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Lev's trackpad keywell board

A little bit of Dactyl, a little bit of Corne, and a *lot* of trackpad space: a unibody split prototype by u/levpopov.

KBD.news
Published June 13, 2022

The "little bit of Dactyl, little bit of Corne" description comes from designer Lev Popov, but this spacious monoblock split, capable of accommodating a trackpad, resembles the Kinesis Advantage as well.

Design goals

Lev set out three goals for this keyboard:

  • ergo split with a trackpad
  • easy to use on your lap when on the go
  • compact/folding to easily fit in a laptop bag

Built-in trackpad

I love exploring ergo designs, and one thing that felt consistently missing to me is this: “what about the mouse?”. I’m a big fan of boards that try to answer this – mouse keys, built-in trackballs, joysticks, and tiny cirque trackpads are super cool – Lev.

He wanted to build a board around Apple’s trackpad for a couple reasons:

  • Clicking, two-finger scroll, and multi-finger gestures are all effortless since you don’t need to reposition your hand. This is a big win over trackballs and mini-trackpads where you need to reach a separate button for clicking or a modifier for scrolling.
  • The giant touch area lets you comfortably switch hands for mousing, while minimizing hand travel. When centered, you use the left side of the trackpad with your left hand and right side with your right. Alternating hands lets you rest and prevent strain/injury.
  • Design software is optimized for trackpad use. Since every laptop has one, pointing-heavy software like Fusion (CAD), Figma (design), etc. all have first-class trackpad support. "I’m happy using a trackball/trackpoint or mousekeys for casual web browsing, but prefer a trackpad for design work."

Pic:

Use on the go

In Lev's opinion, being able to use your keyboard on your lap is huge while on the go (coffee shops, traveling, etc). You can keep your hands low, neutral and relaxed, and you can keep your laptop screen elevated so that you are not slouching and stressing your neck.

By making the keyboard and the trackpad a rigid monoblock (when assembled) it is super easy to use without a supporting surface.

Easy to pack

The trackpad, Apple's Magic Trackpad 2, just slides into the grooves of the left/right halves and is easy to take apart. When disassembled, it all fits in a regular laptop bag.

It just slides into the printed keyboard case. The trackpad is much larger than what I'd ideally want, but the tracking, latency and gesture support are way better than anything else out there – Lev.

Iterations

I’ve been working on various versions of this board for a few months now, learning CAD, 3D printing, and electronics along the way. It’s fun to look back at the early attempts :) – Lev.

Pic:

First, Lev tried using a 3D pen to hand-print his very first keywell prototype.

Then he tried 3D scanning his hand to check fit for the keywell design.

Pic:

I'm amazed at how good of a scan you can get with just an iPhone lidar. Definitely makes dimension tuning easier in CAD – Lev.

Btw, he used Scaniverse for this scan above, but says "I think they all perform about the same since they are hitting the same iOS lidar APIs".

An here is an older attempt with a 5-column layout featuring LPX keycaps.

Pic:

What’s next?

While Lev is happy with the current version, the project is still very much a work in progress.

Up next is making it customizable and adjustable (tenting, split width, tilt). He is also exploring different key layouts, especially for the thumb cluster, and maybe bringing back the num row.

In addition, he would love to hear your thoughts and suggestions:

I’d love to get feedback from folks interested in this design – what would you like to see? More rows? MX-switches? Rotary encoders? DM me on reddit (u/levpopov) if you have thoughts or if you’d like to try building one!

Published on Mon 13th Jun 2022. Featured in KBD #82 (source).


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