Futaba Corporation (双葉電子工業株式会社: Futaba Electronics Co., Ltd.; also フタバ: Futaba) is a Japanese manufacturer. For years, they produced keyboard switches; this product line was eventually turned over to partner Sejin Electron. Futaba may also have produced a small number of keyboards; keyboard production is uncertain, as most keyboards appear to have come from Sejin. The Rockwell AIM 65 keyboard is one that does only have the Futaba logo, unlike the the Futaba/Sejin keyboard for the TI99/4A which has both logos.
Official details of Futaba products are scarce. A small amount of information is known to date. Futaba themselves appear to have no information left in their records.
“M-2B” was advertised in Electronic Design magazine in March 1974. Under the heading of “Keyboards” they were described simply as “Individual mechanical switch, plug-in mounting.” “M3” was advertised alongside M2-B, described as “Same as M-2B, but smaller.” A single switch design is depicted in that advertisement and in a later advertisement in June; this is similar to the so-called “first generation” switches, but the return spring is external. No terminals are visible on any of the switches. Two Japanese patents, S48-089364 (A) “スイッチ” (“Switch”, filed February 1972) and S49-132567 (A) “キーボードスイッチ” (“Keyboard switch”, filed April 1973) depict designs that closely follow the photographs. In the patented design, a conductive element of the plunger bridges the two terminals; knowledge of Japanese may provide an answer for whether these are intended to be pulse or continuous and, if they are pulse type, what prevents a second pulse on the return stroke, as well as how teasing of the contacts is avoided.
The following (unfortunately very small) photos from Meryl Miller depict a switch that matches the patent filed in 1973, alongside a Cherry M62-0100 and an MEI T-15; he only noted at the time that he believed it to be Futaba, which appears to be correct:
Note that the shell of the depicted switch is entirely cuboid, compared to the rounded form in the magazine advertisements from the year after. Meryl’s switch would have been a sample that he obtained from Futaba, presumably while working for Datanetics. The “CE” keycap is from a calculator and suggests that these switches were being used as such, and possibly not in computer keyboards.
“First generation” is a general term to cover the switch types that preceded the later low-profile MA types. A few part numbers are known, and series names are currently derived from the part numbers alone. The advertisement mentioning M-2B and M3 shows that switches do exist from before the “first generation” types, although they appear to be around the same size as “first generation” switches, rather than taller as one might expect. The existence of even older switches remains a possibility.
The March 1974 in advertisement Electronic Design also gives two calculator keyboard types: “FX, SD Series: Thin keyboards for hand calculators.” A single photograph shows a flat, enclosed keypad unit with circular buttons.
Sejin Electron Inc. (now known as SJK Co., Ltd. since 2017) is a Korean manufacturer that was established in 1972 as a joint venture with Futaba of Japan. According to the SJK website, they began production and export of keyboard switches in June 1973. Keyboard production followed in May 1980. Futaba’s website noted at one point that keyboard manufacture was transferred to Sejin in 1991. A former George Risk employee confirmed to Jacob Alexander that the KBM and KBM-LP switches came from “Asia” but it remains unknown whether these were ever produced in Japan, or whether Futaba always had their switches manufactured in Korea. Futaba MA switches are Futaba-branded, while all other known types are unbranded.
The suggestion though is that Futaba keyboard switches go back at least as far as 1973. While this is perfectly plausible, no evidence for such keyboards currently exists, so it remains a mystery what switches these were. The patents for Futaba’s reed switch—sold as GRI KBR and never observed—were only filed in 1975.