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The Esrille New Keyboard − NISSE


  • Technically compatible with the 104-109 key USB keyboard.
  • A compact, ergonomic design that provides better usability even for users with smaller hands:
    336mm x 177.5mm x 57.4mm (13.2 in. x 7 in. x 2.6 in.)
  • Aluminum enclosure; net weight:
    757g (26.7 ounces).
  • 76 key configuration using Cherry MX mechanical key switches including two FN keys.
  • The following keyboard layouts are supported by default; no extra device driver installation is necessary:
    • English
      • QWERTY
      • Dvorak
      • Colemak
    • Japanese
      • Stickney Next
      • Nicola
      • TRON
      • M-type
      • JIS X6004
  • The source code of the keyboard firmware is available at GitHub. The firmware can be uploaded from your PC via USB.
To learn more, please read our FAQs.

Logical Layouts

NISSE supports the seven types of keyboard layouts by default. Custom keyboard layout may be used by modifying the keyboard firmware. In the following sections, each keyboard layout is described in more detail.


QWERTY (US) is the NISSE's default layout.
qwerty layout QWERTY layout


  • [{ and ]} keys are moved to the left side.
  • ESC, TAB, ENTER, and MENU keys are moved to the center area.
  • BACKSPACE key is moved to the thumb area.
  • Multiple modifier key layouts are supported.
  • Several standard keys, including ones for the cursor keys, are omitted. Those keys can be accessed through the FN key combinations.
  • QWERTY (JIS) is also supported by the keyboard firmware as illustrated in the Stickney Next layout.

Dvorak Layout

Even though the Dvorak simplified keyboard layout is not as popular as QWERTY, it is a very widely supported English keyboard layout.
dvorak layout Dvorak layout

Colemak Layout

Colemak layout is a new logical English layout, published in 2006. Colemak is designed to be easier to swich from QWERTY than Dvorak, and yet it is efficient for touch typing in English.
Colemak layout Colemak layout
Colemak is said to be the third most popular keyboard layout for typing in English.

FN key combinations

The FN key combinations are mapped to various keys and key combinations as illustrated below:
Fn layout Fn key combinations
  • F1 (ABOUT): Output the firmware version and the current settings.
  • F2 (OS): Toggle the target operating system type between PC and Mac.
  • F3 (LAYOUT): Change the logical English keyboard layout.
    usQWERTY (US)
    us-dDvorak (US)
    us-cColemak (US)
    jpQWERTY (JIS)
    jp-nQWERTY (JIS / Nicola F)
  • F4 (KANA LAYOUT): Change the logical Japanese Kana keyboard layout layout.
  • F5 (DELAY): Adjust the delay (0 msec to 50 msec) of character keys for a simultaneous hit with shift keys.
  • F6 (MOD): Change the modifier key layout.
  • F7 (IME): Specify the Japanese IME to use.
  • F8 (LED): Specify the LED display method in the Kana mode.
  • F9 (PREFIX): Enable/disable the prefix shift in the Kana mode.
  • F10〜F12: Control the speaker volume.
  • Left-hand side: Provides the access to the common shortcut keys, page up, and page down.
  • Right-hand side: Provides the various cursor key combinations; no need to move your right hand away from the home position for accessing the cursor keys. In the 109 OS mode, the lower row layout changes to the one illustrated in green.
  • N: Mapped to F13 in PC mode, and Kana(かな) in Mac mode. When the keyboard is used with a Japanese IME, F13 should be mapped to "Activate IME" in the IME settings panel. When pressed, the Caps Lock LED is turned on to indicate the Kana input mode is activated.
  • B: Mapped to F14 in PC mode, and Eisu(英数) in Mac mode. When the keyboard is used with a Japanese IME, F14 should be mapped to "Deactivate IME" in the IME settings panel. When pressed, the Caps Lock LED is turned off to indicate the Kana input mode is deactivated.
Note: The FN key combinations are same in every logical keyboard layout.
Note: When the Scroll lock LED is turned on by pressing FN-\ (Scroll lock), the FN key is also locked and FN key combinations are generated without holding the FN key down.

10-key Emulation

When the Num lock LED is turned on by pressing FN-' (Num lock), the right-hand side of the keyboard emulates a 10-key keypad as illustrated below:
10-key emulation 10-key emulation
Pressing the CALC key will launch the calculator application, if your operating system supports the calculator key (USB key code 0xFB).

Japanese Logical Layouts

Majority of Japanese speakers today input Japanese characters in Romaji using the QWERTY layout. In Romaji, however, it requires two key strokes to input most of the Japanese Kana characters. There are several Japanese logical keyboard layouts that allow you to type Japanese Kana characters in a single key stroke along with shift key combinations.

Stickney Next Layout

The origin of the current Japanese JIS standard Kana layout is the layout that was invented by Burnham Coos Stickney in 1923. The original Stickney layout emphasized the following points in its design, which are fairly reasonable even in today's perspective:
  1. Ease of learning; the most part the keys in the several groups follow the order of the katakana alphabet
  2. Most of the typing will be performed in the second and third banks
  3. The dakuon mark is typed by one hand and the root character by the other hand
Unfortunately the current JIS Kana layout has lost many design intentions in the Stickney's original design from historical reasons, and it is not widely used in practice today.

The Stickney Next layout is a new Kana layout that is designed for NISSE based on the original Stickney's layout, rather than the current JIS layout. It keeps the Stickney's original design intentions, and it has moved nine Kana characters (ケセソヘホメヌロ) to better positions and removed two Kana characters (small ㇷ and ㇹ) that are not used in the contemporary Japanese language. Electronically, the Stickney Next layout is compatible with the standard Japanese JIS layout.

Stickney Next layout Stickney Next layout
In the above figure, each katakana alphabet group is differently colored to emphasize the Stickney's design intention.

Nicola layout

While the Stickney Next layout is very easy to learn, it is still arguable in its efficiency aspects; mainly in its use of four rows for Kana characters.

Yasunori Kanda and others at Fujitsu developed Nocola layout in the late 1970s, which uses just three rows for Kana characters. In Nicola layout, you can enter 30 Kana characters, out of about 90, without using the shift keys, additional 30 Kana characters by using the left Shift key combination, and the remaining 30 Kana characters by using the right Shift key combination. Kana characters with dakuon are entered by pressing the Kana key and the shift key at the other side at the same time:

example: け + Shift ⇒ げ, と + Shift ⇒ ど

nicola layout Nicola layout (F type)
Nicola became quite popular in Japan in the 1980s, and still has great number of fans including award-winning writers.

M-type layout

Unlike Nicola, M-type layout was designed to type Romaji more efficiently than QWERTY by Dr. Masasuke Morita at NEC from the late 1970s. Since consonant characters are ordered in the Japanese alphabetical order, it is easy to remember the layout for Japanese speakers. Dr. Morita also developed very smart, ergonomic keyboards for the M-type layout. Even though M-type ergonomic keyboards are no longer available in the market, it had been sold for about twenty years in Japan.
M-type layout M-type layout
If M-type ergonomic keyboards were still in the market and its layout was customizable, Esrille New Keyboard wouldn't have to be developed. As a logical layout, however, more popular Drorak layout might be a better choice if you also type English text frequently. Both layouts places all vowels on the left home row.

TRON Kana layout

The TRON Kana layout was developed by Prof. Ken Sakamura as one of the sub-projects of the TRON project in the mid 1980s. At first glance, the TRON layout looks similar to Nicola layout. While Nicola places frequently used Kana characters in the top and middle rows including shift positions, the TRON Kana layout places frequently used Kana characters at the non-shift positions. This is because that the TRON Kana layout was designed in conjunction with the ergonomic TRON keyboard, and the bottom row was not considered to be so harder to access than the other rows unlike Nicola.
TRON layout TRON Kana layout (Dvorak edition)

While the original TRON keyboards are no longer available in the market, a more conservative version of the TRON keyboard, named µTRON keyboard, is available in Japan since 2007, and the TRON Kana layout are used with the µTRON keyboard, too.

The TRON Kana layout also nicely fits to NISSE due to its ergonomic design.

JIS X6004 layout

JIS X6004 was a yet another, Japanese industrial standard Kana layout established in 1986 to amend various issues in the current JIS standard Kana layout. JIS X6004 also uses just three rows for Kana characters, and the Kana character placement criteria were similar to the TRON Kana layout. While its technical design was superb for professional typists, JIS X6004 was abandoned as a JIS standard in 1999 due to its unpopularity in the market.

JIS X6004 employs the prefix shift method, in which shift cases can be selected by pressing and releasing a shift key alone before pressing the corresponding character key. The standard allows a shift key to be placed in the center of the keyboard where a space-bar is placed. In this case, the same typing method can be used both in Japanese and English without losing typing speed; note in Japanese, white space characters appear far less frequently than in English.

JIS X6004 JIS X6004

Today, its superior technical design has been re-evaluated especially in younger generations. Variations of the JIS X6004 layout are actually in use and still being developed by the enthusiasts.


Firmware for Esrille New Keyboard − NISSE (HEX format)

The NISSE firmware can be updated using HIDBootloader provided by Microchip.
Release dateVersionHEX fileDescription
2015/2/150.16esrille.nisse.0.16.hex Fix to preserve the FN-F9(PREFIX) led mode setting between power-ons.
2014/12/70.15esrille.nisse.0.15.hex Add the LED mode to FN-F9 (PREFIX) to verify the current prefix shift status with the red and blue LEDs.
2014/11/40.14esrille.nisse.0.14.hex Support the revision 5 keyboards. The revision number of your keyboard can be checked by pressing FN-F1.

The HIDBootloader is included in Microchip Libraries for Applications (MLA). NISSE uses MLA v2013-12-20. The HIDBootloader is a Qt application, and it can be built on Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux. Precompiled binaries for Windows are also included in MLA under C:\microchip\mla\v2013_12_20\apps\usb\device\bootloaders\utilities\bin\win\HIDBootloader.exe.

To update the firmware, please complete the following steps:

  1. Connect the NISSE keyboard to your PC holding the ESC key. The red LED will start blinking to indicate that the keyboard is in the bootloader mode.
  2. Press the [Import Firmware Image] button in the HIDBootloader toolbar, and select the firmware HEX file (esrille.nisse.#.##.hex) to update.
  3. Press the [Erase/Program/Verify Device] button in the HIDBootloader toolbar to start the firmware update.
    While the update is in progress, please do not turn off your PC, or unplug the keyboard from your PC.
  4. Press the [Reset Device] button in the HIDBootloader.
    Verify that the red LED has stopped blinking, and your keyboard is ready to use.

To build the HIDBootloader on Mac or Linux, please complete the following steps:

  1. Download a MLA packaged for your operating system from http://www.microchip.com/pagehandler/en-us/devtools/mla/.
  2. Download and install Qt5 using the package manager of your operating system or from http://qt-project.org/downloads.
  3. Run Qt Creator (the Qt5 IDE), and select [File]-[Open File or Project] and open the project file for the HIDBootloader stored at mla_v2013_12_20/apps/usb/device/bootloaders/utilities/qt5_src/HIDBootloader.pro.
  4. Select [Build]-[Run] to start the HIDBootloader.

Paper Craft of NISSE

Want to try Esrille New Keyboard for yourself? Print out the following PNG file at 100 dpi to create a paper craft of the keyboard in its actual size.
paper craft Paper Craft (100dpi)

The Key Matrix of NISSE

C0C1C2C3C4C5 C6C7C8C9C10C11
R0[F2F3F4F5F6 F7F8F9F10F11=
R1`F1 F12\
R2]1 0-
R3CAPS2345 6789'