Building custom game controllers for people with physical disabilities

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.

[Thomas'] controller.

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.

The files

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.

Download the low pressure switch here.

IMG_7410 (Small)

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.

Download the D-Pad file here.

Download the quad button file here.

IMG_7412 (Small)

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 psp thumbstick case

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.

Comments

  1. Joel Wetzell says:

    First video in article is Private

    • Caleb Kraft says:

      weird, must be cached somewhere because it works for me and shows public on youtube.

      • Chris C. says:

        Works fine for me.

        Playing devil’s advocate, the companies that make those switches also make the controllers they plug into. And I wonder if a hefty chunk of that $70 is a way of them spreading around the cost of “free” tech support, which I would assume they have to provide a lot of. As well as manufacturing robust devices in low quantities.

        Of course, crowd-sourcing can change those dynamics. So the forum is a GREAT idea.

        • Caleb Kraft says:

          I don’t really care what reason there is for the cost. I find the answer irellevant even if it is logical. We can help these people and provide a product that is cheaper even while charging labor. There’s no reason we shouldn’t.

          • Luke says:

            Cheaper, certainly, but of considerably lower quality and questionable safety standards. You may be helping people who can’t afford better, but you’re also ignoring safety regulations and opening yourself up to potentially harsh legal repercussions.

            The reason for the price isn’t just logical. These products simply could not be marketed for cheaper.

      • Joel Wetzell says:

        It is weird. I tried a different computer and the video worked fine.

  2. Paul says:

    Very cool project and idea. I used to adapt toys for physically handicapped (aka differently abled) children in my wife’s classroom. It was uniquely rewarding and I really enjoyed solving those problems.

  3. Jimmy says:

    As an add-on to a 360 or PS3 controller, this seems like it could help. http://www.engadget.com/2011/06/14/n-control-avenger-xbox-360-attachment-makes-it-look-complicated/
    You can adjust the sensitivity for all of the button-levers, so it seems like you could make it sensitive enough that it wouldn’t require much force to press them.

  4. Caleb says:

    I’m happy to see you are using your powers of a large blog audience for good things. I also have a passion for designing things for disabled people and will do what I can to contribute to the Controller Project site.

    If your interested here is my last project. It is a feedback device I made for a local elementary school autism class. Here is the joke video I sent the teacher: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YEecCtYzjg8

  5. dan tan says:
    • Caleb Kraft says:

      Ben’s are fantastic. However, even ben will admit that you can’t make a commercial product for the physically disabled that will help everyone. There are just too many variations. That is why hackers need to help. Ours may not be as smooth and pretty, but they will help those in need.

  6. How can I help?

  7. okowsc says:

    well done to caleb and lulzbot for doing this.

  8. Ross Barnes says:

    Understand your rage. Hack a day followers would be a great source of inspiration to assist those individuals that have difficulties using mainstream manufactured mass produced products. It would be excellent if need and solution could be drawn closer together. Looking forward to you continuing this line of thought.

  9. pelrun says:

    I’ve seen a keyboard with an accessibility remapping (mechanically the device was a simple $10 unit) sell for $500. The same company ruthlessly cease-and-desisted (they had a patent) all the freeware software tools and code that did the same job. It’s extortion, pure and simple.

    • blufires says:

      Software patents don’t stand in the United Kingdom, the European Union or Australia. Just host the open source project here in the free world and they can’t stop you. Using patents to prevent the less wealthy disabled from having a better quality of life is verging on Apple factory levels of unethical management.

  10. joejoedancer says:

    I hate insurance companies just as much as the next guy. I do have to agree with them here. Video games are a luxury item and not a necessity. If they go around paying for things that don’t keep you alive then rates go up (lets keep the government health conversation out of this). Life is a bitch and that’s the gist of it. It’s cool you are helping this kid. You may want to use capacitive touch instead because they require no presure or maybe something like the kinect that requires no touch at all. Build a gui so they can program their own gestures since everyone is different.

    • Caleb Kraft says:

      it isn’t just games, it is interfacing a computer at all. Psychological welfare can keep people out of hospitals considerably more than you’d think.

    • Anonymous Coward says:

      That is awfully short sighted as most insurance companies seem to be. Video games can contribute quiet a bit to the mental health of people. Dollars per hour, I’m betting video games are very cheap therapy.

      “Life isn’t fair, that doesn’t mean we have to be unfair” – John Stephens

    • DainBramage1991 says:

      @joejoedancer: Spoken like someone who’s never had to deal with a disability. For those of us who live with severe disabilities every frackin’ day of our lives, video games aren’t a luxury: they are a necessary distraction from pain and suffering.

      @Caleb: Awesome project, I applaud you for your effort. I hope you are very successful with this.

  11. Audie says:

    thanks dude that was really eye opening. i cant wait for the tutorials to be added to the site.

  12. Bob Regalia says:

    Wonderful idea Sir! It gets my brain spinning with ideas!!!! No 3d printer here but plenty of ideas, variations, and on-board button mapping… takes me back to the days of the switchblade and keyboard scripts… Noble idea indeed.

  13. Addidis says:

    This is an awesome thing to see. Not many people get a look into these kids lives. Everything is like this, not just gaming accessories. Everything. My gram has MS and used to need tools to help her and as a young kid I got to see it. Everything is way more expensive.
    Giving these kids back some pure joy is priceless.

  14. Dielectric says:

    I admit I’m not familiar with MD and its effects; would a zero-pressure interface like capacitive switches be useable? It would require the user to pick up their fingers, so I question how that would work with a nerve/muscle combo that doesn’t “work right”. Thoughts?

  15. Frank says:

    For those who have free computing power to give:
    http://www.worldcommunitygrid.org/research/hcmd/overview.do
    (or worldcommunitygrid.org for other projects).

  16. Cory says:

    What about using something like Unojoy?

    https://code.google.com/p/unojoy/

  17. Luke says:

    To be fair to the manufacturers, you’re not going to give disabled people bare switches.

    These guys are stuck in a no-man’s land where injection molding is not economical, but it’s the only process that would efficiently meet demand. If these switches had a bigger market, manufacturing costs could be amortized better, giving everyone cheaper prices.

    On top of that, you need to ratchet up the price, typically around 2x to 3x the manufacturing cost, to cover the cost of testing your product (to ensure its safety), running your business, and distributing your products. Plus you need some money to reinvest in your business and continue developing products, and enough money left over to put food on people’s tables.

    It seems like a switch like this should be very cheap, but the market for disabled people is small, and the competition is tough. Companies that seek to make their products very affordable never last long. They run out of money and fold, if they even get off the ground in the first place.

    This is the price of capitalism.

    • Caleb Kraft says:

      I don’t want to sound to harsh, but I don’t give a crap about their businesses. I don’t care if they’re charging enough to pay for their offices. If I can help someone, I’m going to do it.

      • danrs900 says:

        I see your point, Caleb. When it comes to helping people like this, money is less important than doing the right thing. The ResMed Pixi mask (sleep apnea mask for children) comes to mind – they make those at a loss to help out a minority. It may not be financially sound, but these companies should do the same with their switches

        • Caleb Kraft says:

          people have asked me “how do you expect a business to strive without inflating the prices?”. My reply is “why does a business have to strive in this area?”. They reply “so they can help the needy.” and I reply “I’m helping, and more importantly, others who are smarter than me are helping. forget striving business and just do some good stuff”

          • Galane says:

            For any business to stay in business it must AT LEAST have a gross income equal to its expenses. But at a break even level it’s impossible to do anything new. No R&D, no new products, no new jobs, no expansion.

            That’s that inescapable economic fact which socialists and labor unions cannot seem to grasp.

            Wealth can be created, but only if there is *profit*. If there is no profit allowed, there’s no way to make new wealth. An economy grows only when it’s not forced into a zero or negative sum situation.

            There really cannot be a true zero sum economy. It will always fall into a negative sum situation where it spirals ever faster downwards. One just has to look at the USSR, Cuba, North Korea and (before they started to grudgingly embrace capitalism) China to see how that goes. Even hundreds of years ago in early American colonies like Jamestown the controlled socialist economy was a failure. The real story of Thanksgiving wasn’t the Indians saving the colonists, it was abandoning their enforced communal economy for a free market that allowed the people to do what they pleased with their land and do what they pleased with their surplus products. Our schools have done the USA a massive disservice by perpetuating lies to children about that.

            In a free market there will always be a few who accumulate more than they can ever hope to spend. Most of those give huge amounts of their wealth away, while they’re alive or after they die. Whether or not you like the organizations they give to… Steve Jobs was notoriously tightfisted when it came to charitable giving but you never heard many complain and there’s never been an Occupy One Infinite Loop movement. His widow has cracked open the privy purse quite a bit more since his death.

            Look up Andrew Carnegie and Carnegie Libraries. He paid for the building of 2,509 libraries during his lifetime. Had he lived in a “spread the wealth around” world, none of that would’ve been possible.

          • dan says:

            Yes, but your parts come with no warranty.
            and no support. (your idea of support when someone in this thread said that they couldn’t see a video was to say, must be a problem with the way you’re using it!)
            and no guarentee,
            and are made of more brittle plastic on a 3d printer.

            I’m not sticking up for the companies charging a 100x mark up on a microswitch. but it’s really not as simple as you make out.

            What you made is a basic prototype, something like a proof of concept. now go figure out how to mass produce, get plastic injection dies made, look at what materials are usable, then figure out the safety of each, -how is the product likely to be used, will the plastics break down in sunlight, if so what chemicals will it leech, etc.

            You’ve got a poorly designed part, that’s probably going to break. when it does break, you’re got no idea or analysis of how it will break, you have no clue as to what might be exposed, and how and where, in terms of electronics.

            So aside from the no support/no guarentee etc, you’ve also got a product that should it cause damage either, to a person or property, their insurance may or may not honour a claim when it becomes clear that your hacked together last sunday device played a part in it.

            You don’t care about a businesses overheads? how about you try starting a business, or you try employing a work force, or paying out public liability and indemnity insurance premiums. -what’s that. you;re not quite that passionate about the subject. you criticise the cost of a professionally made item, but you’ve simply no clue about how much this costs, you say yourself you even had to beg for donated tools to produce this!

            Easy to get angry from your arm chair isn’t it?!

            Often times it’s not about a business striving, (no specialist disability products manufacturer is ever going to make millions in profits). but it is necessary to charge an amount, you know to cover running costs, rent isn’t free, rates, aren’t free, utilities aren’t free, 3d design software isn’t free, 3d printers aren’t free (to the rest of us). 3d design software can be free, – though usually not to businesses. materials aren’t free, marketing does come free, and it’s unlikely that you’ll make an impact as just one person -so you need staff.

            and no matter how charitable a person may feel, you aren’t going to get a lot of people who will work for nothing, or less than they could otherwise get, -as seen by the huge salaries obtained by charity CEOs.

            you’re right, everyone should do what they can do to help other people out (not just the disabled), but getting angry and ranting on the internet isn’t going to solve anything.

      • Luke says:

        Don’t get me wrong. If you can make a difference in somebody’s life, go for it. You have my respect for that. I might end up contributing some of my skills if it gains some momentum.

        But look, without their businesses, there would be no such products at all. The products aren’t cheap because making them isn’t cheap. If they were run as charities, likely nothing would get made at all.

        And make no mistake, if your project really ramps up and attracts a lot of demand, one of two things are going to happen: a lot of disabled people will have to be turned away because demand can’t be met, or a fee will have to be charged to expand operations.

  18. promethius326 says:

    I have dealt with both software and hardware for variously disabled clients of mine and frequently run into this type of situation. I’m also struck by how technologically behind a lot of these products are. I understand a small market, needing to recoup R&D, and support costs but the markups on some of these antiquated items is outrageous, particularly stuff for the blind.

  19. WitchDoc says:

    Some members of Hack42 (Arnhem, Netherlands) visited “Het Dorp” last year, when they had their 50th anniversary. This is a centre for disabled people, offering housing and all sorts of facilities. They had organized a sort of congress where attended and brought a lasercutter, 3D printer and Polymorph. Using these tools, and other stuff we had at hand, we tried to help people visiting our stand with various problems, mostly small things.

    One very popular solution was a simple 3D printed straw holder; http://www.flickr.com/photos/hack42moem/8227045190

    This keeps a straw down in a glass, bottle or cup and keeps the other end in a reachable position, very usefull if you do not have full control over your hands and need the straw to stay in a position you can reach with your mouth.

  20. Leo says:

    Oh my God.
    Why did you post this 4 days prior to my important exam…

    WitchDoc above me made it clear with this straw holder:

    This isn’t only about controllers for playing Minecraft.

    This is about ANYTHING how we can help disabled people. We (or I) dont know or even can’t imagine what kind of problems physically disabled people can get into.
    Now, in the age of Electronic Communication, Open Source, 3D Printing and Free Thinking maybe WE can help.

    Here in my german city of Aachen we have a student association called “Help e.V.” which helps/arranges visits for homes of disabled or old people. They are already happy when someone uses his spare time to go for a walk with someone.
    On the other side we have at least one Hacker/3D Printing Group/FabLab, because of the very technical orientation of the university.

    Its time to connect these two worlds.

    I’m going to contact these guys, show them this post, emphasizing this is NOT just about some “lousy” game controller, here we can use our Creativity, our Ingenuity, our 3D-Printers, spare buttons, soldering or coding skills to help someone else.

    Such a shame that i don’t have spare time to hack’n’help right now…

    Heh, “Hack’n’Help” sounds good. someone should register this domain and relay it to thecontrollerproject.com :)

  21. Kal Zekdor says:

    As a disabled gamer myself, I just want to thank you real quick for helping to bring attention to Able Gamers; they are a fantastic organization. My condition isn’t nearly as bad as Thomas’ muscular dystrophy, though. I have full control of my upper body, so I don’t have any difficulty using controllers or keyboards/mice. However, I have some spinal damage from a cancerous tumor that makes it difficult to feel/control my legs (I walk with a cane), so I can’t use things like Wii or Kinect. Not to mention the chronic back pain that has severely diminished my PC gaming, :-/ I can’t exactly sit at my comp for hours at end like I used to. Most of my gaming these days is console-based from a big comfy recliner. :-p

  22. Eirinn says:

    The companies that make these things make them after supply and demand. There are few competitors because it’s not a profitable market. That results in higher prices because of monopoly.

    Is it right? That depends on motive and morals.

    Some of the most influential and profitable businesses in the world are medico. They are effectively profiting from people feeling bad or are sick.

    Is this wrong?

    This is not a bash at capitalism, nor is it a front for communist propaganda. In a utopia all human beings would care about each other, we would help those in need and work together for a better future.

    This is the real world though and humans are more or less incapable of caring for more than family, friends and select groups of society. Progress IS made, but made slowly.

    It is human.

    I applaud the work you do and I truly think it is great that you are helping [Thomas], but please, remember that we are all merely human :)

  23. Eirinn says:

    Caleb: on the 2nd project, the D pad and quad, try adding a spike on the lever that hits the switch. this should drastically reduce the force needed to actuate it.

  24. echodelta says:

    I have always felt handicapped using those tiny plus sign shaped buttons and the tiny thumb on stubby knob sadstick. Large range attached to desk with armrest full sized joystick may be easier for some.

  25. Galane says:

    For making custom controllers for the disabled and for people who’ve come by manipulatory disability in unnatural ways (such as encounters with things like table saws or IEDs), look up low temperature thermoplastics.

    You’ve likely heard of those translucent white beads that soften on hot water and can be mushed together and molded into any shape.

    What works better, especially for larger scale items, are plastic sheets used mainly in orthotic splinting, occupational therapy, some prosthetic applications and other medical uses. It’s made in various thicknesses in solid and perforated sheets. IIRC there’s some with a fabric on one side to reduce sweating when used directly against skin.

    The stuff can be cut and molded, it easily self bonds permanently when heated a bit warmer than deformation temperature.

    The problem is the stuff is hellaciously and ridiculously overpriced, given the huge amount of it that’s used in the medical industry. It’s a big time saver and can result in faster rehab of injuries because it can be custom fitted to each patient’s needs rather than trying to make production braces and splints fit.

    I looked at getting some to make a custom fitted back support for a DIY steadicam arm mount. EEEEK! Way too expensive for my budget. Just did a quick Google, looks like there are more manufacturers now. Could be prices have come down but I doubt it because it’s for *medical* use and for uses that insurance companies pay (get ripped off) for.

    Since this low temperature plastic sheet has been around for long enough for patents to expire, could be an opportunity for a company to roll out some for non-medical uses at a lower price – ideal for projects like rolling your own (or for a person who isn’t able to) custom fitted gaming controller mods.

    It would be fairly easy to make a custom shell to hold a gamepad with extensions that have velcro straps to hold it to a person’s forearms. Just the thing for someone who can push buttons and pull triggers but doesn’t have the grip strength to hang onto and support the controller.

    Make an RTV silicone mold of the parts of the controller to which the shell will fit, then cast hard urethane molding jigs from that. Die cut the low temp sheet then form that to the jig, leaving the forearm brace extensions flat.

    Ship them with some velcro straps (there are ones made to bond to the plastic) and instructions on how to use hot water to form the extensions to the player’s arms, attach the velcro etc. Could also include some extra pieces for forming and attaching as needed.

    The extra nifty bit is that this plastic can easily be re formed to fit a 3rd party controller like the MadCatz ones.

  26. jeff says:

    I am happy to see progress in the area of handicap equipment.
    My son was rendered quadrapalegic (hit by car) and with need for respirator.
    Result no movement possible except for limited facial movement. It was a challenge to make on/off switches for him. Positive results with sip/blow to control his el-chair. I created several switches for “toys” (el trains etc) using a mini-joystick to be activated by tongue. The worst problem was wires and that is something that you should eliminate in your design. Keyboard-joystick-touch switches- should have no wire connections with computer – use WI-FI. The handicap environment has too many space problems for a rats-nest of wires. Keep at it !

  27. Tane says:

    Just want to say, you’re awesome.

  28. HLL says:

    Fabulous work Ben!!!

  29. If you can establish a serial connection between the micro and the PC, you can also use a free product which sends mouse/keyboard controls using the “GIDEI standard.” The program is called AAC Keys (http://www.aacinstitute.org/downloads/aackeys/AACKeys.html) Here’s an example where I used this program to control a PC from an IR remote control. (http://www.instructables.com/id/Microcontroller-controlled-Home-Entertainment-Syst/)

  30. Chad says:

    I encountered a similar problem myself with a post car accident patient. The patient is capable of more movement than just using a momentary switch but can’t quite use a keyboard and mouse normally or easily. Currently the patient uses a momentary switch and auto-scroller to type, interact with her computer and basically do everything. Since the patient can’t speak this is literally her only voice…and she can only ‘talk’ at abut 1/3 words per minute.

    There are large type keyboards and trackballs out there…for massively inflated costs…and many of those don’t work for her needs.

    To address all these very frustrating issues I’m building a simple, word-predictive, large type keyboard app for Android that provides haptic and audio feedback (to make it easy to know she entered the right letter) and mates to a simple server app on her PC which allows the Android tablet to be her big, easy to use touchscreen mouse and keyboard for any PC she sits down at. As an added bonus, i’m also incorporating TTS services from Android so she will, for the first time in 7 years, have a voice and be able to ‘speak’ with those around her at a much more acceptable 5-10 words per minute (or better since the text prediction is a learning system!)

    Since this topic, and this controller work show here, is very important to me (and obviously others!) i hope that you will all provide comments and feedback on the app i’ve described here. Once the app is finished, i will be launching it on Google Play for free for everyone to use so no one else will have to be without a voice again.

  31. James says:

    This Is such a great project Caleb! keep it up. I’m sure you will get a lot of people excited about terrible state of computer interfaces for handicapped individuals. Also this should create a dialogue about more interfaces for computers in the future! Like more interface-ability with mind control. There are no limits when it comes to human mind-computer interfaces and you won’t be burdened with “how many” and “which controls” can average joe gamer use with what mobility he has. That is defiantly the future of human computer interface!

  32. Over-pricing is something I’m more than aware of as a parent to two autistic boys.
    There are tools out there that really helps them with their daily routines but the cost for these items are disgusting and without relying on funds no autistic children would ever use them!
    One important tool we have is a pretty normal whiteboard (wyteboard) with LED’s on the left and right side as 15 minutes indicators in order to display time together with activities. Autistic children has very little or no grasp of time.
    This board is great but it has a price tag of 8500 SEK + vat! ($1600)
    Most people can’t afford that since we already spend more money on our kids that most “normal” family’s do. (based on statistics anyway)

    This caused me to build my own board in order to create an Open Source version that wouldn’t cost a fortune! The first edition had custom pcb’s in order to minimize the costs before I realized that it required fairly good electronics knowledge to get the parts and assemble one at home… Instead I looked at existing hardware from eBay and similar which required no custom components and I now have a prototype which works great and require minimal skills to assemble! It’s also now much more adaptable for specific needs and although the costs did go up a bit you should still be able to build it for a fraction of the cost of the purchase price for a “real” one!

    I’ve also created Android software for autistic children in order to create alternatives to existing apps. Some apps costs well over $100 and this is bad, very bad! My apps are 100% free and I will never use ads or similar in my apps!

    If adapted hardware tools or software applications were reasonably priced I’m sure the increase in sales would make up the difference, and even if it doesn’t who can go to bed at night when they profit on someone else’s unfortune? I couldn’t do it!

    If there only was a place on the interwebs where we could showcase all the “free” alternatives for people with certain needs? I’ve tried to do it but I just haven’t got the extra time since I need to spend virtually all my time on my boys in order for them to learn the skills they need in order to live a “normal” life.

    Keep up the good work!

  33. Robert Ilbrink says:

    Nice project. Since your son could still use a Game Controller, an easier way would be to buy a $10 no-name Game Controller and use AutoHotKey to remap the buttons exactly to your needs. This can even be done automatically on a per game basis. Once the muscular dystrophy get’s any worse, this GamePad solution will no longer work and you have to use your excellent DIY skills.

  34. Not sure where my comment went, so I’ll type it again: Nice project. Since your son could still use a Game Controller, an easier way would be to buy a $10 no-name Game Controller and use AutoHotKey to remap the buttons exactly to your needs. This can even be done automatically on a per game basis. Once the muscular dystrophy get’s any worse, this GamePad solution will no longer work and you have to use your excellent DIY skills.

  35. Chris Young says:

    Check out the following video of the controller I built so I could fly a toy helicopter. There are also other articles in my blog about TV controls I have adapted.
    http://tech.cyborg5.com/2013/05/28/365/

  36. Caleb: I have invented the Emotion Language. Previous it was based on a Pulse for movement & on Windows it was used as a HID in conjunction with my Sliding Keyboard Keys (OnScreen Keyboard).

    SKK (Keyboard): Each letter gets highlighted and based on rushed pulse, a letter would be selected & feel that way for 5-15MS it would be selected. The calmer you are, the hovering of letters goes a bit faster.

    This was great for those who had patience and really wanted to type letters to family BUT this could also be used with my motionless touch. Since using an Arduino & wire w/CAPSENSE… I can make it so even if the finger or object (for those w/o hands & maybe use a stick in his/her mouth) gets near or further- it would press a key.

    So what does that mean? It means we can make your motion act as a Forward/Backward (Right/Left Arrows) aka Running/Moving in Games & based on touching/or almost touching a wire would be Jump/Sit or Squat (Up/Down Arrows).

    But how do you use Action keys? So far another wire but used based on physical touch that can be mapped for whatever key you want.

    Fast forward to today… I haven’t been more motivated till seeing this video and the Artist who needs help over at Not Impossible Labs. I am taking brainwaves and creating an actual emotion language that connects to a Red/Green LED which we can know if someone: disabled; unable to speak; deaf; blind; mentally ill is feeling Happy or Bad.

    Why those 2? We can help determine how someone feels and also act as communication. So if you ask are you in pain? The answer can be green or red. Are you hungry? Do you like this TV/Movie you’re watching?

    Beyond that we can take these motions (not just happy/sad) but other emotions and combine them to do actions. Imagine lifting and parts of the brain are activated and we can make a small Arduino w/Servos & Magnets lift something like a paint brush or maybe change the TV Channel that uses my IR Controller for Tablets via Bluetooth.

    Now, my biggest problem to expand? Besides having my car robbed, I have had some health issues myself but I am trying to raise $1000 to get a new Brainwave Reader. Once I can afford one (I take care of my Father, Mother, Grandma, and Autistic Brother now- so I have to be careful on spending), I hope you’ll come to Vegas and see what I am able to complete.

  37. K. G. says:

    If chair bound people want to play games could we not hack a switch in a motorized chair. Have an engaging plug that sets brakes on the chair and wires directly into existing movement functions regardless the type of motion activation, be it a joystick or wind pipette, or any other means.

    • Chris Young says:

      Many power wheelchairs these days have the ability to switch their joystick controls to a secondary purpose such as controlling a computer. The most famous one is the Techla shield. Sadly it is a very expensive commercial product. Fortunately the inventors have made it open source so that using material they provide (plans, source code etc.) you could build your own out of parts or have a maker friend build one for you at cost. I think making these devices open source is the solution. For those who don’t have the resources to build one themselves, make it a commercial product at a price that makes sense for a reasonable business model but for those that do have the ability to do it yourself make everything open source and thus much more affordable. Here is a blog post I wrote on this topic.
      http://tech.cyborg5.com/2013/01/06/assistive-technology-at-both-ends-of-the-price-spectrum/

  38. Marty Stone says:

    The AT Ultra Light Switch is $19.95. Is ergonomically developed by an Assistive Technology engineer and used by Ablegamers for the exact reason stated on your post. There are many mounting options that can be found at http://www.atengineering.us/support/
    Happy Gaming!!

  39. Nice work! Thanks for sharing. I’m an Assistive Tech Specialist in Arizona, and always pleased to see new and innovative adaptations.

  40. static says:

    Caleb reminded me of organizations that hadn’t enter my mind for a long time, although I’m both ham & PWD. Handiham http://www.handiham.org/drupal2/ and the courage center. I would suggest that Caleb knock on the door of Handiham in particular because the have been doing organized volunteer assistive technology for years. Most likely many of the solutions they have created are adaptable game controllers.

    One the prices of components. We live in an economy where the economy of scale place a large role in setting price. Where there is a large demand there will be more trying to meet that demand with lower price the result of competition. Personally I see it as fortunate that the demand remains so low not to trigger the economy of scale. True that’s not good news for the relative few who would benefit, but it shouldn’t each one of us very little to help them out. However that’s a train of thought I should cut short now; done. One more thought isn’t this something Ben Heckendorn has been active in as well or at least one project anyway?

  41. Eric C says:

    Not to sound pessimistic or anything of the like, but (at least in thomas’ case) I don’t think building the custom controller was not necessary. As long as he can hold a regular game controller (Xbox 360, playstation, etc) you can use those controllers and piece of mapping software (the most popular one being a program called Xpadder) to fool the computer into thinking that one joystick on the controller is the movement keys, and the other is his mouse, while still mapping the other buttons on the controller to his keyboard shortcuts and whatnot. All of this for (most likely) cheaper and without nearly as much labor. I can understand building custom devices for those with different problems, but (at least from what i could tell) in this case, it was not needed.

  42. Sandy K says:

    Hi. Really cool vid & project. I will look into it more when I get time. It’s good to see stuff like this out there. We run a charity in Edinburgh, Scotland, which adapts donated IT for people with disabilities. (www.passitoncomputers.co.uk) We understand what you were saying about the cost of adaptations and anything which helps bring down that cost is a great boon to what we do. Like most charities, we struggle for funding and even cutting the cost of an adaptation in half will keep us going longer. Just a quick note to Eric C : I understand what you were saying, but Thomas’s condition is degenerative and finding a solution which will still be accessible as the MD develops is very important, as is getting him used to it early. Hopefully it will allow him to play for a long time to come.

  43. Hi, I´m working with disabled people with cerebral palsy and brain damage in Spain and I think your idea it´s great! Thanks a lot for the information. All the people of my job will be happy because of you. Thak you very much!!!

  44. Acanterelle says:

    How about a fiducial system such as reacTIVision?
    http://reactivision.sourceforge.net
    Such a system allows resting while covering a symbol to invoke keystrokes. Costs include design time of drawing markers onto a surface (pen, paper, paint, laminate, zen rock garden fiducial symbols, pick your material).

    Or something like this?
    http://www.instructables.com/id/DIY-3D-Controller/
    Processing also released from Open Source developers.

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