As much as we’d love a TV show version of the cult classic movie, we’re talking about a different kind of Spaceball. While there have been many iterations, [Evan] had a Spaceball built by a company known as Spacetec in 1991 and rebranded by HP. Being an older peripheral, he used the Orbotron 9001, a converter from RS232 serial to USB, to interface his Spaceball with modern devices.
The spaceball was one of the first 6 degrees of freedom controllers, useful for CAD and some games that supported it. It’s famous for being involved in the NASA Mars Pathfinder mission as it was used to control the Sojourner rover. In addition to the perfect orb, it also features eight handy buttons.
The Orbotron is a USB-capable microcontroller (Atmel SAMD21) designed to support the Spaceball 360, 4000, and 5000 series. Ultimately, after tinkering with the code to support the 2003 and 3003 Spaceballs, he had some reasonably usable with some rough edges. For example, acceleration curves still need tweaking, and going too fast can get you stuck. The downside was the rubber coating on the ball that had degraded over the years, making it horrendously sticky.
All the code changes are on GitHub. We’d love to see more spacemice integrated into things, like this ergonomic keyboard. Or even an open-source version of a spacemouse. After the break, we have a video of [Adafruit] showing a Spaceball 2003 working with a serial adapter.