KeyVision: The Programmable Visual Keyboard Project Rivisited

A bit of history

Back in the mid 80s I imagined keyboards with a 32×32 LCD display on each key, a new breed of keyboards not limited to be simple input devices but full fledged IO devices: Programmable Visual Keyboards (PVKs). PVKs where meant to provide visual feedback on the system state by changing the mini displays dynamically, by conveying the active font family and style, or hosting commands icons, entire palettes, animating keys and naturally portraying any keyboard layout. I designed the PVK electronics and mechanics but the idea remained on paper due to its prohibitive manufacturing cost. Some 10 years later I got in touch with several LCD manufacturers in order to understand if the device had become economically feasible, well, not really, one manufacturer suggested making the whole keyboard a touch screen, my reply was that yes that was an alternative but one of the main objectives of the project was maintaining the keyboard mechanical feel most of us are accustomed to.

Around 2000 Art Lebedev released the wonderfully designed mechanical keyboard Optimus Maximus keyboard and in the late 2000 the touch based concept Optimus Tactus keyboard.

The virtual thing

In this era of IOT, I decided to revamp the KeyVision project when I came across the Raspberry Pi Zero W and the fact it can be transformed into an HID keyboard. If you have a spare Respberry Pi Zero W and would like to transform it into a keyboard as a service device, do the following:

  1. Download and install the latest Raspbian with desktop image, see Getting Started with the Raspberry Pi Zero W without a monitor,
  2. Power up the Zero by connecting the USB cable from a host PC to the Zero USB port (not the PWR IN port!),
  3. Connect to the Zero via SSH
  4. Configure the Zero as an HID keyboard, see Composite USB Gadgets on the Raspberry Pi Zero,
  5. Install Node.js (you may have to remove the preinstalled node.js version),
  6. Download this project code GitHub

At the prompt, change to the project directory then type:

$ sudo node keyvision

the system will respond with

Running Programmable Visual Keyboard at ${hostname}:${port}

Pick up your mobile phone or tablet, connect to the same WiFi the Zero is connected to, open up a browser and visit http://hostname:{port}, a QWERTY US keyboard should appear, touch its keys, the host PC to which the Zero is connected should receive the key clicks and respond accordingly.

(If you’d like a preconfigured MicroSD image, contact me)

The real thing

This github project represents the virtual side of the KeyVision Project, the aim is to build a real Programmable Visual Keyboard. A single prototype can be built for $250, $100 are just for the display, the idea is to make it affordable by industrializing it: while waiting for a breakthrough in haptic technologies that endow mechanical switch like characteristics to a 22″ multi-touch panel with a 1920×540 resolution (i.e. 1/2HD), a standard multi-touch panel can be mounted on a keyboard sized enclosure, driven by a Raspberry Pi Zero W running in kiosk mode configured as a HID keyboard.

(If you’re interested, contact me)


 Last update 2022-07-04 11:40