Car Driving Simulators For Students, Or: When Simulators Make Sense

There are many benefits to learning to fly an airplane, drive a racing car, or operate some complex piece of machinery. Ideally, you’d do so in a perfectly safe environment, even when the instructor decides to flip on a number of disaster options and you find your method of transportation careening towards the ground, or the refinery column you’re monitoring indicating that it’s mere seconds away from going critical and wiping out itself and half the refinery with it.

Still, we send inexperienced drivers in cars onto the roads each day as they either work towards getting their driving license, or have passed their driving exam and are working towards gaining experience. It is this inexperience with dangerous situations and tendency to underestimate them which is among the primary factors why new teenage drivers are much more likely to end up in crashes, with the 16-19 age group having a fatal crash nearly three times as high as drivers aged 20 and up.

After an initial surge in car driving simulators being used for students during the 1950s and 1960s, it now appears that we might see them return in a modern format.

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Bench Power Supply Turned Realistic Flight Sim Panel

Flight simulator software has been available for about as long as desktop PCs have been a thing, but modern incarnations such as 2020’s Microsoft Flight Simulator have really raised the bar — not only graphically, but in terms of interactivity. There’s a dizzying array of switches and buttons that you can fiddle with in your aircraft’s virtual cockpit, but doing it with the same keyboard that you use to hammer out code or write Hackaday articles doesn’t do much for immersion.

Looking to improve on the situation without having to shell out for an expensive sim panel, [Michael Fitzmayer] decided to convert a broken Manson SSP-8160 lab power supply into a fairly good approximation of the KAP 140 autopilot system which is used in one of his favorite aircraft, the Pilatus PC-6 Turbo-Porter.

[Michael] gutted the piece of equipment pretty thoroughly, only leaving behind the case itself and the illuminated button panel on the front. The original displays were replaced with TM1637 seven-segment LEDs, and a pair of new rotary encoders are mounted where the stock knobs were. The whole show is run by a STM32F103 Blue Pill, which conveys the button pressing and knob spinning to the game by mimicking a USB Human Interface Device.

A fascia applied to the front of the power supply blocks the original text and labels, and really makes the finished unit look the part. [Michael] admits it’s not 100% accurate to the layout of the real hardware, but it’s certainly better than trying to enter heading and altitude information with the controller.

Oh that’s right, did we mention he’s actually using this on the Xbox Series S? While we generally see this sort of sim hardware hooked up to a tricked out gaming computer, we appreciate that he’s trying to bring some of that same experience to the console world. While the one-way communication of USB HID does bring with it some limitations — for example the hardware needs to be manually reset at the beginning of each flight to make sure the physical displays match what’s shown in the virtual cockpit– there’s still a lot of potential here.

For example, you could design and build your own flight yoke, pedals, and throttles rather than spending hundreds on a commercial version. It sounds like [Michael] is just getting started in the world of affordable console-based flight simulation, and we’re very eager to see where he goes from here.

Modular Keyboard And Custom Game Controller

Most video games, whether on console or PC, have standardized around either a keyboard and mouse or an analog controller of some sort, with very little differences between various offerings from the likes of Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo, or even Valve. This will get most of us through almost all video games, but for those looking to take their gameplay up a notch or who are playing much more complex games, certain specialized controllers are available, but they might not meet everyone’s specific needs. Thanks to this custom, modular keyboard anyone should be able to make exactly the controller they need.

The device features a grid of 15 interfaces where modules like buttons, potentiometers, encoders, and joysticks can be placed. Each module can be customized to a significant extent on their own, and they can be placed anywhere on the grid. The modules themselves can be assigned to trigger keyboard presses or gamepad motions depending on the needs of the user. A Raspberry Pi handles the inputs and translates them to the computer, so in that regard it functions no differently than a standard keyboard or gamepad would. Programming is done by sending commands via a USB serial port, with the ability to save various configurations as well.

The modular controller is open-source in terms of hardware and software, with easy assembly using through-hole components and a customizable 3D printed cover for anyone looking to make their own. The project’s creator [Daniel] had flight simulators in mind when designing the device, which often benefit from having more specialized controllers, but any game with lots of specific inputs from Starcraft to League of Legends could benefit from a custom controller or keyboard like this. Flight simulators are more often the targets of specialized and unique controls, though, like this custom yoke or this physical control panel.

Flight Simulator Focuses On The Other Side Of The Cockpit Door

When one thinks of getting into a flight simulator, one assumes that it’ll be from the pilot’s point of view. But this alternative flight simulator takes a different tack, by letting you live out your air travel fantasies from the passenger’s point of view.

Those of you looking for a full-motion simulation of the passenger cabin experience will be disappointed, as [Alex Shakespeare] — we assume no relation — has built a minimal airliner cabin for this simulator. That makes sense, though; ideally, an airline pilot aims to provide passengers with as dull a ride as possible. Where a flight is at its most exciting, and what [Alex] captures nicely here, is the final approach to your destination, when the airport and its surrounding environs finally come into view after a long time staring at clouds. This is done by mounting an LCD monitor outside the window of a reasonable facsimile of an airliner cabin, complete with a row of seats. A control panel that originally lived in an airliner cockpit serves to select video of approaches to airports in various exotic destinations, like Las Vegas. The video is played by a Pi Zero, while an ESP32 takes care of controlling the lights, fans, and attendant call buttons in the quite realistic-looking overhead panel. Extra points for the button that plays the Ryanair arrival jingle.

[Alex]’s simulator is impressively complete, if somewhat puzzling in conception. We don’t judge, though, and it looks like it might be fun for visitors, especially when the drinks cart comes by.

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It’s A Bird! It’s A Plane! It’s… A Live Air Traffic Plane Spotting Simulation

Plane spotting has been a hobby of aviation enthusiasts for generations. Hanging out by the airport, watching aircraft come and go, maybe even listening to Air Traffic Control on a scanner from your local Radio Shack. Yep- we’ve been there, and it can be a lot of fun! But how can those of us who don’t live near a major controlled airport keep up on the action? As demonstrated by the [Information Zulu] YouTube channel’s Live Stream, seen below the break, the action may be closer than you think!

Aircraft on approach to LAX- Virtually

By using publicly available information, software, and some ingenuity, [Information Zulu] has created a live simulation of Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) for your simulated plane spotting pleasure. Aircraft positional data is gained through an ADSB receiver and piped into a the flight simulator software with a Traffic Injection Addon, and the simulator itself is used to properly place aircraft, set the weather, and even the correct aircraft types and liveries. Setting off the illusion of a real plane spotting adventure is the live Air Traffic Control radio chatter!

We love the creativity that went into not just making all of the software available, but in combining it into a cohesive product that can be viewed 24/7 on YouTube that, if you squint just right, could be mistaken for a view of the real thing.

If you’re not familiar with ADSB and how it’s used to track aircraft in such a way that anybody can receive it with the right equipment, check out this beginner’s course on ADSB from a few years back!

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Physical Control Panel Elevates Flight Sim Experience

Like so many of us, [pgsanchez] has been bitten by the flight simulator bug. It’s a malady that can only be treated, but never cured — and like so many hobbies, it has a nasty tendency to spawn more hobbies. A software developer by trade, [pgsanchez] is also adept with Arduino and electronics, and his blog post about the PGS-2 Flight Simulator Control Panel demonstrates his fine abilities well, as does the video below the break.

A player of Digital Combat Simulator, he grew tired of having to remember awkward key combinations to control the simulator. Flying a jet, even in a simulator, can require quick thinking bound with quick reflexes, so having a button to press, a switch to flip, or a knob to turn can be vastly superior to even the simplest keyboard based command.

An Arduino interfaces the buttons to the computer, and a white acrylic case is employed to keep all the parts flying in formation. Yes, a white case — with great care taken to allow the case to be backlit. The effect is excellent, and it looks like the panel would be right at home in the Sukhoi Su-25T that it’s designed to control in the game.

We appreciated the attention to detail in the panel, as even the gear status lights and flap indicators match those in the simulator, a nice touch! What more could [pgsanchez] build? We’d like to see! If you’re into flight sims and the like, you might be interested in this fully 3D printed flight sim controller.

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Demonstration of the PMDG 737 being controlled by a blind user using Talking Flight Monitor

Flying Blind: Taking Flight Simulation To A New Level In Accessibility

Software developers [Andy Borka] and [Jason Fayre] have a love for aviation. They are also both totally blind. They’ve developed software called Talking Flight Monitor, and it has made flight simulation possible for anyone with impaired vision or blindness, as you can experience in the blurry video below the break. What draws them to aviation and flight simulators?

This fascination with flight is not limited to the sighted, and who wouldn’t want to experience what it’s like to be in cockpit of a modern airliner? I still recall the awe that I felt when at 9 years old, I glanced the flight deck of a McDonnell Douglas MD-80 as I boarded the aircraft. The array of lights, buttons, switches, and gauges dazzled me for years to come. I wanted to know how all of it worked. I wanted to be a pilot. A few years later I discovered Flight Simulator 4 on a 286, and I was hooked for life.

For the vision impaired this presents a problem. Flight simulators are by nature extremely visual, and they lack the text based interface that would allow a screen reader to help a visually impaired person make use of the simulator. Enter Talking Flight Monitor.

[Andy] and [Jason] have worked with PMDG Simulations to create text friendly interfaces for the 737 and 777 produced by PMDG. These ultra-realistic aircraft are available for the Prepar3D flight Simulator, and they result in a combination that blurs the line between Flight Simulator and Flight Training. By modifying these aircraft with accessible control panels, Talking Flight Monitor allows a completely blind flight simulator user to take off, navigate, and even land without ever seeing the screen.

Talking Flight Monitor makes flight possible using over 70 keyboard shortcuts. Both autopilot control and full manual control of the aircraft simulation are possible. Compatibility with standard simulation software is maintained in such a way that tutorials for programming flight computers not controlled by Talking Flight Monitor will still work. It even includes its own voice, so it does not require a screen reader to use.

Our hats are off to [Andy] and [Jason] for their hard work, diligence, and true application of the Hacker spirit. Thanks to [Mike Stone] for this most excellent tip.

[Note: The images in this post are produced by a community of blind flight simulator users who are not concerned with visual quality. They have been intentionally left blurry.]

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