Ditch that boring mouse for a military-grade trackball


The bad thing about this type of hack is that now [Tomek Dubrownik] needs to cut a hole in his desk to house the thing. He got this military grade trackball working over USB. It’s old, and could be used as a blunt weapon. But as the video shows it still makes a great input device.

He found the hardware on Allegro — a Polish auction site similar to eBay — for just $20. The original circuitry didn’t make a lot of sense, but a bit of probing with the old oscilloscope let him establish connections to the encoders which are read by some TI 54xx parts. Apparently they use the same logic as 7400 parts but are military grade. He chose a ATmega32u4 development board for his replacement control board. That chip has native USB support so the rest is just a matter of passing data like an HID input device. His code even lets him use those pushbuttons to toggle between cursor movement and window scrolling.

[Tomek] translated his post into English after some prompting by friends at the Warsaw Hackerspace. Here’s the original in Polish if you’re interested.

[Thanks Sergiusz]


  1. John Poe says:

    I bought a bunch of Megatron 816 TC trackballs for $10 each on ebay a few years ago. There’s plenty of documentation available, including technical drawings to cut your own faceplate. You can supply your own buttons. They use some kind of standard serial protocol (other versions of those trackballs use PS/2, USB…) and worked with a handmade cable right away with Linux. They work well for a kiosk style application, but I just couldn’t imagine using them day to day integrated in my desk – they just don’t feel precise enough.

  2. dALE says:

    In soviet Russia, Military Mouse Tracks you!

  3. Rob says:

    Were these salvaged from the same polish air force helicopters that had all those ejector-seat issues?

  4. Neat hack. Good to have an input device ready if you ever go to war from your computer room :)

  5. Anonymous says:

    Somebody takes their games of Centipede very seriously.

  6. Jimmy the Geek says:

    It’s funny, my main computers I use day to day are tiny compared to that track ball. I can just imaging setting up a tiny screen, hooked to a tiny computer and tiny keyboard, and then pull out that monster as my pointer device. Great hack! :)

  7. Hirudinea says:

    And if he ever gets tired of the using the trackball on the computer he can rip it out and go bowling.


  8. NaN says:

    Used for scrolling on soup.io…
    lol :).

  9. Dra says:

    “blunt” weapon? I wouldn’t want to touch most of that thing without paying attention, old scrap parts are sharp, man.

  10. balls-of-glory says:

    that’d be nice for 3d cad orbiting the model whilst spline weaving with the normal mouse

  11. jorb mawmaw says:

    jesus h christ that is a huge mouse.

  12. Trav says:

    I think you would get carpal tunnel syndrome from having to click those buttons.

    It cost him $20, but probably $50 in shipping costs

  13. da rippa says:

    This, my friends, is what it is all about. Great hack.

  14. eatith mee says:

    For those of you who don’t already know. If its 5400 series logic, that means its milspec. Like a 7414 hex schmitt trigger inverter is the comercial version, the 5414 would be the milspec version. The 7414 probably costs $0.60, the 5414 may cost $60.00, just depends on the part.

  15. draeath says:

    A coworker recognized this thing. It’s apparently used in air-traffic control. It moves a cursor around the track screen, and you can hit one of those buttons to highlight said track to display additional information and the like.

  16. boot says:

    nice hack, maybe you can find some use for the old board as well, it looks great. Plenty of logic options.

  17. borgar says:

    at risk of being a downer, wouldnt it be easier/cheaper to slaughter a mouse and integrate it instead of the mcu?

    maybe not as interesting.

  18. Montaray Jack says:

    I love it! No problem of durability there. Thats one of my pet peeves, the lack of durabiliity of mice, I cant even count how many mice I’ve worn out in the last 30 years. Bad choice of materials, too soft of plastic, cheap microswitches.

  19. Anonymous says:

    I’d just like a mouse, optical and wireless, with buttons as beefy as those. That’s the first thing to go on any of my mice. Usually within about six months.

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