Digital Pinball With Force Feedback

pinball Hang around Hackaday long enough and you’ll hear about MAME, and all the other ways to emulate vintage arcade machines on a computer. The builds are usually fantastic, with real arcade buttons, MDF cabinets, and side graphics with just the right retro flair to make any connoisseur of ancient video games happy. MAME is only emulating old video games, though, and not physical systems like the digital pinball system [ronnied] put up on the Projects site.

[ronnied] was inspired by a real life, full-size White Water pinball machine at his previous job, and decided it was high time for him to acquire – somehow – a pinball machine of his own. He had a spare computer sitting around, an old 16:9 monitor for the main playfield, and was donated a smaller 4:3 monitor for the backglass. With an MDF cabinet, PinMAME, and a little bit of work, [ronnied] had his own machine capable of recreating hundreds of classic machines.

The build didn’t stop at just a few arcade buttons and a screen; [ronnied] added a 3-axis accelerometer for a tilt mechanism, solenoids and a plunger torn from a real pinball machine for a more realistic interface, and a Williams knocker for a very loud bit of haptic feedback. We’ve seen solenoids, buzzers, and knockers in pinball emulators before, and the vibrations and buzzing that comes with these electromechanical add ons make all the difference; without them, it’s pretty much the same as playing a pinball emulator on a computer. With them, it’s pretty easy to convince yourself you’re playing a real machine.

Videos of the mechanisms below.

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Johnny Mnemonic, Broken Columns, And Pinball Repair

johnny

[Quinn Dunki] has come to realize the pinball machines of her youth aren’t the lame games she remembered. They’re actually quite marvelous in terms of electronics, mechanics, engineering and the all important hackability. Wanting to pick up a 90s dot matrix display pinball machine and being a [William Gibson] fan, [Quinn] picked up an old Johnny Mnemonic machine. She’s already looked into replacing the incandescent bulbs with LEDs, and has just wrapped up troubleshooting a broken plasma dot matrix display.

dotsThe neon dot matrix displays in pinball machines of this era are finicky devices with a lot of stuff that can go wrong. On powering the display up, [Quinn] noticed a few columns on the left side of the display weren’t working. These machines have great diagnostic menus, so running a test that displays a single column at a time revealed two broken columns. However, when a solid fill test was run, all the columns work, save for a few dots in the upper left corner. This is an odd problem to troubleshoot, but after more tests [Quinn] realized dots in column five and six only work iff both adjacent dots in the same row are lit.

The power supply seemed okay, leaving the problem to either a logic problem, or something wrong in the glass. With a meter, [Quinn] deduced there was a short between the two broken columns, and tracing every thing out revealed a problem in the hermetically sealed display filled with noble gasses. A replacement display was ordered.

While [Quinn] was replacing the display, she decided it would be a good time to rehab the almost-but-not-quite out of spec driver board for the display. The power resistors had scorched the PCB, but didn’t damage any traces. Replacing the parts with modern components with a higher power rating brought the board back to spec with components that should last longer than the 20-year-old parts previously inhabiting the driver board.

It was a lot of effort, but now [Quinn] has a brand new display for her pinball machine and is ready to move on to the next phase of her restoration.

A Meccano Pinball Machine

Meccano Pinball

This pinball table is almost entirely out of Meccano Construction Set parts. [Brian Leach]‘s Meccano Pinball Machine features a digit counter, a kick out hole, flippers, and a timer.

The digit counter is likely the most complex part of the build. By sending it an electrical signal, either the ones, tens, or hundreds digit can be incremented. The electrical signal engages an electromagnet, which connects a motor to the wheel to increment the score. A mechanism ensures the next digit is incremented when a digit rolls over from 9 to 0, and allows the counter to be zeroed.

Rolling the ball over the set of rollover switches increments the score. A mechanism is used to ensure that the switch will trigger with a small weight. Arcing was an issue, which was reduced by adding a snubber to suppress the transient.

The pinball machine was demoed at the South East London Meccano Club, and is a great demonstration of what can be built with the construction kit. After the break, check out a video of the pinball machine.

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Building an entire pinball machine from just the playfield

It all started  when [Iancole] bought a Fireball Home edition playfield on some famous auction website for $135. Originally, he had the intent of lighting the lamps with an Arduino, framing it, and hanging it on the wall of his office — which often happens with old pinball parts. But then his boys asked if he “could make it play”.

[Iancole] managed to find the pinball schematics online and started designing the electronics required by the many LEDs, solenoids and switches. As the LEDs and switches are on the same matrix, he chose a simple Arduino to cycle through them, giving the player the impression that the lights are constantly on. [Iancole] originally planned on using his raspberry Pi to control the solenoids, but he later switched to another Arduino because of the precise timing required.

Therefore, his Pi was used as the heart of the machine. It is interfaced to the two Arduinos to read states and send commands while running the game program, displaying HD graphics on a 24″ screen, playing music and game event sounds. All the electronics are proudly displayed on the backbox, and many developments are planned for it. Also, the machine will be on display at the Orlando Mini Maker Faire on October 5th!

External pinball controls for an Android tablet

android-pinball-controls

This hack, which adds external flipper controls to Android pinball, is a great way to cut your teeth at Android hardware hacking.

[Ruben] decided to go with the TI Launchpad for this project. The MSP430 dev board offers serial communications via a USB connection, but it’s not quite as easy as just finding the right cable. His tablet does support USB On the Go (OTG), but the board identifies itself as an ACM device which needs to be handled differently. In order to get the tablet talking to the Launchpad he compiled a CDC_ACM module for the Linux underpinnings that make up every Android OS. In this case the module is tailored for the Allwinner A10 chip inside his model of tablet, but it shouldn’t be too hard to adapt his guide for other processors.

Of course you could go a different route and use Bluetooth for connectivity. We’ve seen several gaming peripherals that use this technique with Android devices.

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Wireless pinball controller for tablet gaming

wireless-pinball-controller

This wooden box is a wireless pinball controller and tablet stand. The idea is to set it on a workbench to give you some of the thrill of standing and playing the real thing. [Jeff] has been rather addicted to playing a pinball app on Android lately, and started the journey because he needed a way to give his thumbs some relief.

An Arduino monitors buttons on either side of this wooden controller. [Jeff] is new to working with hardware (he’s a Linux Kernel developer by trade) and was immediately struck with button debouncing issues. Rather than handle this in software (we’ve got a super-messy thread on that issue with our favorite at the bottom) he chose a hardware solution by building an SR latch out of two NAND gates.

With the inputs sorted out he added a BlueSMiRF board to the project which allowed him to connect a Nexus 7 tablet via Bluetooth. At this point he ran into some problems getting the device to respond to his control as if it were an external keyboard. His stop-gap solution was to switch to a Galaxy Tab 10.1 which wasn’t throwing cryptic errors. Hopefully he’ll fix this in the next iteration which will also include adding a plunger to launch the pinball, a part which just arrived in the mail as he was writing up this success.

We’ve embedded his quick demo video after the break.

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Rube-Goldberg provides liquid refreshment

rube-goldberg-soda-machine

The image to the left doesn’t make this look like much, but inside of the cardboard vending machine lives a clever Rube-Goldberg device. The video after the break gives a look at the inner workings to show how a quarter manages to dispense a full can of Coke. But that’s about all the detail we get on the project.

There are two sets of counterweights used in the design. Some marbles, and what look like giant pinballs. The coin chute, located on the left side of the venting machine, funnels the money into the waiting marble. When the marble rolls off it lands on a spoon. The weight rotates the spoon-filled disk and causes one of the waiting pinballs to drop from their rack. As that metal ball falls it operates a ratcheting system to dispense just one can. It looks like the capacity of the machine is limited to two refreshing cans of sugary liquid, but that could be scaled up if more room were made for cans and counterweights alike.

[Read more...]

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