Hold on tight. This is going to be a long post. I kept my temper in the video, but here I can just come out and let you know that I’m livid. Every time I start thinking about this, I feel so angry and helpless that my face gets hot and my hands get shaky. I’m getting ahead of myself though, so lets just back up a little bit and talk about a pretty cool kid named [Thomas].
[Thomas] has muscular dystrophy. This means he’s going to gradually lose strength and control in his muscles over time. He has already lost his ability to stand, and even holding buttons on a game-pad for extended times can be difficult. Gaming, as you can imagine, is very important to [Thomas] and people like him. It offers a release of frustration, like it does for all of us, but also a level playing ground. When he’s in the game, he’s like everyone else.
I did some quick research into what hardware is available. This is where I started to get angry. Something simple like this low pressure switch is extremely overpriced. Take these two for example. Both are a single momentary switch with a cable and a case.
$70 dollars? $70 F*$&ING DOLLARS? This isn’t the computer interface, this is just the switch. We all know that we can buy those switches at retail prices for under a dollar. At this point, I thought “man, these companies sure are inflating the price for insurance companies.”
I mentioned the insurance thought to [Thomas'] Mother. She said something that made me want to just sit down and cry right there. She replied “Oh no, the insurance companies don’t usually pay for this stuff. They don’t see it as a necessity.“ Maybe it is because I’m a parent, but this was devastating. I had a hard time even thinking strait after this visit for a while. I was so angry, so frustrated, and feeling so helpless, and I was only tangentially involved.
I made up my mind to do something more than just make a simple controller for [Thomas], I needed to help as many people as possible. More on that later.
As you saw in the video, [Thomas] loves to play minecraft. I met with him and talked about what he needed in terms of a controller. At this point in time, [Thomas] doesn’t really need much. He can use an Xbox gamepad, a sixaxis controller, and keyboard and mouse. He has a little bit of trouble holding the triggers for more than a couple seconds, but he gets by.
This meant that I really didn’t have a specific problem to solve so I just tried to build something that would help the most people possible. I jumped from idea to idea, but ultimately fell onto the idea of modular buttons that could be reconfigured as needed.
I used a Teensy with extremely simple keyboard/mouse emulation code. This allows me to give the imputs to the games without the use of additional software. I should point out here, that this isn’t a new or amazing idea. The super expensive buttons that I mentioned early plug right into something called a “switch box” that emulates mouse and keyboard. Usually the switchboxes even have a ton of features that mine does not have.
All mine does is emulates W,A,S,D, space, escape, E, Q, mouse movement, and right and left mouse clicks. That’s it. That is all that was needed for minecraft. I initially started making a system that used headphone jacks, like what I saw on the other systems but then had a better thought. By leaving the headers available, people could literally plug two wires into it and emulate a keyboard press. Need a button that takes very little pressure to activate(very common)? How about no pressure.
Since Thomas can still use a keyboard and mouse, my controller doesn’t help him much. He was a good sport about it, and we’re keeping communication open for the future, because unfortunately, he won’t be able to use the keyboard and mouse forever.
I’m not an engineer. I just looked at what was out there and started doing super quick 3d printed cases. They’re not extremely well thought out, but they work. Luckily Lulzbot gave me a 3d printer for this project so I was able to prototype and test very quickly. Please download these and improve them.
Here are the parts.
1. low pressure lever activated momentary switch.
Using a dirt cheap 6mm momentary switch, this case uses a lever for activation reducing the amount of pressure required to roughly 15 grams. It works like the one pictured above, and I think even if I include labor in the equation it would be less than $30. There are several variations mainly because I didn’t have a good hinge idea.
2. The D-pad and quad button
This is simply a case for 4 6mm momentary switches. These have no lever, and require roughly 60 grams pressure to push, which is about the same as an Xbox controller. They aren’t perfect, but they work.
Some people mentioned that they thought the D-pad needed more buttons to be like the Xbox one. If you disassemble an Xbox controller you’ll see there are only 4 buttons in there. It is NOT an 8 way system.
You can also see the controller shaped block I printed to hold these.
On a side note, use flexible stranded wire. I have no idea what I was thinking using solid core ribbons here. They won’t last long.
There are a few more files that you can download that came from this project:
The single button enclosure (unused in the final version)
The blank controller shape for sticking things to.
How can you help?
Like I said. I couldn’t just walk away. I went from thinking I would make [Thomas] a thing, to thinking I’d make a thing that would be perfect for EVERYONE! I even considered doing some kind of kickstarter or something to make a nice little business for myself. None of those ideas felt right though.
I realized that I don’t need to be the one to help everyone by making a controller. While I did make a thing for [Thomas], my skill isn’t necessarily making stuff. My skill is sharing information, connecting people, and building community.
I have created Thecontrollerproject.com. This is a forum where people can offer their services to build custom interfaces. You don’t need to volunteer your time for free. Even with labor, some of these simple interfaces can be made cheaper at home than the commercial versions. Many people need customizations that aren’t even available commercially.
Many of you are thinking “oh, the engineers will take care of this stuff”. STOP IT. YOU CAN HELP TOO.
I will personally put up easy to follow directions on how you can make some simple devices for people even if you’ve never soldered or touched a microcontroller. If you want to help, you can. Please do. I’m begging.
What if you don’t want to work, you just want to donate?
Fine, that’s good, but don’t donate to me. Go to Ablegamers.com and donate to the Able Gamers Foundation. They are striving for the same goals as me and have their act together. They are already helping people all over the place and could use your contribution better than I could. Check out this video below about the Able Gamers Foundation.