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Jun 17, 2015 7:34 EDT

The Model 01: an heirloom-grade keyboard for serious typists: With a hardwood body, mechanical switches & custom-sculpted keycaps, it’s a dream to type on. It comes with source code & a screwdriver

iCrowdNewswire - Jun 17, 2015

The Model 01: an heirloom-grade keyboard for serious typists


A keyboard for uncompromising typists

We spend our days at a keyboard. Most of our nights, too. The keyboard is how we practice our craft. Something even a little bit more comfortable makes a world of difference. Something even a little bit better designed will help us be happier and more productive.

Over the years, we’ve tried pretty much every keyboard out there, but never found one we could fall in love with.

In late 2012, we set out to build ourselves a better keyboard. Early on, we only wanted to make a couple for ourselves. Of course, early on, we also thought this was a hobby project that was going to take a month.

Boy were we wrong. 

On pretty much all counts. 

It’s taken two and a half years, far longer than we could have possibly imagined. We’ve had to learn 3D modeling, electrical engineering, soldering, lasercutting, 3D printing, and CNC milling. We’ve built dozens of prototypes and put them in front of hundreds of enthusiastic folks who type too much, including programmers, journalists, bloggers, writers, and gamers, to name just a few. People keep telling us to “shut up and take my money,” but we’ve taken our time because we really, really wanted to get this right.

The Keyboardio Model 01
The Keyboardio Model 01

The Model 01 is the best keyboard we can make. It’s not like other keyboards. We mill the Model 01’s enclosure from two blocks of solid maple that are a joy to rest your hands on. Instead of shallow, uncomfortable keyswitches, we use gloriously tactile mechanical keyswitches similar to those found in the original Apple II. We’ve custom-sculpted each of the 64 individual keycaps on the Model 01 to gently guide your fingers to the right keys.  After putting it all together, the result is a keyboard that is a pleasure to type on all day and all night.

We think you’re going to love it. We’ve come to Kickstarter to raise money for our first production run. With your help, we can deliver you an amazing keyboard that you’ll enjoy typing on for years. We’re absolutely thrilled to be here and we hope you’ll join us

The right keyboard is, of course, an incredibly personal thing. We’d love to let you meet the Model 01 and try it out in person, so we’re doing something a little bit crazy. During the campaign, we are bringing the Model 01 to meetups in 23 cities across the US and Canada.

Heirloom-grade construction

The first thing you’ll notice when you look at the Model 01 is that it doesn’t look like any keyboard you’ve ever seen. 

We tried building keyboards out of plastic and metal, but they just didn’t feel right. It was important to us that we create something that actually feels good to use. We precision-mill the Model 01 out of two blocks of maple. It’s hard to convey in writing just how good it feels to rest your hands on the Model 01. In a lot of ways, the Model 01 feels more like a musical instrument than a computer peripheral.

Each keyboard is milled from solid maple
Each keyboard is milled from solid maple

Deciding to make a keyboard out of wood is a huge pain in the neck. Each keyboard needs to be individually milled and there are plenty of manufacturers who won’t even talk to us because we’re not using plastic. 

But it’s worth it.

Once you get your hands on a polished maple Model 01, you won’t want to go back to another flat, plastic box.

A key layout based on your fingers

There’s an old keyboard-nerd joke that goes something like this: “If alien archeologists landed on Earth a million years from now and tried to figure out what we looked like based on our keyboards, they’d probably figure that we had 10 tentacles coming out of our chests.” The traditional staggered QWERTY layout was not designed for humans.

The Model 01's default layout
The Model 01’s default layout
The Model 01's default layout with the function key held down
The Model 01’s default layout with the function key held down

That being said, it’s important to us that the Model 01 not feel too alien today. That’s why we’ve based the default key layout on QWERTY. We’ve made some important changes, though: We’ve aligned the keys in columns so they’re easier to reach without having to contort your fingers. The two halves of the keyboard are angled to help you keep your wrists in a more natural, neutral position. (The standard keycaps will have QWERTY legends; if you’d prefer blank keycaps you can choose them as an option on your backer survey.)  We’re experimenting with a version of blank keycaps with a translucent dot in the middle, so you still get the most out of the nice glowing effects.

We will be making additional sets of keycaps available for sale after the campaign ends. Each key set will come with a keypuller. We’re going to do everything we can to offer custom laser engraving, so you can have gorgeous custom keycaps that match your custom key layout.

If you’ve ever used a smartphone, you know that your thumbs are good for more than just whacking a big spacebar. The Model 01 moves some of the most frequently chorded keys away from your poor, overworked pinkie fingers to comfortable arcs right under your thumbs.

Underneath the thumb arcs, you’ll see one of the Model 01’s most unique features: a palm key. You can think of it as a Function key or a special sort of Shift. Dropping the base of your thumb onto it turns the H,J,K, and L keys into your arrow keys, turns the number keys into F-keys and even turns the WASD keys into a high-precision mouse.

Typing on the Model 01
Typing on the Model 01

The Model 01 ships with a QWERTY layout, but it also speaks Dvorak, Colemak, Workman, and a variant of the Malt layout. It is, of course, easily customizable, so you’ll be able to make it speak your layout.

Yes, it has an “Any” key. No, we have no idea what it’s supposed to do. But we bet you do.

It adjusts to fit your hands and your desk

Out of the box, the Model 01 provides a pretty comfortable experience for the vast majority of people who’ve tried it. However, your hands and your work setup aren’t necessarily the same as ours, so we’ve designed the Model 01 to be easy for you to adjust and customize. The two halves of the keyboard are joined together by a center bar. Your Model 01 will come with both a flat bar and a “tented” bar. We’re publishing the mounting specification, so you’ll be able to build your own center bar, too.

We like adjustability. Your keyboard should fit you, not the other way around
We like adjustability. Your keyboard should fit you, not the other way around
  • The most standard configuration of the Model 01 places the two halves of the keyboard flat on your desk. If you’re not used to an ergonomic keyboard or plan to use the Model 01 on your lap, the flat configuration will feel most natural to you.
  • The tented center bar angles the two halves of the Model 01 slightly up in the middle. (It looks a little like a tent, which is where this configuration gets its name.) If you’ve been typing on an ergonomic keyboard like the Microsoft Natural keyboard, the tented configuration should be comfortable and familiar to you.
  • You can position the two halves of the keyboard shoulder-width apart on your desk for a sublimely comfortable typing experience. (We’ve actually tested putting the two halves up to 15 feet apart and everything works just great. We just don’t know anybody with arms that long.) The two halves of the keyboard connect with an old-school telephone cable that you can buy at RadioShack (if you can still find a RadioShack.)
  • Both the flat and tented center bars feature a standard 1/4-20 camera tripod mount, perfect for building a custom keyboard stand. (The actual design of the connecting bars will change before we ship. What we have today is a little more finicky than we’d like.)
The Model 01 ships with both flat and tented connecting bars
The Model 01 ships with both flat and tented connecting bars

We haven’t settled on a final design for the Model 01’s feet yet, but you can rest assured that they’ll give you even more flexibility to perfectly adjust your keyboard. The feet you see below are just a temporary stopgap. It is incredibly important to us that you be able to tent and tilt the two halves of the Model 01, even when they’re not joined together.

These aren't the feet you're looking for
These aren’t the feet you’re looking for

The shiny stuff: Fully programmable LEDs

Individually programmable LEDs glow underneath each key
Individually programmable LEDs glow underneath each key

We’ve placed an independently programmable RGB LED underneath each and every key on the keyboard. Out of the box, the Model 01 can breathe, glow and do cute rainbow fade animations with the best of them, but the neat part is that each and every one of those LEDs is end-user controllable. With just a few lines of code in the Arduino IDE, you can completely customize the light show. Want your keyboard to start flashing red when you’ve been typing too long? No problem! Want to have your keyboard start spelling out your instant messages as they come in? Well, that’ll be a little bit of code, but it’s completely doable. Pixel art and Conway’s Game of Life are totally doable, too.

And yes, you can turn them off.

The animated rainbow isn't for everybody, but it makes a pretty good demo
The animated rainbow isn’t for everybody, but it makes a pretty good demo

We’ve been working on a graphical animation tool to let you build effects without code. It’s not ready yet, but should be available before your keyboard ships.

Sculpted keycaps to guide your fingers

We designed new keycaps to help you type
We designed new keycaps to help you type

Most computer keyboard designs use at most 4 or 5 different key shapes–just one for each row. Our design goes to eleven… er, 64. Most keyboard manufacturers buy their keycaps from one of a handful of keycap makers. It took hundreds of hours of engineering, but we designed our keycaps from scratch. 

We sculpted the Model 01’s keycaps to gently guide your fingers to the correct places, making it just a little bit easier to hit the right key with the right finger. While this feels great if you already touch-type, it’s also dramatically reduced the Model 01’s learning curve for those of us who never learned “proper” typing in school.

When we talked to one of the world experts in keyboard ergonomics, he told us that we were absolutely nuts to design our own keycaps. Sure, they’d be more comfortable and reduce error rates, but the costs would be astronomical. (We’ve priced it out with vendors. It isn’t cheap, but it isn’t astronomically expensive either. More… stratospheric?)

When we talked to the buyer for one of the world’s largest keyboard vendors, he told us that we are, to his knowledge, the only company on Earth designing custom keycaps for a high-end keyboard.

A few hundred hours of CAD, shown here in about 10 seconds
A few hundred hours of CAD, shown here in about 10 seconds

We think the time and effort has been worth it, and we’re confident you will too.

Quiet, clicky mechanical keyswitches

Keyswitches are the soul of a keyboard. More and more, over the last 20 years, computer keyboards have lost their soul. 

Typing on the Model 01 feels great, whether you're using all ten fingers or just one
Typing on the Model 01 feels great, whether you’re using all ten fingers or just one

Way back when, typing on a keyboard actually felt good. You’d press a key and you could feel a nice, satisfying, mechanical click. As computers got more and more popular, manufacturers started cutting corners. Mechanical keyswitches were replaced with little rubber domes or plastic scissor mechanisms. Rather than registering when you’d pressed them about halfway down like “real” keyswitches, you have to slam your fingers into the keyboard to make them work. To add insult to injury, they don’t even feel that nice to type on. 

We’ve scoured the globe, testing dozens of different keyswitches from companies including Cherry, Unicomp, Greetech, Kailh, Gateron and Razer before selecting what we believe to be some of the best keyswitches made today: the Matias Quiet Click mechanical keyswitches.

Clicky keyswitches, quiet enough to use in a meeting
Clicky keyswitches, quiet enough to use in a meeting

The Quiet Click switches were designed in Canada by Edgar Matias. Starting from the design of the ALPS keyswitches used in some of Apple’s most legendary keyboards from the last century, Matias reengineered them to slide more smoothly when pressed from just about any angle and to be quiet enough to use in a meeting. They’re still satisfyingly tactile with a delightfully clicky feel when pressed.

True N-key rollover (NKRO) 

For a variety of reasons, many USB keyboards limit you to pressing 6 keys (plus modifiers) at once. Most of us would never notice this limitation, but an intrepid few really, really need to be able to hit more than six keys at once.

If you need NKRO, we’ve got you covered. The NKRO-over-USB technique we’re using works great on Windows, MacOS X and Linux without any special drivers.

Getting this right requires a combination of hardware and software. On the hardware side, we’ve paired each keyswitch with the requisite diode. On the software side, it’s just smart coding inside the keyboard’s USB firmware.

Application-specific macros 

Your Model 01 will come with an optional feature that lets you define custom key layouts or macros based on the currently running application. You can assign complex sequences of keystrokes and mouse movements to a single keypress.

This requires a small program running on your computer. So far, we’ve only built the OS X version, but we’re fairly confident that we should have it working on Linux and Windows by the time we ship.

You can remap complex Photoshop functions, frequently used code snippets or just about anything else to easy-to-reach (and easy-to-remember) keystrokes.

What you get…

The learning curve

We’re not going to beat around the bush. The Model 01 is not for everybody. If you don’t already touch type on a split keyboard with the keys arranged in columns, expect some frustration as you come up to speed on the Model 01. Typically, most typists start to get acclimated to a new key layout like ours within a few hours, but true mastery of a new key layout is an investment that can take a month or two to really start to pay off.

Anybody who buys the Model 01 should know that there’s an adjustment period. Plan to work on it full time for about a week or two weeks before you get really used to the new layout. It’s going to be a little slow and a little frustrating at first, but it’s worthwhile in the end for the long term benefits. 

   – Gina Trapani (@ginatrapani), Model 01 beta tester

Arduino AtHeart makes customization easy 

We’ve built the Model 01 around the same ATmega32U4 microcontroller that Arduino uses in the Arduino Leonardo. Early on, we figured we’d eventually switch away to a cheaper ARM microcontroller, but then we fell in love with just how easy Arduino makes it for a new programmer to get up to speed. For all intents and purposes, the Model 01’s brain is “just” a regular Arduino. You can update your keyboard from the Arduino IDE. If you want to make your keyboard do something special, there are thousands of Arduino resources online to help you out. While we haven’t ported it ourselves, other keyboard firmware like TMK that runs on AVR microcontrollers should be pretty easy to adapt for your Model 01.

If that sort of thing isn’t your cup of tea, don’t worry about it. You don’t need to know anything about electronics or embedded programming to use the Model 01. It’s a keyboard. You can just take it out of the box, plug it in and start typing.

Source code and a screwdriver 

These days, it feels like you have to pick between an open, hackable kit and a well-designed product that’s fully working right out of the box. You shouldn’t have to choose.

We believe, quite strongly, that you own the things you buy from us. You are 100% welcome to open your keyboard up, flash its firmware, reflash its bootloader, solder weird connectors onto the circuit boards or flash our firmware onto something else. (Do note that we’re not going to be able to help you out a lot after you do some of those things.) To make all of this as easy as possible for you, your Model 01 will ship with a screwdriver, firmware & bootloader source code, schematics, and all the CAD you need to design your own enclosure. 

You may never need any of that, but when you want it, it’ll be there waiting for you.

Tech specs

  • Dimensions: 230mm x 360mm x 25mm 
  • Weight: 1.3kg
  • Keycaps: 64 black-painted, laser engraved keycaps (Final plastic hasn’t been selected, but it won’t be ABS)
  • Keyswitches: Matias Quiet Click ALPS-mount keyswitches 
  • Keyswitch lifetime: 50 million presses
  • LEDs: Worldsemi WS2812B RGB LEDs (aka Neopixels) 
  • Microcontroller: Atmel ATmega32U4 
  • Interface: USB
  • Compatibility: OS X, Linux, Windows, Android, iOS (Limited LED support with phones and tablets) 
  • Minimum power draw: 30 mA (no LEDs) 
  • Maximum power draw: 500 mA (programmatically limited by stock firmware. If your USB port is capable and you like bright LEDs, you can push it further)

 All of these specs, are, of course, subject to change. We have one more round of “design for manufacturing” before we lock in the design. (They’re not likely to change much, but we’re going to do everything we can to make your Model 01 a little bit smaller, a little bit lighter and a little bit brighter before we go to manufacturing.)

Meet the Model 01 in person!

As we’ve been building what’s become the Model 01, we’ve talked to hundreds of people online, at conferences, and at festivals. It’s been amazing to watch folks suddenly “get it” as they put their hands on a Model 01 in person for the first time.

We want to bring that experience to as many people as possible, so we’re trying something we don’t think anyone has ever done before: a coast-to-coast international roadshow. A few days after the campaign launches, we’ll be starting off in Somerville, MA, where this whole adventure began and zig-zagging across America (and Canada!) on our way to Oakland, CA, where we’ve been living for the past year.

Along the way, we’ll be stopping at hackerspaces (and the occasional corporate office, Waffle House or coffee shop) to talk about making keyboards and to let you meet the Model 01. You can follow our trip through our backer updates, at http://keyboard.io/roadtrip and by following @keyboardio on Twitter. If it looks like we’ll be passing through your town, but don’t have a scheduled stop, drop us a line at [email protected] and we’ll try to stop by and say hi.


We’re looking forward to meeting you!

Made with love (and just a bit of obsession) by Jesse & Kaia 

Jesse and Kaia at OSCON 2014. (Photo: Julian Cash)
Jesse and Kaia at OSCON 2014. (Photo: Julian Cash)

Keyboardio is Jesse Vincent and Kaia Dekker. They’ll celebrate their 8th wedding anniversary during this Kickstarter campaign.

Keyboardio began as a hobby project in the summer of 2012. A SaaS startup Jesse had been working on was failing. He was pretty burned out and decided to take a bit of time off to play around and figure out “the next thing.” While he was experimenting with new software startup ideas, Jesse procrastinated by trying to build himself a keyboard. When we started out building our first keyboard, it was very much a hobby project. After the second or third prototype, we started having trouble using our keyboards in public–people kept interrupting us to ask where they could buy the keyboards we were using. We finally took the hint. We built four Model 00 keyboards and sent them off to beta testers.

Jesse, hard at work on a Model 01 prototype
Jesse, hard at work on a Model 01 prototype

We quickly realized we were going to need help. So we joined Highway1, the hardware incubator/accelerator run by manufacturing giant PCH. We learned a ton during the intensive four-month program. We even got to spend a few weeks in China visiting the factories where consumer electronics get made.

Finally, we built a “mini production run” of twenty identical prototype Model 01s. These are the keyboards that you see in the video and the pictures.

Jesse Vincent

Jesse’s spent most of his career working on open-source software. In 1996, he created Request Tracker (RT), an issue tracking system that’s used by everyone from tiny nonprofits to Fortune 50 corporations and Federal agencies. He’s the original author of K-9 Mail, an open-source email client for Android with a couple million active users. Jesse was the project leader for the Perl programming language for the 5.12 and 5.14 releases.

Kaia Dekker

After graduating from MIT with a BS in Physics, Kaia worked as an investment banker, helping startups get themselves bought by giant megacorp. From there, she went into strategy consulting, helping some of those same megacorps maximize shareholder value. Figuring that the next step was to go to work for a megacorp, Kaia went back to school, picking up an MBA from the Tuck School of Business in scenic Hanover, NH. Upon further reflection, she’s decided it’d be more fun to just build Keyboardio into a megacorp.

We couldn’t have done this on our own

We’ve had an astonishing amount of help from a bunch of amazing people and companies. As is always the case, we are going to forget to thank someone here and we’re going to feel awful about it. Poke us and we’ll fix it.

Thank you to our intrepid beta testers who taught us so much. They feedback you gave us tremendously helpful: everything from “this is really weird” to “move this key over a bit” to “I use it so much the labels keep rubbing off, can you help?

  • For the Model 00: Aaron, Andreas, Dan, Dave, Justin, Harper & Thursday
  • For the Model 01: Cory, Emma, Gina, Julia, Kellan, Moo and Roy

A special thank-you also goes out to some of the people who went above and beyond in helping us get to this point. You are part of the team, whether you realize it or not.

  • Our star intern, Mike Kuehn
  • Our pre-Kickstarter investors who took a chance on us when all we had was a crazy hot-glued prototype and a vision: Blaine, Jared, Rabble, Rob, Russel & Roy / Bloomberg Beta
  • Afonso Salcedo, who made the amazing video you see up at the top of this page 
  • Andrew Lekashman, who built Massdrop’s keyboard business from scratch and has always been happy to lend a hand
  • Brady Forrest, who encouraged us to apply to Highway1 in the first place. Without him, the Model 01 would have existed a long time ago, and it would have sucked
  • Brian Garvey, who literally turned napkin sketches into gorgeous prototypes on a few days notice. It feels good knowing a Formula engine expert helped make our keyboard purr
  • Brian Lee, who generously reviewed all the major iterations of our boards and who worked late nights with us as Highway1’s Demo Day approached
  • Dominic Saavedra, who pulled off a miracle of a keyboard glamour photo shoot at the 11th hour
  • Erin O’Malley and Terry Foecke, who spent countless hours diving through materials libraries and educating us about sustainability and materials science
  • Jacob Alexander, who organizes the Bay Area keyboard meetups and probably knows more about keyboard design than any other living person 
  • Jacob Rus, who taught us a number of invaluable lessons about keycap design 
  • John Carver, who gave us the very first keycap CAD model so that we could start modifying and iterating
  • Markus Rokitta, who instilled healthy German discipline in us during our time at Highway1
  • Nick McGranahan, who found and fixed inscrutable bugs in our circuit boards just by looking at them
  • Patrick Yeon, who came up with a brilliantly simple hack that let us build you keyboards that light up
  • Riley Cran, who designed our logo and logotype
  • Robbie MacCarthy, who drew the keyboard’s butterfly silhouette
  • Ryan Vinyard, who pushed us in our mechanical design and who pulled us out of the water when we overextended ourselves
  • Saroya Whatley, who kept Highway1 going and who has always been there for us with introductions, a sage word, or Disney music when we needed it
  • Srdjan Stokic, who helped us design the circuit boards we really needed, not the circuit boards we asked for
  • Star Simpson, who saved us from certain doom on more than one occasion
  • Stopher Christensen, who did the industrial design for the wooden Model 01 you see today
  • Taylor Stein, who helped us prototype our keycap designs and taught us CAD without us noticing until it was too late

The Model 01 owes a debt of gratitude to numerous keyboard designs that predated it. Most familiar to many of you will be the opensource ErgoDox keyboard and the Kinesis Advantage, but we’re particularly grateful to the designers and researchers behind the Japanese TRON project and the NEC M-Type keyboards from the early 1980s.

We’re also grateful to the geekhack.org and deskthority.net keyboard enthusiast communities. Their insights and encouragements have made the Model 01 a much better keyboard than it could have been without them.

If great tools matter to you, please back our Kickstarter campaign

While we’d be honored to build you a keyboard, even a $1 contribution helps.

Thank you. We love you all!

An early prototype which sums up how we feel about you.
An early prototype which sums up how we feel about you.
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