This Mechanical Keyboard Puts OLED Displays on Every Key

A highly configurable OLED mechanical keyboard project is entering the final stretch. The PolyKybd, from modder thpoll, has been in development for a few years, but PCGamer recently noticed that the project pages have been updated to say the hardware side of the development is almost finished, and efforts will switch to firmware work. It’s hoped that PolyKybd kits can be sold at a price of $200 or so when they’re ready. If that includes everything you’ll need to put it together, that would be pretty amazing, as some of the best mechanical keyboards (opens in new tab) without OLEDs already cost that much.

(Image credit: thpoll)

The PolyKybd is a split layout mechanical keyboard with an orthogonal key layout, but the big selling point is that the usual plastic keycaps have been replaced by transparent cash register keycaps fitted with internal OLED screens. Each screen is 0.42-inches in diagonal and offers a 72×40 pixel resolution.

As well as the standard set of keys available to customize and switch between (languages, character sets, layouts, etc), each half of the keyboard has a larger OLED display for status info and other messages. There’s a control wheel in some images as well, but the maker seems intent on changing this to a trackball.

With the hardware almost finished, thpoll will start putting more time into firmware. QMK open source firmware is mentioned, but as this keyboard is so configurable there will probably be a bit more work than usual to get all the functionality up and running in a slick manner.

(Image credit: thpoll)

Controlling all those tiny screens requires a processor in each half of the split keyboard, and the Raspberry Pi RP2040 microcontroller has been adopted for this job. It will control the OLEDs’ configurable legends, monitor and report key presses, and more. Thpoll has already started wrangling with making sure the system works with characters that are used in Japanese, Arabic, and other input methods.

(Image credit: thpoll)

As well as the split key design sample, thpoll says they intend to work on a TKL version and a separate numpad / macropad using these same highly configurable OLED faced keys. There are other possibilities for extending the project, and feedback from this first version when it reaches enthusiast / consumer hands will help shape the future roadmap.

We’ve seen input devices with OLED keys before, but the PolyKybd seems to have potential to shift some numbers at the right price and perhaps be the start of something bigger. Probably one of the best OLED keyboards, made by Art Lebedev, ceased production years ago and was never that popular due to the price. Meanwhile, Apple’s OLED touch bar failed to secure a place in the Mac’s future. However, macro pads with built-in displays seem popular, so adding a small numpad-style macropad to the PolyKybd family makes sense.

The idea of a fully customizable mechanical keyboard with OLEDs on the keycaps is certainly enticing. Making it happen at a reasonable price will be a challenge, but if the DIY kit can hit that goal, perhaps something similar will get picked up and mass produced by one of the bigger keyboard companies.