensure there's enough momentum to keep developing the next projects on the list. Also it's simpler in design compared to a split, so I thought it might be best to postpone the I2C stuff until I have experience shipping a custom EC keyboard.

So I redesigned the PCB and this time I went with that other microcontroller from the start. It required some changes to the QMK code, but fortunately the lion's share of the code I've already written was compatible with it. More importantly, I started working on the enclosure and thanks to the reduced PCB real estate needed for the chip I ended up in the current design. I think it's a nice result for the tradeoffs I had to worry in the beginning.

All in all, since late January I've been involved with talks with different manufacturers collecting quotas for a GB run and evaluating their capability. I've since started cooperating with selected few which I was comfortable with (and it's not going to be their first keyboard GB order) and the prototypes I presented to you in the photos and also in the typing test are the result of that cooperation.

Drew, first of all thank you for posting - and I must say you have a very keen eye! All your remarks are correct but for the last one - that last resistor is used for microcontroller stability, not as part of RC circuit. I see this is a path you haven't explored, but all the other components that you were asking about are already included in the silicon and multiplexed internally.

Neither of the chips were an ST, so I haven't made use of your code actually ;)

With this latest board I've been running consistently at >500Hz which I think is more than enough for a great typing experience and as far as I remember it's also faster than the stock boards. I'll see how far I can push this, but this hasn't been my priority so far.

As for the flaws - yes, this PCB has some issues. You can flex it if you tighten the screws too much. Like I've already mentioned this is something that I've already addressed in the next revision (which I should have soon), and rev2 includes a handful of screws to alleviate that.

And by the way, I really enjoyed your posts - although I wish you had written them a few years sooner!

I hope this gives you all an insight into what this project is and shows you my commitment. After working on something for so long you inevitably become emotionally attached to it, I had a hard time seeing beyond that.

I understand everyone's concerns and of course they are valid. This is my first public project and so I should obviously slow down - and therefore I decided to postpone the GB. In the meantime I will be sending out the prototypes for review to some of the more senior members of the community whom I'm very grateful.


(If I omitted anything I'll try to get back to it on nearest occasion. Right now I need to sleep badly. Gn!)

Offline dklein

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Re: [IC] Conundrum - 40% ortho, QMK, EC (UPDATE + GB POSTPONED)
« Reply #119 on: Fri, 26 June 2020, 21:48:35 »
Thanks for that information and acknowledgement, I'm glad to see that you're taking the time for due diligence on this group buy. I look forward to seeing what reviewers think of the board!

Offline gnho

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Re: [IC] Conundrum - 40% ortho, QMK, EC (UPDATE + GB POSTPONED)
« Reply #120 on: Fri, 26 June 2020, 21:49:23 »
Came for the drama, stay for the story. Nice post!

Sent from my Pixel 3 using Tapatalk


Offline 3ambutter

  • Posts: 45
Re: [IC] Conundrum - 40% ortho, QMK, EC (UPDATE + GB POSTPONED)
« Reply #121 on: Fri, 26 June 2020, 22:10:08 »
You weren't kidding about the R&D. GLWGB  :thumb:
Reborn60 | Keycult No.1 Rev.1 | SKB60 | TGR x SINGA UNIKORN | GSKT-00

Offline i luv chuletas

  • Posts: 188
Re: [IC] Conundrum - 40% ortho, QMK, EC (UPDATE + GB POSTPONED)
« Reply #122 on: Fri, 26 June 2020, 22:44:08 »
Hey man, glad to see you taking your time with this. That was actually a pretty interesting read.

Hope you are able to bring the price range a bit down somehow, would love to jump on this but it's a bit far out for me atm.

Regardless, glad to see this back on track

Offline ilikerustoo

  • Posts: 84
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Re: [IC] Conundrum - 40% ortho, QMK, EC (UPDATE + GB POSTPONED)
« Reply #123 on: Fri, 26 June 2020, 22:49:25 »
Happy to see this  :thumb:

Offline Drewbadour

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Re: [IC] Conundrum - 40% ortho, QMK, EC (UPDATE + GB POSTPONED)
« Reply #124 on: Fri, 26 June 2020, 22:59:01 »
Thanks for taking the time to respond. Very cool to see you come at this from a different angle. Naturally, I'm looking to learn from what you've done and see if I can improve my design for a second iteration. If you'd be open to sharing what you know with me, I'd be more than happy to chat with you. I assume you're leveraging STMTouch. I had looked at STMTouch and passed over it due to fears of speed. 500Hz on a 40% wasn't enough for me, as I wanted to achieve 2KHz (Shannon-Nyquist at max USB polling rate) on a 104 key keyboard. And if you're serious about making the tech available to everyone, then I have a little experience with write-ups ;).

Hope to hear from you soon.

EDIT: Misread, there were a lot of words. In general, I had avoided on-chip capsense due to concerns about speed, but perhaps my fears were unfounded.
« Last Edit: Sat, 27 June 2020, 10:29:03 by Drewbadour »

Offline Jaxxstatic

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Re: [IC] Conundrum - 40% ortho, QMK, EC (UPDATE + GB POSTPONED)
« Reply #125 on: Fri, 26 June 2020, 23:59:20 »
Following

Offline alphabirth

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Re: [IC] Conundrum - 40% ortho, QMK, EC (UPDATE + GB POSTPONED)
« Reply #126 on: Mon, 29 June 2020, 12:13:44 »
Hi everyone,

...
long copy-pasta
...
Thanks for the thoughtful post! I'm really happy to see you slowing down to do this more carefully. Maybe the community can help to come up with ideas on bringing cost down as well.  . I suspect the current price point is going to be too high for many (including myself). If you can work with your manufacturers, you can figure out how many units you need for MOQ to make lower prices per unit possible.

« Last Edit: Tue, 30 June 2020, 06:02:38 by alphabirth »

Offline konstantin

  • Formerly constexpr
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Re: [IC] Conundrum - 40% ortho, QMK, EC (UPDATE + GB POSTPONED)
« Reply #127 on: Mon, 29 June 2020, 18:47:39 »
<a really, really long post>
Thanks for the thoughtful post! I'm really happy to see you slowing down to do this more carefully. Maybe the community can help to come up with ideas on bringing cost down as well.  . I suspect the current price point is going to be too high for many (including myself). If you can work with your manufacturers, you can figure out how many units you need for MOQ to make lower prices per unit possible.

Sent from my Nokia 7.1 using Tapatalk

You don't really need to quote the whole post, my dude. Have consideration for those of us viewing the thread on desktop.

Offline alphabirth

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Re: [IC] Conundrum - 40% ortho, QMK, EC (UPDATE + GB POSTPONED)
« Reply #128 on: Tue, 30 June 2020, 06:04:29 »
<a really, really long post>
Thanks for the thoughtful post! I'm really happy to see you slowing down to do this more carefully. Maybe the community can help to come up with ideas on bringing cost down as well.  . I suspect the current price point is going to be too high for many (including myself). If you can work with your manufacturers, you can figure out how many units you need for MOQ to make lower prices per unit possible.

Sent from my Nokia 7.1 using Tapatalk

My b!  Edited to be not ridiculous.  I assumed there would be some max length that the site would auto-generate a "..." button for.  The more you know.

You don't really need to quote the whole post, my dude. Have consideration for those of us viewing the thread on desktop.

Offline konstantin

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Re: [IC] Conundrum - 40% ortho, QMK, EC (UPDATE + GB POSTPONED)
« Reply #129 on: Tue, 30 June 2020, 13:02:00 »
My b!  Edited to be not ridiculous.  I assumed there would be some max length that the site would auto-generate a "..." button for.  The more you know.

All good :thumb:

Offline jawoo

  • Posts: 7
Re: [IC] Conundrum - 40% ortho, QMK, EC (UPDATE + GB POSTPONED)
« Reply #130 on: Thu, 02 July 2020, 00:16:14 »
This is a great opportunity Mewa!  Maybe you could think about working with Drew with this project and don't worry too much about profit from your first.  Money will come along and it becomes easier as you move forward, you know like the next 2nd, 3rd, 4th project.   

Offline Knocking

  • Posts: 13
Re: [IC] Conundrum - 40% ortho, QMK, EC (UPDATE + GB POSTPONED)
« Reply #131 on: Tue, 11 August 2020, 11:10:01 »
Any updates on this? I was genuinely looking forward to a 40% Topre, but sadly it seems like OP has gone MIA :(

Offline MQTThings

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Re: [IC] Conundrum - 40% ortho, QMK, EC (UPDATE + GB POSTPONED)
« Reply #132 on: Fri, 21 August 2020, 04:19:30 »
On the Candykeys Instagram

Offline mewa

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Re: [IC] Conundrum - 40% ortho, QMK, EC (UPDATE + GB POSTPONED)
« Reply #133 on: Sun, 06 September 2020, 15:08:24 »
On the Candykeys Instagram

Nice catch! :) It's true, we've been working really hard on this GB, finalizing all the details and making sure it goes smoothly. Expect some exciting news in the upcoming weeks!

Offline econeuler

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Re: [IC] Conundrum - 40% ortho, QMK, EC (UPDATE + GB POSTPONED)
« Reply #134 on: Mon, 07 September 2020, 02:44:45 »
On the Candykeys Instagram

Nice catch! :) It's true, we've been working really hard on this GB, finalizing all the details and making sure it goes smoothly. Expect some exciting news in the upcoming weeks!

Nice to hear it's all going well  :)

Offline deacon

  • Posts: 46
Re: [IC] Conundrum - 40% ortho, QMK, EC (UPDATE + GB POSTPONED)
« Reply #135 on: Wed, 16 September 2020, 09:39:34 »
I would like to echo the desire mentioned elsewhere to purchase the electronics without the luxury case. I understand some of the reasons for pursuing that aesthetic but there are many of us that would enjoy this keyboard with a less precious or even a DIY / BYO case.

Thank you for your consideration.

Offline Mistah

  • Posts: 9
Re: [IC] Conundrum - 40% ortho, QMK, EC (UPDATE + GB POSTPONED)
« Reply #136 on: Sun, 11 October 2020, 01:40:53 »
Will there be review units shipped out before the GB? Would be great to see the build process, and it would be great for you to get an endorsement from someone like Taeha or another prominent reviewer that has experience with EC boards. Good luck! :)

Offline mewa

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Re: [IC] Conundrum - 40% ortho, QMK, EC (UPDATE + GB POSTPONED)
« Reply #137 on: Thu, 22 October 2020, 05:33:57 »
Yup, I'll share a link here as soon as it's possible!