Flaretech the optical keyboard switch

Dancing BMO

Gamers and MK fans rejoice, the Flaretech switch is a step closer to the next generation of mechanical keyboards and also the switch we use in the Wooting one mechanical keyboard.

The technical specifications of the switch open some amazing possibilities when you put the right minds on it. So, let me introduce the Flaretech Switch, an optical mechanical switch.

The Flaretech Switch

The Flaretech switch is an optical switch, meaning it uses a sensor and light to read the position of the keypress opposed from a regular switch that uses conductivity to activate a keypress. This is important to know because:

  • It’s possible to read different values from a single keystroke, hence Analog input
  • The switch doesn’t need to be soldered onto the PCB (the circuit board)

For now, there is a red and blue switch available. As the color indicates, it has similar specifications to those of CherryMX. Let me put that into a comparison.

Flaretech euro

Switch Comparison

Red Switch Comparison Table
Flaretech red switch CherryMX red switch
Operating Force 55 cN – Linear 45 cN- Linear
Keystrokes 100 million 50 million
Debounce 0.03ms 5ms
Tactile feedback No No
Audible feedback No No
Total travel distance 4mm 4mm
Actuation point 2-4mm 2mm
Reset point 2-4mm 1.9mm
Keycap stem MX (cross) MX (cross)

 

Blue Switch Comparison Table
Flaretech blue switch CherryMX blue switch
Operating Force 55 cN – Non-linear 50 cN – Non-linear
Keystrokes 100 million 50 million
Debounce 0.03ms 5ms
Tactile feedback Yes, on 2mm down and back up Yes, on 1.7mm down
Audible feedback Yes, on 2mm down and back up Yes, on 1.7mm down
Total travel distance 4mm 4mm
Actuation point 2-4mm 2.2mm
Reset point 2-4mm 1.5mm
Keycap mount MX (cross) MX (cross)

(disclaimer: We can’t officially speak for Flaretech or CherryMX specifications. Data is subject to errors)

Analog compatible

It’s analog compatible. You can’t simply install a Flaretech switch on a mechanical keyboard and expect it to magically be analog. The switch itself is a dummy that’s entirely mechanical. It’s the sensors installed on the PCB that can read an analog value.

Modular Switch

It’s modular, in the sense that it’s hot-swappable without any technical knowledge. It’s literally as simple as removing a keycap for another. But it’s not compatible with other switch brands.

To make sure you install it correct, it also has a little dummy proof clip on the side (not visible on this prototype version).

http://blog.wooting.nl/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/topview-naked-min.jpg

Since the switch is swappable, we’ve taken the liberty to also make the Wooting one top plate swappable without any technical knowledge. You can just unscrew the top plate and screw another in its place.

MX mount compatible

You can install any standard set of keycaps because it has the same mount as CherryMX switches.

Fast response time

It’s literally light(n)ing fast because the signal is sent with the speed of light, the input lag is dependent on other factors than the switch opposed to regular mechanical switches that suffer from a significant debounce time.

LED light

The switch uses SMD LED, so it’s installed on the PCB and not on the switch. It doesn’t go through the center but through an opening on the top of the switch.

Keyboard LED

What does this mean for Wooting one

In our search for making a real Gaming mechanical keyboard, we were looking for the best solution to capture an analog signal from keypresses. There is a multitude of possibilities: pressure, capacitive, magnetic and piezo fabric to name a few but there’s another challenge beyond it, cost per switch.

So when we found the Flaretech switch and saw it was optical, we immediately knew that this was it. As a bonus the switch was swappable.

When we just started to work with the switch, we first had to go through a rough R&D process to find the most effective and efficient method to read the analog signal from each key and how to easily and immediately implement this in games.

For the best analog experience, we’ve opted for the Flaretech red switch because its smooth linear feel without any tactile or audible feedback. Since you can depict your own actuation point it would feel weird to receive a bump at 2mm but actuate at 3mm.

Now that we’ve figured out the hardware side of things, it’s all boiling down to our firmware implementation.

Flaretech switch keyboard

Switch limitation

Our work with the Flaretech switch has shown the manufacturer that a full-analog keyboard is a viable and an affordable option. Initially, they assumed that it would be too expensive to implement it keyboard wide (on each key), thus, their original design was aimed for digital input. (boo!)

The switch mechanically blocks all light until 2mm because it was initially designed to send a digital input as soon as it received a light signal. So, to set the actuation point, they had to block all the light until its actuation point. But since we figured out how to effectively make the entire keyboard analog, it’s possible to set your own actuation point and therefore doesn’t need this mechanical solution.

Thankfully, this is a temporary limitation because further development is taking place and with your support for the Wooting one more resources will be allocated to gain the entire 4mm range with a simple switch upgrade.

To clarify, the range is limited by the dummy switch, not the keyboard (PCB) itself and since they are hot-swappable, it’s an easy upgrade. This means we can read analog values over a 2mm range until the next (foreseeable) switch upgrade.

July Update: New analog switch in development. New spec update coming soon…

Temporary Limitation, Not a big deal

All that being the case, we’ve already played around with the 2mm range and it’s extremely accurate and noticeable. In our experience, you’ll already press the key half way down before you feel a comfortable resistance and start floating around.

You can take our word for it but we’ll make sure others we’ll get to share their opinion about it as well.

Flaretech few switch

Super-official-totally-not-subjective gaming switch comparison™©®

Introducing the all-new Flaretech optical mechanical switch for Gamers . The ultimate analog compatible switch, handmade with microscopic details by the smartest engineers in the world exclusively for gaming. The unbeatable responsiveness and blazing speed of the Flaretech optical mechanical switch will never miss a beat and enhance your gaming and typing experience beyond imagination.

This is why the Flaretech switch will give you the winning edge.

THE ALL-NEW FLARETECH SWITCH
Is it a… Flaretech Red switch Standard “Gaming” Red Switch
Flaretech Switch
Analog compatible
Optical switch
in a Wooting one
Up to 100mil Keystrokes
Swappable switch
Smooth 55g
Make instant headshots
Be called hacker
100% chance on epic loot
Verdict: 😎 💩

Feed us Back ~ Thank you!

When we just started this project, we told ourselves that we should always seek out for feedback, stay true to ourselves and everybody around us. That’s why our communication channels are always open for everybody and when we get the chance, we answer as many people as we can.

So, don’t feel like you missed out and share your opinion, concerns, thoughts, ideas, questions, critical thinking or anything that pops into your mind with us:

Calder Limmen Written by:

Founder of Wooting. Entrepreneur, gamer and any(thing)thusiast living in Taiwan.

14 Comments

  1. TheyCalledHimGod
    May 16, 2016
    Reply

    Hey, personally I’d love to have a Flaretech Speed Switch that activates significantly faster and therefore allows for better responsiveness.

    • May 16, 2016
      Reply

      It’s one of the many benefits our Keyboard will have. Don’t miss out on the incoming launch.

  2. Mike
    May 18, 2016
    Reply

    Will this keyboard have a swappable cable so we can use PS/2 instead of USB? The former supposedly has less latency.

    • May 18, 2016
      Reply

      Hi Mike,

      I understand what you mean. We don’t use Ps/2 because it will limit the amount of information we can send, particularly analog.

      PS/2 work on an interrupt basis, meaning the KB signal is directly sent to the PC. USB works on a refresh-rate, checking every 1ms if there’s a signal.

      Nearly all keyboard that uses PS/2 (particularly mechanical keyboard) however have a debounce delay. CherryMX, for example, has 5ms debounce delay. Thus, no matter if you use USB or PS/2, speed will not make the difference.

      In our case, we have a 0.03ms debounce, if we would have used/or included a PS/2 possibility, we are able to go below the 1ms delay.

      In this case, we use USB, so it limits us to 1ms delay.

      hope that helps! Thanks for the question.

      • anon
        May 25, 2016
        Reply

        So do you use USB 3.0 for interrupt rather than polled?

  3. giannijocarbio
    May 21, 2016
    Reply

    Hey Calder,
    what will be the actuation point at the beginning of kickstarter? Are you releasing the keyboard already with the entire 4mm range, or will it be a future upgrade? If this is the case, when are you planning to upgrade the switches?

    • May 21, 2016
      Reply

      Hi Gianni,

      The first version will have an actuation point at 2mm. The 4mm will be a future upgrade, it’s unknown when we will realize the 4mm yet for two reasons:

      1. We’ve already looked if there was an easy solution to increase the range but it’s a bit more complicated, which means more time and money to find a solution.
      2. Therefore, the manufacturer can’t majorly invest in another version at this point without releasing its stable version first and us proving it’s worth the investment.

      We’re and will push for it daily, but we can use all the help there is to prove that it’s worth the investment right now!

      Thanks.

      • giannijocarbio
        May 21, 2016
        Reply

        Thanks as always for your response, Calder. 😉
        I was hoping for a full range actuation point, but this project is still awesome, so I’ll support it with 10€ while waiting for numpad and full 4mm actuation point. I am sure this kickstarter will be an epic success since the price is perfect.
        Keep up the good work man! 😉 I hope to see an upgrade as soon as possible.
        Cheers from Italy.

        • May 23, 2016
          Reply

          Thanks! Really appreciate it and we can’t wait to make a version that will fit your preferences. We’ll do out best.

  4. May 26, 2016
    Reply

    A very interesting project, I’ll talk of it on my blog, keep it up! Ottimo Lavoro!

  5. Aden
    July 19, 2016
    Reply

    My thoughts on the wooting:
    I have thought of this idea while playing a racing game and how awesome it would be, so I was so excited when I saw this on YouTube. How do you change the backlight color? (With software?). I would LOVE a version that has a number pad and doesn’t have a raised keys. And what is the price?

  6. Bayzid
    August 30, 2016
    Reply

    In the future do you plan to create a Mechanical Gaming Keypad which is similar to the ‘Razer Ouroboros’ and uses the falirtech optical switches?

    I find gaming keypads much more comfortable than keyboards for gaming. Would be cool if you can make one.

    I’m also aware that the peta travel distance of the flair tech analog switches is 2.0mm. Do you plan on creating any switches that have a reduced travel distance?

    Thanks for the product btw 🙂

  7. Riley
    May 30, 2017
    Reply

    I really want to know ho the switches feel compared to cherry. As far as I can tell there is little or no information on how the switches feel.

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