Wireless Pinball Controller For Tablet Gaming


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.

6 thoughts on “Wireless Pinball Controller For Tablet Gaming

    1. I would imagine that it is hard to turn a TV to the portrait orientation. On the other hand… if you’re hardcore enough to build a pinball controller, you’ll probably hook up a portrait monitor or TV sooner or later.

      Future Pinball FTW

    2. First, it actually wasn’t too much work. The write-up took longer than the build! Also, this is just a prototype. I’m not sure where I will go from here. It’s quite usable right now, so I end up spending time playing pinball instead of hacking. ;-)

      On the subject of crazy-go-nuts pinball rigs, check this out:
      That guy did exactly as you suggested, building a 3/4 scale table to run VP (Visual Pinball).

  1. Neat.

    I’ve been considering making a much more compact holder for my Android tablet pinball games myself. I’d go with a Wiimote and software on the tablet to control it, instead of rolling my own interface. I’ve considered using a pinball plunger and a slide potentiometer connected to one of axis of a Nunchuk stick, but most of the games I really like use a trigger launcher.

    1. What software on the tablet are you referring to? In my case, the game does not support keyboard or joystick controls, so I was stuck with having to emulate a mouse. Otherwise, I probably would have used the adk and a custom IME to generate keypress events. Next, I’m not sure how well a slide potentiometer would hold up to the spring release of the ball shooter, but it’s a good idea! I think I might just give that a try, thanks!

    2. I think, were it me, I’d use a regular pinball plunger and some sort of optical encoder on a linkage to bring the data into the digital realm. MAYBE an accellerometer, somehow.

      There’s so much more than just ‘pull plunger and let go’ involved in a real pinball launcher. Most people don’t realize you can whack the plunger in many cases rather than pulling it back, for example. Less control but more power in my experience. The technique is useful in some games, less so where there’s a decent skill shot.

Leave a Reply

Please be kind and respectful to help make the comments section excellent. (Comment Policy)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.