Assistive Technolgy Switch Is Actuated Using Your Ear Muscles

Assistive technology is extremely fertile ground for hackers to make a difference, because of the unique requirements of each user and the high costs of commercial solutions. [Nick] has been working on Earswitch, an innovative assistive tech switch that can be actuated using voluntary movement of the middle ear muscle.

Most people don’t know they can contract their middle ear muscle, technically called the tensor tympani, but will recognise it as a rumbling sound or muffling effect of your hearing when yawning or tightly closing eyes. Its function is actually to protect your hearing from loud sounds screaming or chewing. [Nick] ran a survey and found that 75% can consciously contract the tensor tympani and 17% of can do it in isolation from other movements. Using a cheap USB auroscope (an ear camera like the one [Jenny] reviewed in November), he was able to detect the movement using iSpy, an open source software package meant for video surveillance. The output from iSpy is used to control Grid3, a commercial assistive technology software package. [Nick] also envisions the technology being used as a control interface for consumer electronics via earphones.

With the proof of concept done, [Nick] is looking at ways to make the tech more practical to actually use, possibly with a CMOS camera module inside a standard noise canceling headphones. Simpler optical sensors like reflectance or time-of-flight are also options being investigated. If you have suggestions for or possible use case, drop by on the project page.

Assistive tech always makes for interesting hacks. We recently saw a robotic arm that helps people feed themselves, and the 2017 Hackaday Prize has an entire stage that was focused on assistive technology.

Steel Battalion Controller Grows Up And Gets A Job

We’re going to go out on a limb here and say that the controller for Steel Battalion on the original Xbox is the most impressive video game peripheral ever made. Designed to make players feel like they were really in the cockpit of a “Vertical Tank”, the controller features dual control sticks, three pedals, a gear selector, and dozens of buttons, switches, and knobs. Unfortunately, outside of playing Steel Battalion and its sequel, there’s not a whole lot you can do with the monstrous control deck.

HID Report Descriptor

But now, nearly 20 years after the game released, [Oscar Sebio Cajaraville] has not only developed an open source driver that will allow you to use the infamous mech controller on a modern Windows machine, but he’s part of the team developing a new game that can actually be played with it. Though gamers who are imagining piloting a futuristic combat robot in glorious 4K might be somewhat disappointed to find that this time around, the Steel Battalion controller is being used to operate a piece of construction equipment.

In his blog post, [Oscar] focuses on what it took to develop a modern Windows driver for a decades old controller. It helps that the original Xbox used what was essentially just a rewiring of USB 1.0 for its controllers, so connecting it up didn’t require any special hardware. Unfortunately, while the controller used USB to communicate with the console, it was not USB-HID compliant.

As it turns out, Microsoft actually provides an open source example driver that’s specifically designed to adapt non-HID USB devices into a proper game controller the system will recognize. This gave [Oscar] a perfect starting point, but he still needed to explore the controller’s endpoints and decode the data it was sending over the wire. This involved creating a HID Report Descriptor for the controller, a neat trick to file away mentally if you’ve ever got to talk to an oddball USB device.

In the end, [Oscar] created a driver that allows players to use the Steel Battalion controller in his game, BH Trials. Unfortunately there’s something of a catch, as drivers need to be signed by a trusted certification authority before Windows 10 will install them. As he can’t quite justify the expense of this step, he’s written a second post that details what’s required to turn driver signing off so you can get the device working.

Earlier this year we saw an incredible simulator built around the Steel Battalion controller, were an external “coach” could watch you play and give you tips on surviving the virtual battlefield. But even that project still used the original game; hopefully an open source driver that will get this peripheral working on Microsoft’s latest OS will help spur the development of even more impressive hacks.

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Use Your 360 Controllers On The Original Xbox

Microsoft’s original Xbox was regarded curiously by gamers and the press alike at launch. It was bigger, bulkier, and featured an eldritch monstrosity as its original controller. Thankfully, Microsoft saw fit to improve things later in the console’s lifespan with the Controller S, but nothing quite compares to the simple glory of the Xbox 360 controller. Now, there’s a way to use one on your original Xbox.

This project is the work of [Ryzee119], who previously adapted the controller for use with the Nintendo 64. An Arduino Pro Micro, acting as a master controller, talks to a MAX3421 USB host controller, which interfaces with an Xbox 360 wireless receiver, either genuine or third-party. The Arduino reads the data from the wireless receiver and then emulates a standard controller to the original Xbox. The system can handle up to four players on wireless 360 controllers, requiring an extra Arduino per controller to act in slave mode and emulate the signals to the original Xbox. In testing, lag appears roughly comparable with an original wired controller. This is a particularly important consideration for fast-paced action games or anything rhythm based.

It’s a well executed, fully featured project that should improve your weekly Halo 2 LAN parties immensely. No more shall Greg trip over a controller cable, spilling Doritos and Mountain Dew on your shagpile carpeting. Video after the break.

[Thanks to DJ Biohazard for the tip!]

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Digital Mouse Trap

Plenty of PC games rely on the mouse for input, and browser games are no exception. Unfortunately though, this isn’t always the most intuitive controller. [Nathan Ramanathan] combined a couple hacks to get the controller he wanted for playing browser games like Agar and Slither. No rodents were harmed in this project.

The games he wanted to dominate were top-down view so there was no need to move the mouse far from the center of the screen. For a more intuitive interface, a Wii nunchuck with its integrated joystick was selected. Nunchucks were notoriously hackable. An Arduino converted the nunchuck’s data into mouse movements. Inside the computer, Autohotkey kept the mouse pointer reined in where it was useful. Autohotkey was a scripting tool for executing keyboard and mouse macros.

The result was a joystick which controlled these browser games exactly the way you would expect a joystick to control a game. Mouse functionality, including standard and fast scrolling, was an added bonus so games like Minecraft aren’t left behind. The ergonomics of the nunchuck make us wonder why it hasn’t been seen in more wearable hacks.

Custom game controllers are no stranger to Hackaday readers. We’ve seen them built from LEGO blocks, automobiles, and even a decorative rug.

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34C3: Using Your Car As Video Game Controller

Despite the presence of human drivers, modern cars are controlled by computers. In his talk at the Chaos Communication Congress [Guillaume Heilles] and [P1kachu] demonstrate the potential of taking control of a car’s computer. This of course leads to the natural conclusion of emulate an Xbox controller and using the car to play computer games.

His research was limited by the fact that the only cars they had access to were the daily drivers of different members of [P1kachu]’s family, which meant that all tinkering had to be strictly non-destructive. Despite this, they achieved impressive results and deliver a great introduction into reverse engineering.

[P1kachu] used a RasPi and an OBD-II adapter to access the car’s CAN bus and begins the presentation with a quick overview of the protocol. He then briefly touches on security measures that he ran into, which are optional and their implementation varies widely between manufacturers. His first attempt to access the CAN bus was successfully blocked by a challenge-response algorithm doing its work. His mother’s convertible however provided no such obstacles and gaining access allowed him to map the position of the steering wheel and pedals to a game controller, using the car to play video games.

After this, [Guillaume] steps in and walks us through the teardown of a gadget that plugs into the OBD-II port and claims to do amazing things for your car’s mileage by reprogramming the ECU. The device was not brand specific and after having seen the variations in the ways different manufacturers implement the protocol, [Guillaume] and [P1kachu] doubted that the gadget was capable of even holding the information required to modify every known implementation out there. Listening to the output of the device, along with a quick analysis of the circuit followed by decapping the single chip they found, showed that their doubt was justified. The lecture closes with an extended Q&A that adds more information on car hacking. Those that don’t have access to a car can instead tear down hot glue guns, doppler modules or antique calculators.

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Interfacing A Retro Controller Using The USBASP

An ISP dongle is a very common piece of equipment on a maker’s bench. However, its potential as a hackable device is generally overlooked. The USBASP has an ATmeg8L at its heart and [Robson] decided that this humble USB device could be used as an interface between his PC and a SNES Joypad.

A SNES controller required three pins to communicate with a host: clock, data and latch. In his hack, [Robson]  connects the controller to the ISP interface using a small DIY adaptor and programs the AVR using the V-USB library. V-USB is a software USB library for small microcontrollers and comes in pretty handy in this instance.

[Robson] does a pretty good job of documenting the entire process of creating the interface which includes the USB HID code as well as the SNES joypad serial protocol. His hack works on both Windows and Linux alike and the code is available on GitHub for download.

Simple implementation like this project are a great starting point for anyone looking to dip their toes in the DIY USB device pool. Veterans may find a complete DIY joystick more up their alley and will be inspired by some plastic techniques as well.

Hackaday Prize Entry: [Nardax] Shoots Fireballs

If you’re looking for a high entertainment value per byte of code, [Nardax] has you covered with his wearable spellcasting controller. With not much effort, he has built a very fun looking device, proving what we’ve always known: a little interaction can go a long way.

[Nardax] originally intended his glorified elbow-mount potentiometer to be a fireworks controller. Ironically, he’s now using it to throw virtual fireballs instead. Depending on the angle at which he holds his elbow before releasing it, he can cast different spells in the game World of Warcraft. We’re not at all sure that it helps his gameplay, but we’re absolutely sure that it’s more fun that simply mashing different keys.

There’s a lot of room for expansion here, but the question is how far you push it. Sometimes the simplest ideas are the best. It looks like [Nardax] is enjoying his product-testing research, though, so we’ll keep our eyes out for the next iterations of this project.

We’ve seen a number of high-tech competitors to the good old power glove, and although some are a lot more sophisticated than a potentiometer strapped to the elbow, this project made us smile. Sometimes, it’s not just how much tech you’ve got, but how you use it. After all, a DDS pad is just a collection of switches under a rug.