Only 90s Kids Will Appreciate This Prototype

[Madox] is a trackball user, which is fine; we at Hackaday respect and appreciate those who live alternative lifestyles. As you would expect, there aren’t many makes and models of trackballs being sold, and [Madox] wanted something ergonomic. A DIY solution was necessary, but how to you model something ‘ergonomic’ before printing it out? Floam, apparently.

Highly advanced 3D prototyping skills

Floam is a sticky, moldable goo originally sold as the follow-up to Nickelodeon’s Gak in the early 1990s. It consists of styrofoam pellets held together with a colored binder that doesn’t leave a mess and doesn’t dry out. While the Nickelodeon version is lost to the sands of time, a Floam-like substance is available at any toy store. [Madox] picked up a few blister packs and began modeling his ideal trackball.

With the proper shape in hand, [Madox] needed a way to get this design into a computer. Photogrammetry is the solution, and while earlier experiments with Autodesk Catch were successful, Autodesk has morphed and rebranded their photogrammetry software into Autodesk ReMake. Turing a pile of styrofoam balls into a 3D model is as simple as taking a bunch of pictures and uploaded to Autodesk’s ‘cloud’ service.

In just a few minutes, a proper 3D mesh arrived from the Autodesk mothership, and [Madox] took to importing this model into Fusion 360, fiddling with chamfers, and eventually got to the point where a 3D printer was necessary. It took a few revisions, but now [Madox] has a custom designed trackball that was perfectly ergonomic.

Handmade Keyboards For Hands

There were some truly bizarre computer keyboards in the 1980s and 90s. The Maltron keyboard was a mass of injection-molded plastic with two deep dishes for all the keys. The Kinesis Advantage keyboard was likewise weird, placing the keys on the inside of a hemisphere. This was a magical time for experimentations on human-computer physical interaction, the likes of which we haven’t seen since.

Now, though, we have 3D printers, easy to use microcontrollers, and Digikey. We can make our own keyboards, and make them in any shape we want. That’s what [Andrey]’s doing. The 32XE is an ergonomic keyboard and trackball combo made for both hands.

The keyboard has curved palm rests, a trackball under the right thumb, and is powered by the ever popular DIY mechanical keyboard microcontroller, the Teensy 2.0. This keyboard is equipped with a trackball, and that means [Andrey] needed a bit of extra electronics to handle that. The mouse/trackball sensor is built around the ADNS-9800 laser motion sensor conveniently available on Tindie. This laser mouse breakout board is built into the bottom of the keyboard, with enough space above it to hold a trackball… ball.

Since this is a very strange and completely custom keyboard, normal mechanical keyboard keycaps are out of the question. Instead, [Andrey] 3D printed his own keycaps on an FDM printer. Printing keyboard keycaps on a filament-based printer is extremely difficult — the tolerances for the connector between the switch and cap are tiny, and nearly at the limit of the resolution of a desktop filament printer. [Andrey] is taking it even further with inlaid keyboard legends. He’s created a keycap set with two color legends on two sides of the keycaps. If you’ve ever wanted to print keycaps on a 3D printer, this is a project to study.

Arcade Track-Mouse

[Evan] always wanted a trackball for his arcade cabinet. It’s hard to play Missile Command with anything else, and Centipede with any other controller is just stupid. So he bought one, jury-rigged a mounting bracket for it, and then fried it by plugging the wiring harness in backwards. Doh!

But proving Edison’s famous statement that innovation is 1% inspiration and 99% having the right stuff in your junk bin, [Evan] dug deep and came out with one of twenty (!) old ball mice that he had purchased for just such an occasion. (Yeah, right.) Since a ball mouse is essentially an upside-down trackball, all that remained for him to do was reverse-engineer the mouse and swap its controller in for the busted trackball.

A simple hack, born of necessity, and well done. If you’re stuck with a crate of optical mice instead, consider turning them instead into optical laser rangefinders.

Putting a Trackball Inside A Controller

Gaming on a PC is obviously superior and you would be a fool to argue otherwise. The keyboard and mouse is the obviously superior input device, but there are times when you just want to play games on a couch. [Gabriel] has an interesting solution to this input problem in the second version of his KeyBall Controller. It’s a controller, but it leverages the superior layout and precision of the keyboard and mouse combo, without making any compromises.

[Gabriel]’s KeyBall Controller began its life as several generic console controllers. The main body of is mostly a clone of the original Xbox S controller. Inside, there are parts from a clone SNES controller, a PSX controller, a generic USB trackball, and an iPazzPort USB handheld keyboard.

The construction of the KeyBall follows in the tradition of the best case modders we’ve ever seen: cutting plastic, gluing plastic, applying epoxy putty, and lots of sanding. The electronics for the controller also follow in the most hallowed traditions of case modders: perfboard, hot glue, and many fine strands of wire. Inside the controller is a USB hub to connect all the different USB devices.

It’s a great device that finally solves the problem of putting a traditional keyboard and mouse layout in the palms of your hands.

Hacklet 42 – Mouse Projects

Ever since [Douglas Engelbart] and his team came up with the computer mouse, hackers, makers, and engineers have been creating ways to change and improve the design. Even the original mouse was something of a hack, built form a block of wood, a button, and two encoder wheels. The wire exited toward the user’s wrist, making the device look like it had a tail. Even after all these years, folks are still working to make the perfect pointing device. This week’s Hacklet highlights some of the best mouse projects on!

mouseballzWe start with [s_sudhar] and ORB – A 3D gaming mouse. Orb uses accelerometers and gyros to track its location in 3D space. The popular MPU-6050 chip provides all the sensors to create an Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU). The controller is an Arduino Micro, which provides the USB interface to a PC with the help of Arduino’s MouseKeyboard library. Two micro switches handle button duties. The original Orb was built up in a cardboard box. [S_sudhar] created a more advanced version housed in a 3D printed sphere with two buttons. The translucent joint between the two halves of the sphere is just begging for some RGB LEDs. We can already see them flashing red when you’re getting shot in Team Fortress 2!

mouse-wheelAnyone who has used X-Windows with a three button mouse knows how maddening the modern clickable center scroll wheel can be. You can’t click the wheel without it rolling, and causing all sorts of mayhem. There are plenty of software solutions and window manager mods to work around this, but [mclien] wanted a real three button mouse with a side scroll wheel. He didn’t want just any mouse though – it had to be a Silicon Graphics International (SGI) 3 button unit. His project 3-buttonmouse with seperate wheel used a dremel, drill press, and glue to transplant the electronics of a 3 button scrolling mouse into the classic SGI plastics. The final wheel placement did work – but it didn’t quite fit [mclien’s] hand. It did fit one of his friends hands perfectly though. So well in fact that the friend borrowed [mclien’s] creation. Neither the mouse nor the friend have been seen since!

jimmy[Jay-t] decided that mice are for more than pointing, so he built Jimmy the mouse bot. Jimmy is a robot built from an old Commodore Amiga two button mouse. His brain is a Parallax Propeller processor. Two outrigger mounted gear motors help Jimmy drive around. Jimmy has plenty of sensors, including infrared object detectors, switches, and a GPS module from Adafruit. Jimmy may be the world’s first homing mousebot. [Jay-t] does all his interactive testing with Tachyon Forth on the Prop. The great thing about having an 8 core processor is that there is plenty of room for expansion. Even with all these sensors, Jimmy is still only using 3 cores!



Finally we at [Clovis Fritzen] and the Wireless Batteryless Mouse. This is our favorite type of project – the kind that has just been uploaded. [Clovis] plans to use a movement based system to charge up a supercapacitor – eliminating the need for batteries or wires. He’s also hoping to use an accelerometer to detect the mouse’s position rather than a power-hungry optical system. The details are still sparse, because he’s just started the project! These are exactly the type of projects that get us thinking. How will [Clovis] translate movement to energy? Will it be weights, like a self-winding watch? Maybe pizeo elements in the buttons. Will people mind having to jiggle their mouse to get it working once that capacitor is discharged? One thing we’re sure of, [Clovis] has a proven track record of implementing projects like his weather station. Get in there and help with your own ideas, or simply follow along with us and see how this one turns out.

Not satisfied? Want more mousy goodness? Check out our freshly minted mouse and pointer projects list!

That’s about all the time we have for this week’s Hacklet. As always, see you next week. Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of! 

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.

Continue reading “Ditch that boring mouse for a military-grade trackball”

Building a controller for MMOs

It’s a simple fact of gaming that controllers are more suited for shooters, while the WASD + mouse control of the PC gaming master race is more suited for real-time strategy games and MMOs. [Gabriel] wanted to challenge this idea, so he put together a controller combining the best of a mouse and keyboard for some hand-held RTS and MMO action.

The Keyball Controller as [Gabe] calls it is an amazing amalgamation of a 3rd party XBox and PS3 controllers, an SNES controller, a trackball, two USB keyboards and a ton of Bondo. The front of the Keyball features a WASD D-pad, scroll wheel, trackball, tiny keyboard and a few other commonly used buttons. The rear of the controller is loaded down with tons of trigger buttons and a few meta buttons that alter the function of other buttons.

The fabrication of the controller is absolutely phenomenal and certainly something that deserves to be copied. We’ve seen some controllers duplicated with a silicone mold and resin, so we can only hope that [Gabe] is looking at RTV silicone at the moment.