Today in USB Typewriter news

This is pretty fantastic.

I am sad to report that my own attempts to turn either my Underwood or Oliver typewriters into a USB keyboard are still perma-stalled. I built the electronics (basically the same thing he sells in his store, except that I made mine by cannibalizing parts out of an existing USB keyboard and scoping it out) but I'm still stuck at the point of trying to attach the contacts to the keys-arms. His approach of attaching to the crossbar doesn't work on either of the models of typewriter I have; on the Underwoods, the only unimpeded crossbar is too far away, and on both, the other crossbars have all kinds of stuff in the way, making attachment nontrivial. The only way I can see to make this work involves fabricating a tiny, inflexible comb out of steel and welding it to the frame, which is somewhat above my pay grade.

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12 Responses:

  1. hepkitten says:

    do you want to try on some of my antique typewriters? i have about 30 from all different eras.

  2. peanuthorst says:

    ENOTTY: Not a typewriter

    (isn't that where you got your idea?)

    Nonetheless, this is pretty cool! I wouldn't mind turning my tiny little Adler into a keyboard!

  3. dasht says:

    "The only way I can see to make this work involves fabricating a tiny, inflexible comb out of steel and welding it to the frame [....]"

    That's the comb thing you asked about fabbing help with some time back (on this blog, I mean)?

    • jwz says:

      Yes, and I had one made out of plastic, but it was still too flexible (even edge-on) and I still couldn't figure out how the fuck to attach it.

      • I have all the tools required to create something like that care to send me the specs as to attaching it, I do also have a tig welder up to you I'm willing if you care enough to ship said type writer to cowtown.

  4. anktastic says:

    This might be an impractical idea, but have you thought about installing a webcam where the roll goes and trying to recognize which key is pressed by OCR'ing the character? Dunno, just throwing it out there.

    • adolf says:

      That's a fun idea in that it's reading the actual output of the machine -- the machine still works just as it was intended. It eats a certain amount of trees, of course, but that's just fine for a novelty...

      But by the time the camera and gee-whiz is all done, it'd probably be faster and less error-prone to just watch the individual arms move than to try to OCR the result. (Then again, OCR packages that mostly work are readily available, whereas type-arm tracking systems probably are not.)

      But speaking for myself: Though all of this is really very interesting, I think I'd rather hire a young nubile secretary to convert my typewriter output to computer text, and to take care of any other novel, personal, and self-gratifying tasks that I might come up with.

    • gfish says:

      Or just putting an RFID tag at the tip of each arm, and a reader at the impact point. Would have to be a very fast, very limited range reader...

      • strspn says:

        You're on the right track. Barcodes on the side of each typebar with an optical sensor above or to the side of the type guide?

  5. cdavies says:

    Have you considered taking a different approach? It seems to me that a good way to non-destructively add a digital output to a typewriter would be to glue permanent magnets to the one end or other of the key's lever arms and have the key movement induce a current in detectors installed between the key movements. A little bit of de-bouncing logic in the keyboard driver (or, I guess you'd probably have to do it in hardware if you wanted to use scavenged USB keyboard innards) and you've got yourself a working keyboard as well as a typewriter that continues to work.

    • strspn says:

      An array of reed switches and glued magnets is likely to be more complex than glued barcodes and a single optical scanner at the type guide.

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