Turning A Car Into A Computer Mouse

[William Osman] and [Simone Giertz] have graced our pages before, both with weird, wacky and wonderful hacks so it’s no surprise that when they got together they did so to turn Simone’s car into a computer mouse. It’s trickier than you might think.

They started by replacing the lens of an optical mouse with a lens normally used for a security camera. Surprisingly, when mounted to the car’s front bumper it worked! But it wasn’t ideal. The problem lies in that to move a mouse cursor sideways you have to move the mouse sideways. However, cars don’t move sideways, they turn by going in an arc. Move your mouse in an arc right now without giving it any sideways motion and see what happens. The mouse cursor on the screen moves vertically up or down the screen, but not left or right. So how to tell if the car is turning? For that, they added a magnetometer. The mouse then gives the distance the car moved and the magnetometer gives the heading, or angle. With some simple trigonometry, they calculate the car’s coordinates.

The mouse click is done using the car’s horn, but details are vague there.

And yes, using the carmouse is as fun as it sounds, though we still don’t recommend texting while driving using this technique. Watch them in the videos below as they write an email and drive a self-portrait of the car.

A perhaps safer but equally fun approach is to turn your car into a game controller by tapping into the car’s CAN bus and converting the steering wheel, peddle and other messages into joystick commands.

20 thoughts on “Turning A Car Into A Computer Mouse

    1. It is a car, or at least what the state of Pennsylvania thinks. It’s a bizarre late 70s thing called a Citicar. It’s basically a golf cart. It’s powered by 6V car batteries under the seat, and a plug-in charger. The range was about 30-40 miles, and the acceleration was terrible. God only knows what the top speed is. I’m assuming not much, because it’s literally a golf cart with a fiberglass shell.

      Found one in the local autotrader magazine back in 2000 or thereabouts. They had two — one yellow, one orange. $2k would have brought both of them home. I would, of course, had to put new batteries in, but it’s not like this is a complex mechanical device, and it probably didn’t see much salt on its fiberglass shell This is number two on my list of ‘things I wish I bought at the time’. Number one is a coin-operated bed vibrator I found in an antique market.

    2. In case anyone is wondering where that parking lot is, it’s the Alemany Flea Market/Farmers Market that takes place every Sunday/Saturday in San Francisco, great place to find vintage electronics and other unexpected parts, sometimes really cheap and other times reasonablly priced! If you’re in San Francisco or nearby, check it out!

    1. Oh no. that infamous hallmark goes to the rotary encoder to input your license plate for a parking ticket vending machine in Amsterdam, the Netherlands (and probably more locations) very difficult to rotate, skipping letters and numbers and almost impossible to press.

      1. Okay, I’ll clarify… most impractical general purpose computer interface ever … as opposed to your example where it’s an impractical user interface on a specialised computer.

        Having never been to Amsterdam, or indeed, any location outside of Australian territory; I can’t comment on the usability of their parking meters.

  1. I do like the car.
    I would have to make some changes thow. from reading what Brian said. Thank you for the info.
    Mind you I don’t think they are legal in Ontario. there is a company in Quebec that sells electric cars but you cant rive them in Canada. Our government is all fluffed up, Like every other Government.
    So So Cool of a car.

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