Category Archives: Sledgehammer keyboard

SHKB v3 tech notes

Older versions of SHKB were dependent on a hacked keyboard logic circuit.  For this rebuild I moved to an Arduino Leonardo.  Programming behaviors from scratch gave me much more control.  What’s more, the Leonardo is automatically identified by the computer as a keyboard, and there are plenty of related libraries to get you started.  With this build I also moved to actual heavy duty switches as opposed to embedding strips of copper in my silicone casts.  We’ll see how long they last…


The third major rebuild of SHKB is based on the ITU E.161 international keypad standard.  This allowed me to shrink the overall size of the device while still maintaining its monolithic aspect.  In addition to A-Z, v3 can make a space, and exclamation point and a smiley.

SHKB v3 @ AIC Curriculum Fair, Chicago

SHKB v3 on display at the Art Institute of Chicago.  The teachers of the curriculum fair were a surprisingly relaxed bunch, and were less interested in the practice of bashing than most audiences.  That said, I did have some great conversations about possible applications for SHKB in special-needs classrooms.  Another teacher also turned me on to TAB – an approach I’ll be evaluating as I keep working on the foundations curriculum at Columbia College.


About SHKB

Silicone Rubber, Electronics
8″ x 6′ x 2′
2005 – ongoing

SHKB is a huge version of the USB keyboard you’re using right now. SHKB
measures 6 feet in length and features 29 cast silicone rubber keys. The letters A through
Z are represented, as are the function keys Space, Period and Return. There is no Delete

Regardless of its particular application, technology is intended to enable its user. Some
devices and methods perform better than others and still other technologies cause more
harm than good. Nonetheless, our expectation of any given technological experience carries
with it the assumption of facilitation or enrichment. Both successful and unsuccessful
design, under the general guise of high technology, can lull us into a sense that we have
accomplished something more than we could on our own, regardless of the actual result.

From mineral pigments used in the caves of Lascaux to laser-bonded toner on
mass-manufactured paper, technological advances have democratized the process of
communicating. Yet perhaps something is lost or forgotten when its mediums become too
facile. While it has been to the great benefit of civilization to conquer impediments to
communication on a personal and global scale, the seemingly transparent methods we use
today are anything but. To paraphrase Andrew Keen’s argument in The Cult of the
, the easier it is to do something, the easier it is to do it wrong.

SHKB imposes (or re-imposes) physical difficulty on the process of writing,
burdening the author-user with a feat of exertion in order to produce even a concise
message. Writing is hard work; what is usually an instantaneous and anonymous act—typing
on a computer—becomes a labored performance in a public setting. In enforcing layers of
arduousness and sometimes frustration upon the user, SHKB requires the operator to
reevaluate his or her relationship with common technological mediators that are often
taken for granted.