Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Ergodox Keyboard

I spend most of my day staring at a computer screen, so over the past couple of years I've been transitioning my workspace to be more ergonomic. My most recent acquisition towards this goal has been building an ErgoDox keyboard.

The ErgoDox is an ergonomic, split keyboard that is designed to protect the user from repetitive strain injures (e.g. carpal tunnel). Furthermore, the code and hardware design for the keyboard is completely open-source and the keyboard uses a Teensy microcontroller for interfacing with the computer. The Teensy can be reprogrammed to reflect any key-layout that you would want and shows up on the computer as a generic USB keyboard. This is especially useful because there are no special drivers you have to install to use the keyboard and no extra software required to remap keys.

Most people buy an ErgoDox keyboard as a kit from the group-buy service, Massdrop. I originally planned to do this, but I didn't want to wait several weeks or months for the kit to arrive, so I opted to source the parts on my own. The parts list is available on the Ergodox website, and Matt Adereth has a great blog post about his experience with sourcing the parts. I bought my parts from the same places that Matt mentioned, with the only deviations of not building a case, combining a set of rainbow keycaps from WASD Keyboards with a blank modifier keycap set from Signature Plastics, and choosing brown Cherry switches.

At the time I was considering to buy a kit from Massdrop, getting the PCB, electronic components, blank keycaps, and a case would be ~$240. Sourcing the parts on my own, I was able to get the PCB, electronic components, rainbow keycaps, blank modifier keys, and brown Cherry switches for ~$212.

I held off on buying sheets of acrylic for a case because I wasn't able to secure access to a laser cuter at the time. I don't feel bad about this, though, because I only plan to keep the keyboard at my desk. To protect the diodes on the bottom from shorting and to protect my desktop from getting scratched, I put rubber feet (salvaged from an old project) on the bottom of the PCB.


I'm now a couple weeks into using the keyboard and I am very satisfied with the project. I find that I don't notice the keyboard's layout as I use it, which is good, because it means that I've memorized the layout. Currently, I'm using a modified QWERTY layout, but I'm also interested in trying more optimized layouts such as Dvorak or Colemak. The only annoyance I've found as a result of the Ergodox is that I have trouble adjusting back to traditional QWERTY keyboards. Specifically, I have a habit of thinking that traditional keyboards have a split spacebar and each half of the spacebar has a different function. However, this is a small price to pay for pain-free typing when I use the ErgoDox!

(I'm sorry I don't have more photos of the keyboard--I took several during the build process but forgot to import them into my computer before wiping my camera's SD card)