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Magnetic Levitation Switches Feel Like Typing on Air

Riskable's mag-lev switches
(Image credit: Riskable)

Throughout the history of the mechanical keyboard (opens in new tab), one thing has remained almost stable - the switch. Colors (opens in new tab) and materials come and go, but we’re essentially typing on 1970s technology, and it would be good to get something a bit more modern under our fingertips that isn’t endless Cherry clones. Enter the ‘Void’ switch from the mind of hacker Riskable, as spotted by Hackaday (opens in new tab), which uses some decidedly 21st century technology. 

It all works through magnets. As you press down on the switch you separate two magnets whose polarities are set to attract each other. A third magnet, set to repel, pushes the switch back up again once the keypress is finished. Keypress sensing relies on the Hall effect - a change in magnetic field intensity that’s picked up by a sensor which then emits its own voltage once the field reaches a pre-set strength. As it’s all done with magnets, there’s no contact between moving parts, and therefore less wear.

Tactility comes from varying the width of the plastic barrier between the attracting magnets - the thinner it is, the more they stick to each other, and the harder you need to press to separate them. That variable thickness, measured in fractions of a millimetre, exposes another truth about these new switches: you have to make them yourself, and they won’t fit many mechanical keyboards (opens in new tab). The product of hacker Riskable’s fearsome imagination, they fit into Analog Keyboard Units (opens in new tab) he also created, and are 3D printed (opens in new tab), meaning there’s lots of space for customization along the way.

YouTuber Chryrosran22 has a fascinating teardown video of the mag-lev switches, while Riskable’s own YouTube channel (opens in new tab) is worth a look for all sorts of keyboard-related madness.

Ian Evenden
Ian Evenden

Ian Evenden is a UK-based news writer for Tom’s Hardware US. He’ll write about anything, but stories about Raspberry Pi and DIY robots seem to find their way to him.