Basic Keyboard

Adventures in Keyboard Design and Electronics.

creator: x14km2d | build: 2021-12-26 | update: 2021-12-26


Keyboards are ubiquitous in our everyday life. As a computer keyboard, at ATMs, digitally on our smartphone and tablet or when we use our calculator. But if we take a closer look at the technology and functionality of a keyboard, we quickly get into a stutter. We have to work through the keyboard matrix, learn what a keyboard controller) is and how ghosting (see Dribin, 2000) can disrupt our development. In this section we will create a simple keyboard that will serve as a module for our single board computer keyboard. This should be created without a controller, since this is implemented in a different documentation.

Although the project can also be implemented without the in-house development of a computer keyboard, this means that you learn less about the technology you use. Putting a Teensy on a few mechanical buttons leads to quick results but is more important for hobby development. At the beginning we will also use external modules (keyboard controller), but in the course of time we will gradually rebuild and replace them, even if we may have to do without convenient additional functions as a result. No mechanical buttons have been used, as they have no reasonable price/performance ratio ($8.30/pc.).


The task can be described in a few points. The keyboard must be designed so that it can be integrated as a module into existing projects. It must therefore have sufficient hardware interfaces that can also be used universally. Different standards should be waived as best as possible. The keyboard must be developed cost-effectively, since it is only a prototype in the development stage and should progress as quickly as possible in the development process. Since the prototype is a functional object, it must be manufactured with sufficient stability, design must be dispensed with and, if at all, it should be functional.


The keyboard shown above is a typical generic brand product from an asian wholesaler and was used for research. On the solder side you can see the traces for a board with a single layer. This information will be included in the project later on and partially copied. Below another keyboard ordered to examine the two-contact push buttons.


As material we need at least 100 mini push buttons, thin cable for the connections between the push buttons. A large breadboard on which all components have to fit. Pin headers (4×10). A keyboard controller with USB port, or the whole keyboard. One should take an old one, because the leftovers are no longer usable without the controller. There are also PS/2 connectors, but we will not use them here. Several breadboards and at least 200 connector cables.


In order to become familiar with the subject, some tutorials (like: jacking a usb keyboard) were worked through and implemented. The keyboard controller was connected to the computer via USB and the signals were read out via command line. With the theoretical material the concept of the keyboard matrix could be better understood.

We build the circuit row by row. Two connector cables must always terminate on one push-button. Since each keyboard controller has been programmed differently, I cannot give an exactdescription of how to connect the cables here. Simply plug a cable into the first contact of the controller and connect it to the print button. Now take a second cable and connect it to the secondcontact of the controller. Press the push button once and see what happens in the command line. Ifnothing happens, you go one contact to the right. If a letter (or number) appears, write it down andgo to the next button. So you try them all until you have at least the numbers from 0-9 and the complete alphabet together.

After testing the first board, the keyboard was designed as it will be used in the later design. The soldering and component side and individual fixtures are shown below. As you can see from the image material, the connections on the trace are kept as simple as possible, so that it is still logically traceable after days. I have soldered on two female pinheaders which are not necessary, but can be an advantage especially in the development. As a rule, it is better to create as many slots as possible.

After completion of the keyboard, the controller is implemented in the next step to develop a communication between input device and computer. The focus will be on the next section of the microcontroller, which ultimately turns passive hardware into a finished input device. A further optimization of the keyboard is also aimed for.

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