As I sit at my computer typing this article, I’m suddenly aware of the rapid blows experienced by my fingers as they mash down on my keyboard, only to be stopped in mid-flight by its unforgiving bottom. It’s not something that I, or likely you, normally consider, but according to the U.S. Department of Labor, injuries from repetitive tasks like using a keyboard accounted for 25,000 hours of missed work time in 2015.
As spotted on 3DPrint.com, whether or not our ancestors would have laughed at us after plowing a field by hand for 12 hours, this does present an actual problem that researchers Alec Peery and Dušan Sorma at Ohio University are attempting to address. Their idea is to equip mechanical keys with a shock absorbing surface underneath, so that the keys can come to a stop more gradually than normal. This is possible because bottom of mechanical keys don’t necessarily have to contact the bottom to complete a circuit, as with the more common rubber dome switch-based models.
To test this idea, they’ve 3D-printed switches with damping regions in the lower housing, then pounded on three different key configurations with a 150 gram cylinder dropped from 125mm. This data was measured using a force sensing resistor and an Arduino Uno. While some force reduction was observed with these setups, in order to glean more meaningful data they plan to use a TI c2000 Launchpad microcontroller for measurements in future experiments, along with a robot to actually strike the key.