Using The Steam Controller With LEGO Motors

While Valve’s Steam Controller was ultimately a commercial failure, there’s no denying it’s an interesting piece of hardware. With dual trackpads, a wealth of buttons, and Bluetooth capability, it could be the ideal way to control your next build. Thanks to a recent project by [geggo], now you’ve even got an example you can follow.

A custom PCB holding an ESP32 and DRV8833 dual H-bridge motor controller is used to interface with standard LEGO motors using their stock block-like connectors. That means the board is a drop-in upgrade for whatever motorized creation you’ve already built.

Since the ESP32 obviously has WiFi in addition to Bluetooth, that also means this little board could be used to control LEGO projects over the local network or even Internet with some changes to the firmware.

Interestingly, while Valve officially enabled Bluetooth on the Steam Controller back in 2018, it sounds like some undocumented poking and reverse engineering was necessary to get it working here. That’s great for those of us who like a good hack, but if you’re more interested in just getting things working, [geggo] has been good enough to release the source code to get you started.

If you’re not interested in Bluetooth but want to get your creation up and moving, we’ve recently covered how one hacker used the ESP8266 to bring his LEGO train to life by integrating it into his smart home.

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Industrial Automation In Action: Steam Controller Assembly

Right up front, we’ll cop to the inevitable “not a hack” comments on this one. This video of the Steam Controller assembly plant is just two minutes of pure robotics porn, plain and simple.

From injection molding of the case parts through assembly, testing and final palletizing of packaged controllers for the trip to distributors, Valve’s video is amazingly detailed and very well made. We’d wager that the crane shots and the shots following product down conveyors were done with a drone. A grin was had with the Aperture Labs logo on the SCARA arms in the assembly and testing work cell, and that inexplicable puff of “steam” from the ceiling behind the pallet in the final shot was a nice touch too. We also enjoyed the all-too-brief time-lapse segment at around 00:16 that shows the empty space in Buffalo Grove, Illinois being fitted out.

This may seem like a frivolous video, but think about it: if you’re a hardware hacker, isn’t this where you want to see your idea end up? Think of it as inspiration to get your widget into production. You’ll want to get there in stages, of course, so make sure you check out [Zach Fredin]’s 2015 Hackaday Superconference talk on pilot-scale production.

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Hack The Steam Controller?

[willrandship] sent in a conversation from Reddit discussing the programming ports inside the Steam controller and their potential for hacking. From the posts and the pictures it seems the radio/SoC and the MCU can be programmed on the board, or at least they both have JTAG headers. The JTAG headers are in the form of “Tag-Connect” pads on the board so it will require the dedicated cable or soldering some hardware to the board temporarily.

From the pictures we can see a NXP LPC11U37F ARM Cortex-M0 and a Nordic nRF51822 ARM Cortex-M0 SoC with integrated Bluetooth low energy. There are only a limited number of Steam Controllers in the wild at this time so we don’t expect much in the way of hacking them thus far. There is a Steam Controller hackaday.io project just started for anyone who would like to contribute to the Steam Controller hacking.

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