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Keyboard Solutions

My cockpit runs on seven computers, theoretically requiring 7 keyboards for input. A real cockpit on the other hand does not contain a single keyborad (except for the keypads in CDU and IRS). From the very start of my project, the keyboards were always in the way, cluttering the limited space inside cockpit. And there was no good way to hide them, no matter how hard I tried. Here are some of the solutions I came up with over the years in order to the keybord problem.

Serial Keyboard Switches

Originally conceived to connect various users to one PC, in the days when PCs were few and expensive. These switches also work the other way, connecting several computers to one keyboard and mouse. At an early stage of my project, this is what I did. I even cascaded two 4-way switche (with the hepl of one 2-way switch) to gain access to 8 PCs through one single keyboard. For more details, see the Keyboard Selector Panel page.

The problem: Mechanical keyboard switches only work well with Win98. This OS happily recognizes keyboards at any time, even if they are connected after the PC has been booted. As time progressed, I upgraded most of the machines in my cockpit to Win XP, which “sees” a keyboard only if it is connected at boot time. In order to use one keyboard for all my machines, I had to set the keyboard selector switch to PC-1 and only then start PC-1. This process had to be repeated for all remaining machines. Tidious, time consuming and error-prone. Certainly NOT funny!

Lately a new type of auto-sensing switches has become available. They trick XP into believing that mouse and keyboard are connected even when they actually are not. A nice solution, but these devices are rather expensive. Also, because of their very nature, keyboard switches always require lots of cables.

The business side of the keyboard selector panel.

Some years ago I began to use Synergy, a program that makes it possible to control multiple computers with a single keyboard and mouse across a LAN. Synergy made this panel obsolete – except for the rare occasions when the LAN is down and I need to provide direct keyboard input to individual machines.

When I upgraded from monitors to beamers (and in the process dismantled part of the canopy and upper cockpit structure), there was no place left for the overhead keyboard. For some time I used a swivelling mechanism mounted in front of the front panel. It allowed me to rotate the keyboard into view when needed and push it forward – out of view – during flight.

For two reasons I was never really happy with this solution: on one hand it offended my sence of esthetics, on the other hand it was cumbersome to operate. Keypresses would make it move towards the horizontal position. Tightening the bolts on the axles would prevent this, but then the whole thing squeaked unbearably when being moved up or down.

Another drawback: No more space to put a coffee mug or- depending on the time of day – a bottle of beer!

The solution to these problems came with the upgrade to the full cockpit enclosure with windows. There simply was no space anymore for the unloved swivelling mechanism.

I admit that the latest chapter in the keyboard-in-cockpit saga does not involve much creativity.

With the fully enclosed cockpit I had finally run out of places where a keyboard could sensibly be placed. So I did not think twice when one day I found a miniature bluetooth enabled keyboard among the offerings of an online shop. This small keyboard now sits on top of the dashboard of the fully enclosed cockpit, not really out of sight but so unobstrusive it’s almost invisible. When I need to make keyboard inputs, I just grab it, than put it back in it’s place. The moment I’m done typing I forget it’s even there.

No cables, no hassle: this little device is a joy to use!

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