The Model 01 doesn’t look or feel like any keyboard you’ve ever had before.
The arrangement of characters on a QWERTY keyboard was first introduced back in 1868 by Christopher Sholes, who happened to also be the inventor of the typewriter. As legend has it, Sholes organized the keys in their odd fashion to prevent jamming on mechanical typewriters by separating commonly used letter combinations. Other than adding a few function and arrow keys, the text entry device has remained relatively unchanged for nearly 150 years.
With just about everyone nowadays spending eight-plus hours typing away on their computers, too many of us are putting unnecessary strain on our wrists. Have you ever thought about how you might improve the standard QWERTY layout? Well, Jesse Vincent and Kaia Dekke — who together make up Bay Area startup Keyboardio — have with their butterfly-shaped keyboard that places a greater emphasis on the thumb, lessens the stress on your pinkies and offers a more natural position for the hand and wrist — something that may prove to be a lifesaver for those suffering from carpal tunnel or arthritis. And sure, there are plenty of ergonomic keyboards on the market, but the Model 01 was specially designed for serious typists.
“The traditional keyboard was designed for typewriters, not hands. Staggered columns made room for mechanical components, without concern for wrist angles or finger lengths. Shift keys were placed under the weakest fingers,” Vincent explains.
Instead, the Keyboardio team has puts keys such as control, alt, delete, shift and a new ‘function’ button under the typists’ palms, all within easy reach of the thumbs. The duo says that they have been experimenting with ways to eliminate the mouse altogether by using the W, A, S and D keys for general cursor movements and other keys to tell the mouse where to go on the screen.
“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.”
Not only does Model 01 ship with the source code and a screwdriver, users can even define custom key layouts or macros based on the application currently running on the PC. Meaning, typists can assign complex sequences of keystrokes and mouse movements to a single key press through a simple program — on any computer compatible with OS X, iOS, Linux, Windows or Android operating systems.
The modular keyboard is built around a versatile ATmega32U4 along with some battery charging circuitry, Worldsemi WS2812B LEDs and a Bluetooth module — all housed inside two blocks of CNC-milled solid maple wood. The keyswitches, which boast a lifetime of 50 million presses, are Matias Quiet Click ALPS-mount keyswitches with ultra-bright, colorful LEDs located under each one. Its creators have custom sculpted each of the 64 individual keycaps on the Model 01 to gently guide a typists fingers to the right keys. Beyond that, the Model 01 features a USB interface.
“For a variety of reasons, many USB keyboards limit you to pressing six 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,” Vincent writes. “If you need True N-key rollover (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.”
With its aesthetically-pleasing maple wood exterior, Vincent believes the Model 01 can be the first computer accessory made to “heirloom grade.” While Keyboardio may initially appeal to the enthusiast crowd, the open source nature of the gadget will certainly entice hardware and software fans to offer their own set of modifications as well.
Though it ships with the default QWERTY arrangement, the unit also “speaks” Dvorak, Colemak, Workman and a variant of the Malt layout. What’s more, the Model 01 has an “any” key — whose function is left to the imagination of the beholder. Does it look like an ergonomic keyboard that you’d love to have at home or in the office? Click over to its Kickstarter campaign, where Keyboardio is currently seeking $120,000. Shipment is set to commence in May 2016.