Keyboard fanatics have made a welcome discovery in recently-manufactured Unicomp buckling spring mechanical keyboards: a transfer to a brand new USB controller board design which makes use of an extremely-hackable Raspberry Pi Pico as its brains — making it appropriate with the QMK open-source controller firmware mission and unlocking full customizability.
“For a few years, fanatics have been asking for reprogrammable Mannequin M keyboards from Unicomp,” explains pseudonymous mechanical keyboard fan Admiral Shark of the shift, in a put up dropped at our consideration by Adafruit. “Because of the unlucky 2022 discontinuation of the Cypress microcontroller Unicomp beforehand used for its USB keyboards, Unicomp keyboards are actually [mostly] reflashable due to their collection of the RP2040-based Raspberry Pi Pico as the center of its new era of USB controller playing cards.”
Unicomp’s newest buckling spring keyboards include a shock inside: a Raspberry Pi Pico microcontroller. (📷: Admiral Shark)
As a potted historical past: IBM shipped two essential households of mechanical keyboards which used a buckling spring mechanism to offer tactile suggestions, the Mannequin F and the later cost-reduced Mannequin M. These are, in line with their proponents, among the greatest keyboards round, however lengthy out-of-production — till Unicomp stepped in to construct new Mannequin M boards, that includes trendy USB connectivity however retaining the pleasing clunk of the buckling spring mechanism.
Since June 2023, following the discontinuation of the microcontroller round which the keyboards’ unique controller had been constructed, Unicomp has been utilizing a brand new controller board design — and soldered proper on prime is a Raspberry Pi Pico, the $4 dual-core growth board from Raspberry Pi. That is of specific curiosity to tinkerers: the Vial-QMK variant of the QMK open-source keyboard firmware has been ported to the brand new boards by Purdea Andrei, offering full customization of the keyboards’ performance.
“The 2 new Unicomp controller playing cards are ‘Aristides’ as a alternative for ‘Ruffian’ and ‘Justify/Mike Smith’ as a alternative for ‘AP1,'” Admiral Shark explains. “Aristides (consistent with Unicomp’s PCB naming conference) is known as after the racehorse that received the primary Kentucky Derby in 1875 and is meant for 101-105 key and 122-key keyboards that require pressure-fit connection to their membrane assemblies.”
The “Aristides,” and two different controller variants, play host to the Raspberry Pi Pico and its dual-core RP2040 microcontroller. (📷: Admiral Shark)
“Justify is known as after the thirteenth winner of the American Triple Crown,” Admiral Shark continues, “and serves because the motherboard of the brand new Mini M controller card supporting the Pico, two 74LVC138AD demultiplexers (beneath the daughterboard), proper Triomate (membrane flex cable) socket and USB port. Mike [Smith] is known as after the jockey who rode Justify to the Triple Crown and is a daughterboard hooked up to Justify that has the left Triomate socket and 4 LVC125A quadruple bus buffer gates.”
Particulars of the right way to discover out in case your Unicomp keyboard has the brand new Raspberry Pi Pico-based controller can be found in Admiral Shark’s put up on the topic — together with info on ordering a alternative controller to improve present boards.
Important article picture courtesy of Unicomp.