An Epic Mech Cockpit Build For Steel Battalion

Steel Battalion was released for the Xbox in 2002, and remains one of the most hardcore mech simulators of all time. It became legendary for its huge twin-stick controller covered in buttons, and for deleting your save game if you failed to eject in time. It took giant robot gaming to a new level, but fundamentally, you were still playing in front of a TV at home. Things really got serious in 2015, with the completion of the Big Steel Battalion Box – the battlemech cockpit of your dreams.

Coaching the player is a key part of BSBB gameplay, with a manual created specifically for this purpose.

If you’re thinking this is just a television in a dark room with some stickers, you’d be very wrong. The Imgur thread covers the build process, and it’s one heck of a ride. Things started with a custom cabinet being built, intentionally sized to induce claustrophobia. There’s a swivelling seat with a 4-point harness, and a hatch to seal the player inside. During initial testing of the box to determine how dark it was, one of the makers was trapped inside and had to call for help. That should highlight how serious the build really is.

The controller was modified and hooked up to custom electronics to add realistic effects. Get hit? Feel the seat rumble thanks to motors and a subwoofer in the base. Mech terminally damaged? The entire cockpit is bathed in flashing red light. There’s even smoke effects rigged up to make things even more stressful during battle.

The entire setup is connected to the outside world, where a coach can view the action inside through a video feed from the Xbox and several internal cameras. A basic manual is provided to help the coach keep the player alive during their first moments of combat. This is courtesy of a custom intercom setup, built using surplus Chinese aviation headsets. There’s even a red telephone to give that authentic military feel.

It’s a build that covers just about every detail you could think of. If you’re keen to try it out, it’s on permanent loan to The Museum of Art And Digital Entertainment in Oakland, California. It recalls memories of a similar build created to play Artemis. Video after the break.

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Move Over Strandbeest, Here’s Strider!

Father-and-son team [Wade] and [Ben Vagle] have developed and extensively tested two great walker designs: TrotBot and the brand-new Strider. But that’s not enough: their website details all of their hard-earned practical experience in simulating and building these critters, on scales ranging from LEGO-Technic to garage-filling (YouTube, embedded below). Their Walker ABC’s page alone is full of tremendously deep insight into the problem, and is a must-read.

These mechanisms were designed to be simpler than the Jansen linkage and smoother than the Klann. In particular, when they’re not taking a stroll down a beach, walker feet often need to clear obstacles, and the [Vagles’] designs lift the toes higher than other designs while also keeping the center of gravity moving at a constant rate and not requiring the feet to slip or slam into the ground. They do some clever things like adding toes to the bots to even out their gaits, and even provide a simulator in Python and in Scratch that’ll help you improve your own designs.

If you wanted a robot that simply moved, you’d use wheels. We like walkers because they look amazing. When we wrote [Wade] saying that one of Trotbot’s gaits looked animal-like, he pointed out that TrotBot got its working name from a horse-style gait (YouTube). Compared to TrotBot, the Strider family don’t have as much personality, but they run smoother, faster, and stronger. There’s already a 3D-printing-friendly TrotBot model out there. Who’s going to work something up for Strider?

How much do we love mechanical walkers? Enough to post about bicycles made with Jansen linkages, remote-controlled toy Strandbeests both with weaponry and without, power-drill-powered walking scooters, and of course basically anything that Theo Jansen is up to.

If a trip to [Wade] and [Ben]’s website doesn’t get you working on a walker project, physical or virtual, we don’t know what will.

(And from the editorial department of deconfusion: the image in the banner is TrotBot, but it was just too cool to not use.)

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Visualizing Verilog Simulation

You don’t usually think of simulating Verilog code — usually for an FPGA — as a visual process. You write a test script colloquially known as a test bench and run your simulation. You might get some printed information or you might get a graphical result by dumping a waveform, but you don’t usually see the circuit. A new site combines Yosys and a Javascript-based logic simulator to let you visualize and simulate Verilog in your browser. It is a work in progress on GitHub, so you might find a few hiccups like we did, but it is still an impressive piece of work.

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Unleash Your Inner Starship Captain with this Immersive Simulator Console

We like a good video game as much as the next person. Heck, a few hours wasted with “Team Fortress 2” on a couple of big monitors is a guilty pleasure we’ll never be ashamed of. But this starship bridge simulation console brings immersive gameplay to a new level, and we wholeheartedly endorse it even if we don’t quite get it.

The game in question is “Artemis Spaceship Bridge Simulator”, a game played by anywhere from 2 to 11 players, each of whom mans a different station on the bridge of a generic starship, from Engineering to Communications to the vaunted Captain’s chair. The game is generally played on laptops linked together in a LAN with everyone in the same room, and as cool as that sounds, it wasn’t enough for [Angel of Rust]. The whole mousing back and forth to control the ship seemed so 21st-century, so he built detailed control panels for each of the bridge stations. The level of detail is impressive, as is the thought put into panel layouts and graphics. The panels are mostly acrylic in MDF frames, which allows for backlighting to achieve the proper mood. With the help of a bunch of Arduinos, everything talks to the game software over DMX, the protocol used mainly for stage lighting control. There’s a cool demo video below.

This is uber-nerd stuff, and we love it. Pyrotechnics and atmospherics would be a great addition for “realistic” battles, and dare we hope that someday this ends up on a giant Stewart platform flight simulator for the ultimate experience?

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Simulate PIC and Arduino/AVR Designs with no Cloud

I’ve always appreciated simulation tools. Sure, there’s no substitute for actually building a circuit but it sure is handy if you can fix a lot of easy problems before you start soldering and making PCBs. I’ve done quite a few posts on LTSpice and I’m also a big fan of the Falstad simulator in the browser. However, both of those don’t do a lot for you if a microcontroller is a major part of your design. I recently found an open source project called Simulide that has a few issues but does a credible job of mixed simulation. It allows you to simulate analog circuits, LCDs, stepper and servo motors and can include programmable PIC or AVR (including Arduino) processors in your simulation.

The software is available for Windows or Linux and the AVR/Arduino emulation is built in. For the PIC on Linux, you need an external software simulator that you can easily install. This is provided with the Windows version. You can see one of several videos available about an older release of the tool below. There is also a window that can compile your Arduino code and even debug it, although that almost always crashed for me after a few minutes of working. As you can see in the image above, though, it is capable of running some pretty serious Arduino code as long as you aren’t debugging.

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Circuit VR: An (Almost) Practical Buck Converter

In the last installment of Circuit VR, we walked around a simplified buck converter. The main simplification was using a constant PWM signal. The result is that the output voltage is a fixed fraction of the input voltage. For a regulator, the pulse width will need to depend on the output voltage so that any changes in the output are self-correcting. So this time, we’ll make a regulator, although we’ll still use a few Spice elements you’d have to replace in a practical design. In particular, we’ll assume you can generate a triangle wave, which is easy enough, and produce a stable 2.5 V reference.

The idea is to take a voltage reference and compare it to the output. We’ll think of the difference between the two as an error voltage, and use a comparator combined with a triangle wave generator to produce a PWM signal that is proportional to the error, and thus works to hold the output voltage constant.

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A Microwave Erector Set

RF design isn’t always easy, especially at higher frequencies. Despite improvements in simulation tools, there’s still no substitute for prototyping and trying out different things. That wasn’t so bad when that meant nailing some nails in a piece of wood and wiring up discrete components. But at today’s microwave frequencies and with today’s IC packaging that simply doesn’t work. Solving this problem is what drives a company called X-Microwave. They have a standard grid pattern PCB for a wide range of RF circuits and accessories to tie them all together. Probably the best way to get a feel for the system is to watch the simple video below. There’s also a free simulator tool worth taking note of that you’ll see in a bit.

Before you get too excited, we’ll warn you that while this stuff is cheap if you need it, it isn’t an impulse buy. The baseboards and probes (the connectors) run from $150 to $300. You can get kits, too, but a bare-bones two-port system is going to start at about $550, which is about $100 off the component parts and includes some extras. Then you need less expensive parts to make the boxes around things if you need them. Oh. Then you also need the PCBs which are not cheap, either. Their prices vary widely as you’d expect, but — for example — we saw amplifiers as low as $80 and as high as nearly $1000. So a complete system could get pretty pricey.

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