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The Anatomy of a Keyboard

Cody Dianopoulos

Physics is everywhere: every lightbulb we turn on, every telephone that we use, every time we get into our car and start the engine. Our ability to conquer physics has set us apart from animals and has allowed us to accomplish many incredible feats that, just 100 years ago, one never wouldve imagined possible. The computer is probably the most useful invention for productivity, utilising powerful circuitry and computational engines to create an input/output stream. It has several necessary components from the tiniest pixels of light that make up the screen to the data storage devices such as the hard drive. The keyboard is a very important component of a computer, as it allows us to actually use the computer. Through a series of keystrokes, we can enter commands as input, drive any of our computational needs, and control the computer to execute what we are looking to accomplish from the computer. The keyboard is a very complex work of circuitry that utilises methods that we have studied to make the keyboard functional.

Each key of the keyboard corresponds to a certain ASCII identication. If you hit the e key, it gets registered by the keyboard, sent to an integrated circuit (IC), gets processed by the IC, and sent to the computer as a hexadecimal code corresponding to an ASCII character. The certain hexadecimal code that would be sent by the keyboard to the computer as the letter e happens to be 6516 . There are 256 dierent hexadecimal codes that correspond to 256 dierent hexadecimal characters. There are several dierent types of keyboards based on the circuitry that they use. There are the membrane, dome-switch, scissor-switch, capacitive, mechanical-switch, bucklingspring, hall-eect, laser, and optical keyboards as the popular ones. In order to make this report less than 100 pages, the focus will just be on the membrane keyboard.

Membrane Keyboard
The membrane keyboard is currently the most popular keyboard on the market. The following description is of a standard desktop keyboard. On the surface, there are the keys, which have exible rubber domes attached to them. When one presses the key, the key presses the dome to create contact with the dome and the top membrane layer. 1

The top membrane layer is a layer of vertical circuit paths and nodes. There is a node for each of the 109 keys on the keyboard, and each node has its own path to one of 19 pins that lead into the IC. Sometimes paths overlap, so new nodes are formed that traverse paths on the other side of the top membrane layer. The middle layer is the holes layer. It is made of an insulating plastic material that has holes at each node. The holes allow a path between the nodes at the same point on the top membrane layer and the bottom membrane layer. When no nodes are connected, the holes layer separates the nodes. The bottom membrane layer is similar to the top membrane layer. It has nodes at the same positions as on the top membrane layer, but the circuits consist of horizontal pins that lead to one of 10 pins that go to the IC. When a rubber dome presses a node on the top membrane layer, it comes in contact with the corresponding node on the bottom membrane layer. One pin is activated on the top membrane layer, and the corresponding pin is activated on the bottom membrane layer, causing a key press to be registered by the processor. Since there are 19 pins on the top membrane layer and 10 pins on the bottom membrane layer, there are 19 10 = 190 distinct combinations that can be formed, which is enough to accommodate for each of the 109 keys on the keyboard.

Key Top Membrane Layer Holes Layer Bottom Membrane Layer

Key Matrix and Graph Theory

The network of nodes via the top membrane layer, holes layer, and the bottom membrane layer is called the key matrix. The key matrix was designed to ensure that each combination corresponds to exactly one key. Without the key matrix, there would be a thick bundle of wires inside each computer keyboard. Each node on the membrane layers is associated with a capacitor in the IC, which is discharged every time the key is pressed so that a relay of electricity to the capacitor can be formed. The key matrix organises this network of circuits to the IC. When more than one key is pressed down, sometimes the keyboard does not type at all. With multiple circuits running at once inside the IC at each of the dierent pins, the IC cannot distinctify one top-bottom combination from another. So often it solves this problem by simply not typing anything. The design of the key matrix was an application of graph theory to electrical engineering. It is not simple to design a computer keyboard, as one must accommodate for each of the 109 keys. The key matrix started o as a simple 19 10 array, and was transformed into what it is now using graph theory and topological manipulations. The design process was

not easy, and involved strenuous calculations such the graphs adjacency matrix and turning numbers.

Keyboards are a prime application of circuitry and electrical engineering to everyday life. Its hard to imagine how much work was behind a keyboard during each use of it. Certain aspects that were taught in this course such as resistance (V = IR) and capacitance (Q = CV ) were applied to the production and design of the keyboard. The processor is an application of data structures and algorithmic design, and the form of hexadecimal compression was an example of using bases from mathematics. But overall, the circuits that comprise the keyboard show examples of series and parallel capacitors. Each path on each membrane layer is comprised of multiple nodes in series. Using these concepts from physics, scientists have designed a fully operational tool that is used very frequently in modern human life.

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