How-To: Keyboard Breakout Board

Computers & Mobile Technology Workshop
How-To: Keyboard Breakout Board

If you’re building a standalone project with an embedded PC (say, a CNC rig or a MAME cabinet) one of the easiest ways to get instructions to the software is using the PC’s baked-in keyboard interface. But if you don’t want to actually use a keyboard to control the thing, you need some way to convert button presses and/or joystick movements from your custom control panel into signals that look like keyboard input.

In this offering, UK hacker Rupert Hirst shows us how to reverse-engineer the key matrix on a scrap keyboard and attach a breakout board, ready to wire straight to the switches in your custom control panel. Sure, manually mapping the membrane switches with a multimeter may be a bit tedious when compared to using a drop-in keyboard simulator like PoLabs’ PoKeys, but it’s also a lot cheaper, and a lot more instructive.


6 thoughts on “How-To: Keyboard Breakout Board

  1. Dave Bell says:

    Nice hack, but a minor point that that doesn’t really affect the utility of the project:
    That sure looks like a PS2 connector, not USB…

    1. Sean Michael Ragan says:

      Yes, thank you! Fixed!

  2. Anonymous says:

    A teensy is $16 and is USB. It can be programmed to act like a keyboard very easily. Why not just use that?

    1. Sean Michael Ragan says:

      I don’t know Rupert personally, but from what I’ve seen of his work I’d say it would gall him to buy a teensy when he’s got a scrap keyboard on-hand.  If he were getting paid to do this, one might argue that he’s undervalued his time. But it’s a hobby for him, he does it for pleasure, and I get the sense that he likes to spend his hobby hours soldering, not programming.  Others may feel the same way.

  3. Keith From Canada says:

    FWIW, if that doesn’t do it for you, there are always the U-HID, I-PAC and the (appropriately named) EPIC interface modules.

  4. jamesskaar says:

    without a multimeter, it’s possible to use coloured pens to draw on the membranes, it’s how i used to do it, the column conductors would do ushaped paths, it’s not that hard, and membranes are transparent to see the colours through them.

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I am descended from 5,000 generations of tool-using primates. Also, I went to college and stuff. I am a long-time contributor to MAKE magazine and My work has also appeared in ReadyMade, c't – Magazin für Computertechnik, and The Wall Street Journal.

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