Project to build the first working replica of the 1987 Soviet concept design.
Best photo I could find of the complete system
WebP Image - 1.58 MB - 11/30/2019 at 09:17
This project has been on the back burner while I move house, but I'm almost set up in my new space and ready to continue with projects. In the meantime, I have acquired an SLA printer which should allow me to print the masters for the key cap castings and I've also gotten my hands on a selection of short-stroke key switches to test.
I started this project by finding as many photos as I could of the SPHINX mock-up. The photos fell into three categories:
Here is an ensmallened version of the hi-res I ended up working from to transcribe the legends. The full 3000x2473 pixel webp file is available in the files section of this project.
Here is the keyboard extracted as best I could manage from the image above:
And finally, the transcribed and translated legends:
Now that we know the legend, we need to nail down the scale and layout. This is where the differences between the modern reproduction and the photographed mock-up from 1987 become much more clear. Notice in the above photo that the keyboard is laid out orthographically using very simple size relationships. Also notice that the triangles on the left-hand side fail to land neatly on the grid. Now, observe this photo from 1987:
In this photo, the keyboard can be divided vertically into even thirds with the left-hand triangles pointing to the center of each row. This spacial relationship also makes those top-row keys the same size as the large left-hand keys, reducing the variety of key sizes overall. Obviously, this was the intention, an elegant design based on halves and thirds. The modern replica appears to squeeze the top third of the keyboard. So this, the 1987 original layout, will be our prototype.
Now that we understand the spacial relationship of the keys, we need to find the size. This is where we'll begin to compromise. There is nothing in any of these photos of a known size, so scaling is a little difficult, but there's one magazine photo that gives us a ballpark:
If we assume that these keys are to be the same size as those which appear on the main console, then they're actually somewhat small. There's no way of knowing how large this person's hand is, so an exact dimension is lost to time, but if we imagine the minimum key size for a modern mechanical key switch (about 15mm) it appears comparable.
Why a modern mechanical key switch? What evidence do we have that this device would have had a mechanical keyboard?
In fact, because of the way that the mock-ups are constructed, the keyboards actually appear to be silicone rubber keypads or some other type of membrane switch keypad. And some consideration was given to the idea that a custom rubber keypad could be fabricated for the project. However, there are a few factors which led me to believe that mechanical switches...Read more »