Friday, January 8, 2016

First Mostly Complete Unit

Not to let too much time go by since the last post, here are the very first images of Stenosaurus that has all its main components:
  • assembled PCB
  • key caps
  • top and bottom enclosure panels
  • bent side rail
  • port farm back plate
Right away, you'll notice that the key caps and side rail have changed color from clear anodized aluminum to black anodized aluminum. The back plate, which is still clear anodized aluminum, shows the contrast. In the final units, the back plate will be the same color as the key caps and side rail. Most likely, there will be several color options available, including both clear and black.

There are still some features missing, such as rubber feet and tripod mount, but this is as close as we've yet come to a complete Stenosaurus. I'll be running some tests this weekend and will report back results soon.

The Enclosure Takes Shape

The enclosure Kurt designed is composed of four main pieces: a top panel of milled bamboo, a bottom panel of milled bamboo, and bent piece of aluminum that serves as most of the siding, and a straight piece of aluminum siding in the back that accommodates the micro USB connector and the microSD card slot. Below are shots Kurt took of an assembly of those first three components.

The wood has been stained and the aluminum has been bead blasted and clear anodized. The inner face of the bottom panel has recesses at the location of each key switch so that the switch pins that protrude slightly through the PCB won't interfere with the PCB sitting flush with the bottom of the enclosure. The circular hole in the center of the bottom panel will house a threaded insert for mounting to standard tripods.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Some Process Shots

Here are some images of some material and process tests Kurt has been doing on the case and key caps, as well as some shots of the first prototype of the internals.
Test from a seven-ply bamboo sheet. This is a candidate for the final material.

Test made of MDF, which is not a candidate for the final material.
A fully populated prototype of the printed circuit board, along with some test key caps.

A midway point in one of the processes Kurt tested for milling the key caps out of a block of aluminum.
A test run of key caps fresh off the mill.

First test of a piece of bent aluminum as part of the case.

Friday, September 11, 2015

First Printed Circuit Boards Have Arrived

The first Stenosaurus printed circuit boards (PCBs) arrived yesterday. Below is an image of a Stenosaurus PCB wth some components.

A few things to note about this image:

  • The key switches don't have key caps on them.
  • Other than the key switches, the only other component on the PCB is the processor (the black square in the top center of the image).
  • None of the components have yet been soldered onto the PCB.
I'm expecting to receive tomorrow the remaining components needed to complete the assembly of the circuit board. Once assembled, I'll begin testing and report back here.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Printed Circuit Board Design and Status

PCB layout so far.
The insides of the Stenosaurus consist of a single printed circuit board (PCB). The above image is a top-down view of the current state of the PCB design. The four rows of rectangles with two circles each correspond to the key switches. The protrusion near the center on the top side is the micro USB connector, which is how the Stenosaurus will connect to a computer. The protrusion to the right of the USB is the SD card holder, which will be where the steno dictionary and other settings will be stored. The concentric rectangles below the micro USB connector is the LCD. Everything else is what's needed to make everything work together and mount the PCB to the physical case.

This is a work in progress. The board outline and placement of the main components pointed about above are mostly finalized. The positions of the remainder of the components is still in flux. Most critically, the electrical connections between all the components haven't yet been routed, which is the next and final step before this design can be sent out for manufacturing.

All this is to say that progress is being made toward the first manufactured Stenosaurus! More soon.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Countdown to Launch

Key Switches

Matias sent me a keyboard with candidates for the final key switch that will be used in the Stenosaurus. I played with it a bit and then sent it to Mirabai. We both independently chose the same candidate, which was convincing enough that I gave Matias the green light to start production. The key switches should be ready in January or before. The switch we ended up going with will have an activation force of approximately 35g, which is one of the lightest activation forces of any mechanical keyboard switch. It may even be the lightest activation force, though I haven't done an extensive survey. As a point of comparison, the lightest activation force for Cherry MX series of key switches is 45g.

Case and Key Cap Manufacturing

Kurt recently purchased a nice 3-axis CNC mill that he'll be using to manufacture at least the first batch of production cases and key caps.

Breaking in Kurt's new CNC mill with a prototype of the Stenosaurus case.

The key caps will be milled out of a solid block of aluminum. This shows the block of aluminum after the top side has been milled. The block will be flipped over so the other side can be milled.
Key caps as they will appear coming out of the mill. The key cap in the foreground is connected to a Matias key switch. The key caps will have a surface finish applied before being sealed.

Printed Circuit Board Design

Inside the case will be the printed circuit board (PCB) onto which will be mounted all the electrical components of the Stenosaurus, from the USB connector and key switches to the microcontroller and LCD screen. I'm using KiCad for all the PCB design work. This is my first time using KiCad and I've been very happy with it so far - it's free and open source like Plover and the Stenosaurus and, fittingly for a stenography project, KiCad puts a strong emphasis on efficient use of the keyboard by providing consistent and memorable keyboard shortcuts across its entire suite of tools.

I finished the schematic capture and I'm now working on the board layout. Once the layout is complete, hopefully by the end of this week, I'll work with a PCB manufacturer to get the first boards back for testing. If all goes well, those boards will become the first full-fledged Stenosauruses. If all is not well, then we rinse and repeat.

To Market We Go

Once the PCB has been validated, we will have everything we need to start taking orders via a Crowd Supply campaign. I would love for that to happen before Thanksgiving, but it's premature to put an exact date on it. Certainly, though, everything is falling into place.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Custom Key Caps AND Switches

I think we've finally cracked the toughest nut in the mechanical design of the Stenosaurus - how the custom aluminum key caps mate to off-the-shelf key switches. Here's the first working prototype of the solution:

As you can see, we're no longer using Cherry MX key switches, which are difficult to make custom key caps for due to the cross-shaped mounting post. Instead, we're using the Matias ALPS-style key switches, which are relatively easy to make custom key caps for thanks to the rectangular mounting post. We hadn't considered Matias switches in our original deliberations because Matias only offered tactile click switches, which are both noisy (even the quiet-click variety) and cause finger fatigue.

We wanted both quiet and linear (non-click) for the Stenosaurus. Happily, after speaking directly with some friendly folks at Matias, they have agreed to create an entirely new type of switch to fit exactly those constraints. They know Stenosaurus is small relative to their usual projects, but they want to be as supportive as they can. Stenosaurus will be the first-ever product to use this new switch. We'll have to wait a bit for the switch to be designed and manufactured, and we'll need to put in a hefty initial order to make it worth Matias' time, but I think the end result will be worth it.

This is a big win for the Stenosaurus: a high quality keyboard switch that keeps the manufacturing costs down.

Finally, note that the Matias switch has a transparent body casing. This was done to allow for easy underlighting of the keys. Who wants to show off their sweet ride? I might have to add some LEDs, or electroluminescent wire, or neon tubing, or...