Ben's Website

Serious musings


An ergonomic laptop keyboard that does not constrain portable computer form or design.

Laptop computers combine power with mobility and have recently usurped global desktop shipments. Users are computing for longer periods in a variety of locations yet laptop manufacturers often fail to consider the user's comfort and health in the computer's design. Specifically, one cannot enjoy an ergonomic computing experience on their laptop without sacrificing the computer's portability.

Ergonomic keyboards are commonly available (if seldom used) but are often twice or three times the size of the laptop computer. Having taken apart laptops and keyboards, I realized that a simple improvement could be made to a laptop's keyboard to significantly enhance user comfort without decreasing computer performance or mobility. I developed a removable laptop keyboard that can be further separated between those keys normally operated by the right and left hands. The laptop remains fully functional when the keyboard is attached and communication is accomplished by either wired or wireless means. Such an improvement allows for an increase in user comfort and potential aversion of the onset of musculoskeletal diseases.

I developed Split Key over fall 2007 and entered in the 2009 Innovation Days, winning the Sorenson design notebook competition and taking 3rd in the Tong prototype prize. I enjoyed considering, if briefly, the full scope of the idea — ergonomic research, laptop and keyboard patents, market considerations, and design optimizations. Please see my presentation or disclosure for more information:

Split Key presentation

Slides Disclosure [.pdf] — Idea description, ergonomic research, and market potential.

I would appreciate any comments and hope to detail the prototype creation on time permits.

Building the proof-of-concept

The wireless concept
Pre-modification, chosen for the absence of anything to the sides of the keyboard
Removing the keyboard
Can start to see whether the keyboard is constructed as-expected
The keyboard cavity
Removing the plastic backing/damper
Separating the back tray
Tray, membrane switches, and keys
Removing the top bezel
Planning out the wire routing
The separation line
Simple tools, used carefully
Does the halves still go together?
Now for the traces
Top and bottom traces from the left and right halves, using conductive epoxy to reconnect the cut traces
Now need to connect the wires to a flat flex cable to plug into the original keyboard connector
Forming two thin aluminum back plates to help manage the wires
Unorthodox bonding of keyboard half and back plate
Test fit
Connect all the wires