IntelliKeys Open Source Rescue

Great News! Ablenet has open-sourced the IntelliKeys drivers!

Thousands of people use the IntelliKeys programmable USB keyboards to access their computers, communicate, and even speak with text-to-speech.  Recently Ablenet (who now owns the IntelliTools products) decided not to continue producing them.

Thankfully, they have chosen to Open Source the drivers.  This is a huge decision, and we want to do everything we can to make that decision a winning one.  So, we’re looking for some Makers to help port the drivers to Windows 10 & the latest OS/X and perhaps rework the firmware to make the devices more flexible and cross-platform

Live Teardown of IntelliKeys

To that end, Micah Elizabeth Scott (aka “@scanlime” on Twitter & YouTube) and Bill Binko from ATMakers tore into two keyboards and the source code to see where we stand in terms of hardware, software and approach.  You can watch along here:

Where we stand now

After the teardown, we’ve learned a few important things:

  1. The device uses a Cypress 8051-based microcontroller with 8K of non-volatile memory.  This means we probably have enough room to store true HID-keyboard code plus overlay data directly on the device
  2. The hardware is simple and sturdy with a grid-based membrane that is polled using a some very retro Flip-Flop chips (very old-school).  This approach can be used going forward.
  3. The device does advertise itself as an HID-compliant keyboard, but in reality it does not actually send HID keystrokes.  It send proprietary commands that the Windows driver then maps to keystrokes using the overlay data.  This is a simplistic approach that can be improved upon.
  4. The current drivers can probably be tweaked to run on Windows 10 & the latest OS/X, and we will make that effort.
  5. We will also attempt a re-write of the firmware and overlay management code to work in a cross-platform, standards-compliant way.

Where to learn more

To learn more about the IntelliKeys Open Source initiative, please check out:

We’re very happy to be moving this project forward.  If you’d like to help technically, please let us know.