There have been many mechanical keyboard solutions in the past few years, most notably an IBM Selectric with serial out that let you klack away like Ada Lovelace directly into a printed email. However, the real Holy Grail has been the ability to transmit mechanical key presses directly to a computer using a few bits of electronics.
Well, it’s been done and it’s glorious.
An engineer named Russell Smith has used something called a Softpot that outputs a voltage depending on where you touch the long electrical surface. By placing this piece at the typewriter’s crossbar – the bar that holds down most of the keys – he was able to sense incoming voltages and translate them into key presses. Unfortunately a few of the keys didn’t pass under the crossbar so he had to find different solutions for those. The whole story is a bit old but it’s fascinating.
He then connected the whole thing to a Raspberry Pi and, with a bit of code, sent the keypress data to a terminal session and, from there, on to the best text editor in the world, Vim. It’s enough to make a grown man cry.
Does the world want this project? Probably not. Does it need this project? Absolutely. It is a testament to humankind’s resilience that, along with our ability to survive in harsh conditions, we are able to port Vim to a typewriter. Excelsior.