Hall Effect switches have been poking at making a return to the land of the living, first through XMIT’s Hall Effect project (technically, he helped bring another company’s work to life stateside) and then through MassDrop’s clone of it, but now the Input Club is taking a whack at a Hall Effect keyboard. The Keystone is still being created, but there’s a waitlist you can join.
Hall Effect switches have been around for decades. They all but disappeared because it was the cost to manufacture them didn’t make enough economic sense, but advancements in technology have brought the cost down to the point that they can reemerge. You can watch this excellent piece on how they work, but the gist is that it uses a magnet and sensor inside the switch housing to produce an essentially friction-free, extremely long-lasting switch with no bounce.
Input Club calls its version the Silo Switch, and they’re using it not just for the inherent smoothness and cachet of Hall Effect switches, but to enable analog sensing, too.
Now that’s some news. The analog keyboard market is still quite nascent, with only three shipping keyboards that have the technology on board (the Wooting One and Two, and the new Cooler Master MK850). Wooting’s version requires Flaretech switches. Cooler Master is using Aimpad, which is similar to what Wooting created, but it can work with standard MX-style switches. Input Club wants to do it with a Hall Effect sensor, which is a new approach entirely.
Whereas both Wooting and Aimpad use IR light to detect input, translating the action in an analog signal, the Silo Switch reads voltage differences in the press of the Hall Effect switch. An Input Club representative told me that “Modern microcontrollers, PCB designs, and sensitivity improvements allow for exceptionally granular readings of Hall Effect voltage differences.”
The bigger question is how exactly they plan to translate that into something that will actually work in games. That issue is a serious bottleneck to implementation, as those of us who have reviewed analog keyboards can attest. Input Club is still creating all this, and it sounds like they haven’t fully dealt with that problem yet. “We will use APIs and other open source projects to interface with games and applications,” the rep added. He also noted that more details on that front will emerge as the Keystone keyboard continues.
To say this is an ambitious project is an understatement. Adding not one, but two uncommon technologies into a single new keyboard is an exceedingly difficult challenge. Input Club is not a large company and only has so many resources to burn on product development, but there are two words on the waitlist page that show they’re getting help: “Kaihua engineers.” Kaihua has far more resources at its disposal, and it bodes well for the success of the Keystone project that they’re directly involved.
Whatever the Silo Switch ends up looking like, it will be socketless and hot swappable. You’ll be able to change the actuation point, and there will be linear, tactile, and clicky versions. (The wisdom of putting a tactile bump and/or a click in a variable-actuation switch, let alone an analog switch, is debatable.) They’ll have RGB lighting and full programmability.
I’m told that the target price is under $100. If they can hit that mark while delivering on all of the above, it will be victory upon victory upon victory. For now, they have a long, long way to go; there’s no actual keyboard prototype yet, it seems: “We constructed a working proof of concept PCB, alongside prototype switches, and confirmed functional analog sensitivity at hundreds of levels for every key.”
A Kickstarter for the project is planned for June.