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.

34 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.

  8. Dillon Heald
    July 2, 2017
    Reply

    I’ve been searching for the supplier of these switches high and low. Ebay, Alibaba, etc… I’d like to get a few samples to make a small USB peripheral game pad with a micro-controller (Hopefully at a cheaper price). Does anyone know how I can get in contact with them? Seems they’re the only company that does this sort of tech. My next option would be harnessing the Piezoelectric effect for analogue switching.

  9. Hugo
    October 11, 2017
    Reply

    I would like to know where is it possible to buy these switches to the unti?

    • October 12, 2017
      Reply

      Will be available separately within this year. It’s a work in progress. But you can’t use the switch on any other keyboard than the Wooting one at the moment.

  10. Lyndan
    November 9, 2017
    Reply

    I have a HID design with analog buttons that I’m trying to make a reality, and this tech would be perfect for it. How could I go about using this to make my own device with about 12 keys? Could I purchase the parts separately and make my own custom device?

    • November 11, 2017
      Reply

      Hi Lyndan,

      Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. We are not against it but the parts required on the PCB (IR/PT) are so small and particular that it’s not available in the aftermarket and impossible to solder by hand.

  11. November 11, 2017
    Reply

    What a crock.
    “In this case, we use USB, so it limits us to 1ms delay.”

    Er no……..
    Your delay is the FULL chain delay.
    Just because you can get a USB “Frame” every 1ms DOES NOT mean the system delay is 1ms.
    so your claim of 1ms is actually bullshit.
    It is highly dependent on getting the results back to “user space”, and you will find that his delay is what actually dictates and overrides much of the “cool aid” you are trying to sell.
    Then we get into something called “debounce code”, this is a delay that is DELIBERATELY inserted by the programmer of the system routines.

    so even if you have a switch that operates at the speed of light and debounces in .00000000001 of a ms, there is NO way for the switch to communicate BACK to the internal software it is debounced already.
    The system will stick that all into a delay routine to ensure that the switch is actually fully debounced at a SYSTEM code level, it is this that is a major factor in the process.

    so unless you start writing your OWN HID drivers and kernel code + games code,
    of provide the research to show the results…

  12. November 11, 2017
    Reply

    Hi Hardcore,

    I’m a little surprised at how much hostility you’ve written your comment. We’re always open to a discussion and welcome feedback, but let it be in a calm and less judgmental method next time.

    You are right about USB, it cycles every 1ms and depending on when during the cycle you press, the delay can be less than 1ms. But it’s highly variable and dependable… My explanation in the comment just simplifies it when you take USB in comparison to PS/2.

    When it comes to debounce. Switches have their own literal hardware debounce, with metal contacts on CherryMX this is 5ms according to their spec sheet. This is likely more in cheaper clone versions.

    Because of this debounce, you need to add a debounce delay in the keyboard firmware, otherwise you will get keychatter. Thus with a CherryMX switch you’re already forced to delay at least 5~6ms, and that’s not taking into account that the switch will wear/tear or possibly have a faulty one inside (which is high, per keyboard =~ 104 switches). To reduce RMA, manufacturers are more likely add 10~15ms delay.

    When it comes to the firmware/software delay inserted by the programmer to ensure that the program cycle is complete before entering another process, this is indeed a limitation you will hit when trying to reach the fastest possible input. But here you start to enter a gray zone.

    With the Flaretech switches, we are not limited by the hardware or need to add a major debounce delay in the firmware. We will and do start to hit limitations of software run cycles. But this is a soft limit, it can be improved and bettered with trial and error. It’s something you can’t easily base on theory.

    Unless there is a proven, consistent method/test that can put the real input speed to the test, you can only base it on theory or limit the amount of factors that play a role. i.e. take away input to pc, limit it to keyboard read cycle.

    How are you going to explain it to this details to the general public, while a lot of gaming companies will claim optimal numbers based on faulty theories (i.e. they quote the switch debounce and don’t even consider key reading matrix).

    We write our own keyboard firmware and made the PCB design. It’s our ultimate goal to get the most out of it and push its limits.

    Hopefully, this clarifies it for you and if you have any questions, you’re welcome to ask.

  13. […]  WootingはFlaretech Switchの概要しか語っていないので推測も入るのだが,キースイッチのハードウェア仕様は基本的に,プランジャーの押下による明るさの変化をアナログ値として検出するものになっているようだ。 光の強弱を取り込むセンサーには主にCdS(Cadmium Sulfide,硫化カドミウムだが,電子部品の世界ではセンサーの名前として使われている)とフォトトランジスタ(≒フォトダイオード)の2種類がある。このうちCdSは安価だが反応がとても遅いので,キースイッチに使うのは無理だろう。よってキー1つ1つにフォトトランジスタを埋め込んでプランジャーの押下量を検出するという,かなり高コストなキースイッチだと考えられる。 […]

  14. IJ Fritz
    December 14, 2017
    Reply

    You say what and where the emitter (LED) is, but what about the detector?

  15. Programmer
    February 13, 2018
    Reply

    Where I can purchase the switches ?
    You keyboard design s*cks, but the switches can be used for Ergodox-like keyboards.

    • Jeroen Langelaan
      February 13, 2018
      Reply

      Your comment s*cks, but it’s not just a plug and play switch you can put in another non-optical keyboard

  16. Noel
    February 25, 2018
    Reply

    I hope this will interest you but it is a long way from your interest in gaming. I got to your site because I was looking for an optical keyboard, completely optical, ie no electronics. The reason is that keyboards are a security nightmare. They broadcast keystrokes unencrypted in EMF. A keyboard that sent it’s signal down an optical fibre to an expansion card in the computer case, ie inside a Faraday cage, would be a very big deal for secure installations, banks etc.It would also allow you to completely by pass legacy interfaces like PS2 and USB.
    I hope you guys make a billion dollars with this idea and remember me when you are rich.

    • EMPFIRE
      July 21, 2018
      Reply

      Noel, interesting idea & concept. Would appreciate contacting me at [email protected]

  17. Victor
    May 31, 2018
    Reply

    The wooting one
    supports water like the Aorus K9?

    • July 10, 2018
      Reply

      It’s not the same but it doesn’t break from a water spill. In either case, you’ll need to take it apart, clean and dry it. 🙂

  18. Adamec Sam
    June 24, 2018
    Reply

    Hi. I would like to address the elephant in the room. Aimpad made some bold claims, while directly comparing their product to yours. I’m not sure if i can post the page here, but you can easily find it on their page. Their first hit was types of switches, which i think red and blue is enough of a choice. Second was the dead zone, which you are working on, so ok. Third point was the amount of steps, and this one i think is just stupid. 256 steps over one step on normal keyboard is enough, and i don’t think more steps would be noticeable improvement and it could mean too much information for other components. But the fourth point is what i am worried about. It seems like flaretech switch lacks smoothness and consistency with press depth and value read. Also it looked like the actual analog reading distance is only 1.5 mm, Now i know from the whole article that they want flaretech switch to look bad, but i want to know what is your response to that. And i want to ask, if response readings differ in red and blue switch. Their last hit was about light interference, with for example table lamp pointing directly on the keyboard, so i want to ask about that. Also, i would like to know if dust is a huge problem with these sensors. I’m sorry for such a long comment. I really like the way you made your keyboard, so i am just getting all the facts before i decide to buy it. And i’m really disappointed, that i have not heard about analog keyboards before. I just stumbled upon them by accident while looking for keyboard with analog stick, for driving in single player fps. I think they are a huge deal, and I hope you solve the deadzone problem as soon as possible. Thanks and have a nice day

    • July 10, 2018
      Reply

      It’s alright to ask these questions. I don’t want to avoid them, but also don’t like to give it too much attention because I don’t like to create that kind of competitive environment and they’re not entirely in line with out mission to making it an industry standard.

      I can’t speak for the their technology or experience, as I have never tried it, but one thing that I can say with confidence is that using optical technology (esp. without an integrated solution), you will have to make some compromises that isn’t shared. On paper they seem to have a better and larger analog signal than ours, but once again, you won’t know the net effect until used in practice.

      The main difference in what we are doing versus them, is that we have a true analog input keyboard. Every key has analog input without making compromises to the scanning rate, keys or limiting it in its function. We work very hard to push this as an industry standard on both software and hardware. So that other manufacturers can also get started, not exclusively Wooting. Therefore we also introduced our https://dev.wooting.nl/ with open-source SDK for RGB and Analog communication on our keyboard. This allows native analog keyboard support by developers, community created features and open the doors for other manufacturer’s with their own analog input hardware to easily join the change.

      We made the Wooting keyboards to set an example and send a message out there.

      If hardware analog performance is a point of concern for you, I would recommend waiting a little longer for things to mature a bit and you’ll definitely start to see better hardware solutions than what you can find now. That’s just how it will work with these pioneering products. If believe in what we’re doing and want smh tangible now, then I can recommend one of our keyboards 😉

  19. Anton
    July 28, 2018
    Reply

    Hi, could I get samples of Flaratech switches with datasheet how to mount it? I am making my own Ergodox keyboard and curious about using Wooting switches

    • Jeroen Langelaan
      August 2, 2018
      Reply

      Hey Anton.

      Thanks for the question. The components to sense the optical signal from the switch (the IR and PT) are proprietary to our manufacturer. Besides that they’re also extremely difficult components to solder by hand and require a SMT process. This switch is sadly not as hobby friendly as a normal mechanical switch.

      ~Jeroen

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