Force Feedback Racing Simulator
I remember when I was younger taking a family trip to Universal Studios Hollywood. While the experience was overall a snore, there was this one ride that really captured my imagination: Back to the Future. For those who don’t know, its a Delorean simulator with a back to the future theme. One of the first rides of its kind it is totally stationary and yet is still immersive enough to give the rough sensation of flight. This ride left a measurable imprint on me during my younger years. For some time I have wanted to make my own, seeing the NASA shuttle simulator and other similar training simulators all over. Well one day while playing mech 4 I realized that I had the power to do so literally in the palm of my hand. So I decided to mod out my simulator. Well a lot of R & D went into this and this is actually a prototype for the main build to come. Regardless its a lot of fun to build and tinker with, and we get to poke a little fun at yet another large demographic.
This project, just by its nature, will be presented a little differently than our other projects. The scale of this project presented some difficulty to properly report using our normal format and delayed us while we made a more flexible framework. So what we have done (Microsoft take note) is take the entire project and broken it down to a bunch of subsystems, and basically produced a mini segment for each section with full documentation and pics and plans. This overview of systems is in essence the master plan.
When we started this project we thought to our self… (Microsoft take note again) “Yah that should be easy, quick and cheap…”. Well, it turns out maybe it’s not as easy as we expected (hooray for scope creep!), Although the prototyping wasn’t so cheap, learning from our mistakes allows us to present you a cheaper way of doing it. When we started we were going to use a Microsoft sidewinder force feedback joystick to produce a 2 axis system. Seriously, what could be cooler than playing Mechwarrior 4 or a flight sim and having that level of simulation? Well turns out this stuff is time consuming, expensive, and no one (that we found) has ever done it on this scale…. so when we started we had to do a lot of testing of different ideas, and methods to achieve our goals. Our first attempt literally tore itself apart and caught fire! I guess we missed a critical update there somewhere….
So we decided to scale our second first shot (we’ll call it beta2) at this to more or less prototype the best way to do it for real… so if a 2 axis system was so easy to do… it must be easier to do a one axis system! Well what good would that be?! Racing sims. Now I am not a big racing sim fan. I am not a car guy in general… in fact I dont know a geek out there that hasn’t mocked the aerodynamic idiocy of a front wheel drive car passing by with one of those huge spoilers on the rear. But the concept of a racing sim really started to become more and more tasty as I started to realize all the fun I could poke at car guy stuff. And ultimately that was the deciding factor.
For starters… you don’t have to be a grease monkey to be able to use tools. Seems that gear heads think that geeks can’t use tools or weld… well “someone” has to build and design the tools to be gear head friendly. This project has some basic raw fabrication of the frames and some of the moving parts that require welding and cutting of steel. It’s not hard work… it’s actually a lot of fun if you have the right tools. We used some nice welders and steel cutting band saws, but you can use a $14.99 jigsaw from your local S-Mart and a steel cutting blade to cut the materials, use it, and return it back if you need to. They take anything back. Or the more ethical thing to do is get a friend to do the welding for you. (Inventgeek does not condone the buying, using and returning of crap to S-Mart or other mass distributors of near worthless junk. )
The heart of the beast. Too much power and it violently tears itself apart. Too little and it’s like a 25 cent underpowered ride in front of the local grocery store. This was the trickiest system to do. Not due to complexity, but more doing it on a moderate budget. We tried linear actuators, and hydraulics and even high end high torque motors for wheelchairs. All had major draw backs, cost and speed being the most common. But we finally found a well rounded solution using a modified winch for an ATV. (The utility type… not your wife on a bad day.)
The Platform Assembly:
The platform assembly is where the majority of the systems are actually located and the user interacts with those systems. After some careful thought and consideration for dimensions and the amount of space we had to work with we were able to accommodate space for all the goals of the project on the deck of the platform assembly. The platform assembly its self doesn’t consist of more than a steel frame, a few boards, some automotive carpet and a good racing chair. But if not built right it would be heavy or not strong enough to support the forces that it would have on it. Also some planning and consideration to allow this to be adjustable as possible so more than just the builder can use it comfortably
Steering Wheel Mods and Mounting System:
The brains of the entire mod. We chose to use a Logitech Momo steering wheel for many reasons. Its performance and capabilities are unmatched for starters. And its built very well. But after some research we were able to find a comparison review of several racing wheels on tomshardware.com. In the review they tore a bunch of wheels apart. This gave us the ability to pick and choose features and to see the internals long before we had to choose. So in the end we found the electronics, the ability of right or left handed shifter and duality of internal controls for the gear shifter, and the interface to the internal motor was ideal for what we wanted to accomplish from the hardware standpoint. But the real kicker is the ability in the configuration software to adjust the force output upwards to 110% of normal. This allowed for a recover in signal loss from the mods. This wheel worked out so well it was like it was built for it.
The gear shifter and control panel:
One of the main factors for choosing the momo racing wheel was the electronic setup for the gear shifter. We had 2 sets of all the controls thus allowing us to relocate one entire set to a more ergonomic layout. While I was at it I decided to go to AutoZone for some parts for this project and I couldn’t help myself… I found a really great bling-a-rific shifter knob that had LEDs in it and light up all bling bling like… so I modified the shifter internals a little to allow for the new knob to be installed and presto! Instant….. Shifter with lights in it. I hear its really popular on the other side of the tracks. While we were there we also picked up some switches for the entire system. (Once again with bling in mind)
The gas and brake pedals:
While some of the mods for this system are really basic it really adds alot to the entire experience. Not to mention it let us use more of those high performance auto parts from S-Mart that seem to be so popular in the local racing circuits. You know like the single use plastic spinning hubcaps! Some are cosmetic, some are functional. And in the true car culture attitude… most are totally unnecessary. But the proper placement of the gas and brake pedals makes those 100 lap races more “endurable”
Every good simulator should have a great sound system. So our kinda good simulator should have a kinda good sound system then as well. After some trial and error we found the best way to set up the sound system for optimal immersion on a budget. We used just a basic creative 5.1 sound system, and with some careful placement of speakers we actually got some good results. And it puts enough bass out to rumble your guts just like that 4 cylinder with turbo and the stovepipe sized exhaust system that the neighbors all laugh at.
So with all the attention to creating motion, and sound we found the 19″ monitor we were using during the testing phase to be a bit on the anemic side. So we used a prior project that we did and slightly adapted it to fit this project. The poor man’s LCD projector was a great fit. Nothing quite like playing your favorite game on a 100″ screen. I will admit it was cool enough to really get me hooked on the Need for Speed Underground game. (For about 15 min, then my Attention Deficit Disorder set in like wild fire on nitrous.)
Final review and assembly:
In this section we basically make sure all the needed extras are there and that we haven’t overlooked anything important. There was alot of stuff we actually had overlooked and had to address before we proceeded to live tests. Like a cup holder! The last thing I want to do is getting locked into a 100 lap NASCAR race without my Mt. Dew… I would fall asleep at the wheel and slam into the wall and flip several times sending jagged flaming bits and piece of the car into the crowds! And we just can’t have that regardless of the TV ratings. (Unless I turn off vehicle damage)
Tools that we used ( I.E. you may want to use as well ) One note on power tools: use them at your own risk. Be sure to read and understand any and all documentation on the tools you use. No amount of documentation can make up for experience. Regardless, there are many people with serious eye injuries at the school of hard knocks. If you don’t know what you’re doing, don’t do it and find some one that can help.
When working with metal be very careful. Metal chips, welding sparks or metal fillings in the eye or slivers in the skin have been known to cause moderate discomfort in some people in the state of California. Many times you usually can’t have a MRI for months after playing with steel in any really significant way. Also, getting through security at airports could result in unwelcome searches.
For this project the main structure of the base And platform is constructed from 16GA(.063)Square Tube. Its important when selecting steel that it be straight and consistent in tone and appearance. Steel always surprises me when it comes to costs. We recently received roughly 400 feet of 20 foot lengths of square tubing, delivered for about 189.00. Sheet metal, however, can often cost much more for a similar weight in materials. The only real tip here is don’t accept materials that are obviously rusted and weathered if it can be helped. We all saw what happened to the tin man when he was left out in the rain…. spontaneous human in a stupid costume combustion!
Cutting the steel:
When it comes to cutting steel, and making nice square projects without alot of fill welding it really helps to have the right tools. Luckily we have access to a nice gravity fed band saw. Now while a cheap Jig saw from S-mart or Mega-lo-mart would suffice, there is much more precision with a unit like this. I have been able to find some basic models from about $200.00. Well worth the cost if you plan on much fabrication work. Especially when you are able to cut 4 pieces all the same length at the same time. Just don’t sit in or walk bare foot on the pile of filings it makes….
When it comes to welders there are several options out there. Stick welders start at about $100.00 for a basic light duty unit. For about $200.00 you can get a basic entry level flux core mig welder. The preferred option is the mig welder. Mig welders are wire fed and alot easier for those just learning. Although if you want to do high power experiments like making buckyballs and doing some basic welding then a basic stick welder may be a better choice. Whatever method you choose, always use a nice welding helmet the appropriate shade for the work you are doing.
The Base Fabrication:
Fabrication of the base is really straight forward. Simply weld the base box, followed by the uprights, and finally the cross bracing. It’s really important that the welds holding each piece together are strong and well bonded, else you end up with a project looking alot like some incremental Linux kernel builds when they break.
2 X 50″
3 X 28″
2 X 50″
1 X 48″
2 X 36″
4 X 12″
4 X 14″ (45 degree cuts)
The Motion System:
After a lot of trial and error to find the right way of making the motion system both responsive enough but cheap enough we finally chose this solution. After the raw fabrication is finished paint it not only for looks, but to prevent rust and corrosion. We found a nice epoxy paint at the good old Home Depot (maybe I don’t go there enough but I don’t have much to make fun of). Epoxy paint can take a long time to dry to make sure its totally cured before you work with it. Also one benefit of the epoxy paint is if you weld this yourself, and its your first welding project, you can hide your welding ‘talent’ under a good layer of paint.
The drive system’s heart:
After trying four other completely different motion systems we chose to modify a standard automotive winch from harborfreight.com (get the extended warranty, and keep the parts). This motor is very high torque, and we only need a max of 15 Degrees of off set in either direction for this project. At about $50 it was way below the next option in price, and with some basic modifications it fit our needs perfectly.
Bearings and pulleys:
For the actual transfer of power from the modified winch motor to the platform we will be using some garage door pulleys. These are really built strongly and are very inexpensive at 10.00 each. We will weld on of the bearings so it wont spin any more and mount it to the winch. A trip to AutoZone, Pep Boys or Home Depot and a 10.00 belt and we are in business.
Next up is modifying the winch. Basically we don’t want any of the mounting bracket, cable, hook, or reel. There are 2 hex bolts on the bottom that will need to be removed to realize it when it is taken apart a small shaft will come out with the reel, save this and set aside. Also there is a lot of heavy grease. Usually there lithium grease in this type of unit so be cautious with it.
With the mounting bracket removed we can see the winch motor and gear house are self contained. There are a set of spider gears inside the motor that interact with a gear on the end of the cable reel. This can be removed with a simple screwdriver and bolted to the new pulley on our project. Now just a heads up here, the housing to this is cast, not machined. So if you drop it or hit it too hard in this process its possible to crack or break the housing. This would be bad as cast metals are extremely difficult to weld.
Looking at the bottom of the winch motor we can see the 2 bracket mounting points the old reel and mounting plate were mounted to. We will be using these to mount the motor to the base of the force feedback platform.
With the new pulley attached, use a standard 1/2 inch bolt about 1 3/4 inches long to mount the pulley to the motor. I recommend using an impact wrench to secure it as the motor spins a bit making it hard to get it real secure. Additionally I took and welded the pulley to the barring and the barring to the bolt to make sure things wouldn’t come undone after assembly was complete.
Next up, mount the assembled motor to the frame in the space under the supporting brace. Use some good high quality bolts if you have access to them to make sure it stays good and secured to the frame. One thing as a hint here is use some washers as shims between the frame and the motor so that you can make sure you get a good proper fit on the belt to the other pulley.
To complete the main part of the motion system we will be building out the upper bearing assembly. This is really easy and straightforward. Just weld a 2 foot piece of the 1X1 that we have been using to the top half of the bearing. This cross piece is what the upper platform will be resting on. Secure the upper platform to this piece with 2 bolts. Attach the bearing (spinning freely) to the upper portion of the base. One in front and one in back with a good long bolt, taking care not to overtighten it.
With everything attached add the belt and check for snugness in the belt. If you can grab hold of the mounting arm up top and force it to slide you need to get a smaller belt or remove some shims. You should be able to put a fair amount of weight on this with out it budging. Like one’s body weight. The last thing you would want is the belt slipping in use. I know this is a crappy pic, but the belt is there if you look hard enough.
Mount an upper platform bearing system in the front of the simulator as well. Alternatively, up front you could use a flanged bearing and a bolt as an axel to make it lower profile and sleeker looking.
Place the platform onto the support arm on the base and attach with a couple bolts. The belt will be on the inside of the platform so if you want to make a guard for this you may. Or not, if you are into the whole school of hard knocks thing.
Attach the power cables from the winch controller to the motor and secure firmly. The only real caution here is clean cable management and arcing. Don’t get sloppy when it comes to power, kinetic or not. Clean cable management means no cables to get stuck in pulleys and gears. And securely attaching the power leads helps prevent arcing and fire hazard.
Next up is gutting the main controller to the winch. We will basically be cutting the cables at the controller its self. Or you can get creative and use it as an override control to the simulator. The main thing we want is cable that can handle the current we are using and good solid connections.
Next up is attaching the cables to the relays. There are 2 relays here. See the electrical diagram on this for any clarification. The key here is good heavy duty relays that have very fast switching. if you wanted there are other commercially available speed controllers that are often used in robotic combat that could be used as well and will offer a more accurate and responsive result. But as those are about 300-400 each and we are doing this on the cheep we would rather invest $5.00 relays and the rest in our rims.
The main power supply to this is really straight forward. Just meet the requirements of the winch. We are using a 30 amp 12V power supply that is also fused and variable. The benefit to using a variable power supply is huge when it comes to adjusting the sensitivity of the platform with out affecting the steering wheels performance. We were able to find ours on eBay. As a safety precaution we chose to remove the cover to allow better airflow so that it can be run for extended amounts of time.
The main data hub to this contraption is the USB hub we mounted apposing the motor. The data for the steering wheel will plug into this to help in cable length as well as keeping the computer thats running it at a safe distance. Also to consider is a USB 5.1 sound card. There are several on the market from SoundBlaster to generic. But the benefit is that you will need only a single USB connection to the simulator to get the effect you wanted.
So there you have it. The platform is mounted and the motion system built and connected. I strongly recommend checking your wiring once over to make sure that you don’t have any wires crossed. But other than that it’s not too hard to do and really gets the job done.
One of the most important factors in this entire project is where you will be sitting for hours on that 200 lap race. No regular computer chair would work for this. We had to find a little something to bring the realism to us. Not to mention a little safety with the 5 point harness. We got our racing seats from vendor named sprinter91801 on eBay motors. The seat was 26.00 and 80.00 in “shipping”. But it is actually very nice for what were doing here. It came with the sliding rails for a forward / backward adjustment. As well as the recline lever. I will admit the bucket style seat really holds you in when you spin out of control and into the wall. Additionally, the seat is ready to accept a 4 point harness system if you want to add it.
The deck of the platform is wood. We glued some pine together and then cut it to size, but I recommend using plywood instead. Its lighter, as you can use a thinner board, and much stronger.
Take that high quality carpet you got from your AutoZone in town, lay it face down and place your deck on top of it. Take the edges and fold them around to the bottom side and staple it in place. Speaking of stapling, I think I need to do a staple gun mod….
Trim any existing material from the corners and reinforce any places that you think could use it. Making it look nice and clean is the point here.
Attaching the deck to the frame is a little tricky. The fact that the carpet likes to fray and get chewed up into the self tapping screws didn’t help. To help mitigate this take a soldering iron or a nail heated in a flame and melt holes where you want place the screws. The smoke is toxic. So… do what you will with it.
Using a 1.5″ self tapping screw and a high speed drill, screw the platform down to the frame every 8 – 12 inches around the frame as well as the cross support. Depending on the type of self tapping screws you can find you may want to use a washer as well.
With the deck firmly mounted in place attach the seat to the deck. Using the same technique with the soldering iron melt a place for you to drill the 4 holes to mount the seat to the deck. Use a couple large washers to make sure it’s not going any where on the bottom and bolt it down with the bolts it came with.
Simple as that. The most important part is done. The platform is where everything the user will interact with is mounted. So make sure its really strong and secure.
The Logitech Momo racing wheel is a really high quality controller. Leather wrapped, solid feeling, and with good secure mounting hardware. All the way around a really impressive controller. But for over a hundred bucks new that should be expected! This being the core to the entire simulator it is important not to screw up this mod unless you have another one of these lying around.
When we remove the cover of the Momo we can see that there are 2 shifter handles and sets of electronics on the left and right, one for Euros and one for Yanks. One large motor in the middle that has 2 power leads going to it. There is a pot in the center of the wheel that is how the controller knows where it is. I recommend splicing into that and running it to the center of the axle on the motion systems platform if you want to take the time. This will help keep the action of the platform true, and allow the platform to self center more accurately.
A close up view of one of the shifter controllers. This comes out as a single unit. We will be extracting one of these so carefully remove it and set it aside. Cut the cable that goes to the shifter control so you have some room to splice into them later. As there are 2 of these, I recommend removing the opposite of the norm for your country so you also have the original shifter as well.
When it comes to this project we wanted to be as accommodating as possible when it comes to users. One way we chose to do this was an adjustable seat. Another is making the steering wheel adjustable as well. Using one of the locking sliders for seats, mount it between the frame and the arm that holds the wheel so you have the most adjustability possible.
With the seat slider in place and the arm mounted to it we’re all set to mount the wheel. The height of the mounting arm was a shot from the hip on what felt good (is it just me or did that statement sound perversely French?). The arm is 28 inches tall and 23 inches across. The arm just exceeds the second locking clamp so we dont have a large overhang.
While we were mounting the steering wheel we found a little trick to keep this comfortable. We cut the end of the upright on the arm at about 30 degrees so the wheel sat in a comfortable position. With that done we simply clamped the wheel in place and took a seat for a test fit.
Super-Mart or Super home building supplies store has some flexible conduit that has a cut down the side of it. Run all the cables from the controller down to the control console and break and gas pedals. Zip ties or electrical tape work well to secure it to the steering wheel arm.
On the side of the controller melt a hole with a soldering iron so you can feed the wires in and out of the controller. This will help keep the wiring clean.
Using some additional wire splice into the shifter controls you removed earlier and run the cable down to the control box for shifter relocation.
Next splice into the motor and run the cable down to the relay cluster in the back. Make sure you’re just splicing into, don’t just cut it or you wont have feedback in the wheel.
When the last cables have been run, finalize the conduit install. Using some electrical tape, tape the conduit so that its lined up with the hole we melted in the side of the controller so that its all nice and clean. Take this as one last look at the internal wiring to make sure the cables are not in the way, or too near the motor or gears.
Next up is to run the cabling inside. The pedals use a cable that looks a 9 pin serial cable. Using a soldering iron melt some holes at the seam and run them in the holes so that with the cover on the cables are all neat and tidy. Run the cables down the conduit and to the appropriate places for them.
So there you have it. The main part of the mod is done. It didn’t take alot of work, and the end result I think looks nice.
The main structure of the control console comes from a single sheet of 28 gauge sheet metal. We paid about 5.00 at Home Depot for this stainless 12″ X 24″ sheet. We chose stainless for some basic aesthetics as well as to reduce the amount of work it would require to finish this out. If you want you can look for other materials and finish it out differently. But this suits us just fine.
While we were at Home Depot we also picked up a 1/2 inch aluminum rod for the gear shifter. Steel is just as good, or iron for that matter. We chose the aluminum for the same reasons of finish. Its already shiny. Shiny = BLING!!!!
While we were on a trip at the local auto parts store we also we found this little beauty of a shifter knob. This shifter has that spiffy carbon fiber mesh and a mess of LEDs inside of it as well. Press the button on top of it and you have a nearly limitless amount of color and blinking options… obviously developed by a geek. But I suppose even gear heads can appreciate that.
After some hunting online for some form of a master kill switch for the simulator we came across this hot little number. Classified as an aircraft safety switch, it is red anodized and high amp, the hood when closed opens the circuit and thus kills the input to the motion system. it set us back about $15.00 or so, but come on! stuff like this its bling-a-rific! and almost as cool as go faster stripes!
The first mockup of our control system. Using some cardboard and tape we were able to make this mockup and set it on the platform to try to get a good fit. This is a very good way to not only find the best place for all the controls, but also to endure an ergonomic and comfortable system overall.
Starting to build out the control system. Bending the metal was really easy. I just used a metal ruler to keep a straight line. Then I manually bent the metal until it looked right. A couple light welds in the corners where the ends met and the shape was all set. This also gives a ridged shape to be mounted permanently on the platform and gives you one last chance on the mounting of the controls.
With the existing shifter removed from the hinge in the controller this is what we are left with. Basically the 2 springs face upwards and press agents the inside top of the control housing we just built.
We have to modify the shifter hinge a bit for our use. using a 1/2 inch drill bit we have to drill out a notch that is protruding in the inside of the hole that the shifter handle will be mounted in. Using a good pair of leather gloves and a good drill is all it takes. When I put the new shaft into the hinge I had to use a rubber mallet to hammer it in because it was so snug. If it is to loose some super glue or even epoxy will keep it in place.
Cut the shifter controls out of the duplicate set of controls in the wheel leaving some slack on the cable plug. This will easily mount to the hinge and using a small peace of wood. Use the 4 holes on it to mount it to the wood. Place it below the hinge with the springs facing up so that the hinge when rocked will press the springs on top of the buttons and there for press the buttons themselves. Splice into the cable leads and run them up to the original connection in the steering wheel.
With the control panel finished connect the controller to your computer and test it well. Connect the main the large safety switch to the common ground of the relay feed wire form the controller to the relay set. This will interrupt the signal and prevent it from moving. Connect the small switch to the control leads as a override to the controller. This will allow you to level the platform with out the controller being used.
Finally mount the control panel with a couple screws to the wood base of the platform. Run all the cables you need in the conduit that runs along the side of the top platform and you’re done. Use a little rubbing alcohol to clean up any magic marker marks you may have left and make it look all shiny.
Stock is soooo hot!:
After some testing we found that the low position of the racing seat and the low profile nature of the racing pedals was very uncomfortable. Not just physically, but our friends kept making fun of us for still using stock parts! Well after some thinking we decided to trick out our racing pedals… you know… for performance reasons… man the saw and stable gun and sign over your paycheck!
Back to the big blue monster…. Well I had to find something that would make my pedals cool. And I mean bling cool! I mean only stupid people and posers use anything stock, right? So I decided to go to the ole’ S-Mart and see if I could get some more high of those super high end, high performance racing parts. I wasn’t disappointed. In fact I was really happily surprised! I found this sweet kit for only 11.00 on clearance! I mean look at it! It’s chrome painted!!!! That has to be cool right?! And it even had a matching gear shifter and valve stems! Crap! what can I use the valve stems for?
The Install…… Well I found out why such a nice, high performance kit was on clearance. It sucked! I am not just talking cheap plastic here… no I am talking about serious safety hazard! The way these mount to your real car is by using some small flimsy metal tabs that wrap around the edges of the pedals. for us thats just fine, it was a fast and easy install. But I really worried about the safety of real people that buy this product. If you had to hit your brakes for a semi to moderately serious reason, the pedals would likely break or the tabs come undone and your foot would slide right off the brakes…. well… thats that rant. Don’t they look cool on our pedals?
Well, to compensate for the pedals being so low profile, we decided to make a platform to lift them up. So with a couple soup cans and a board that was cut to allow space for the speakers on both sides we went to work finding the most comfortable angle to mount them at. After some trial and error we found that about 40 degrees was the magic number.
Next up we went about making it a more permanent solution. Don”t get me wrong here, soup cans are about as safe as those tab on pedals, but they just dont have that polished bling look to ’em. Even with the labels removed… So, using the techniques we used to carpet the platform carpet the pedal holding ramp. And cut and mount a couple triangles at the magic 40 degrees to hold it up. Fasten it all together with 2 inch wood screws and dont be afraid to screw right through the carpet if you feel so inclined. I did.
So taking a seat again to verify the position of the pedals, position them comfortably, offset to the right is what we chose. Using another one of the self tapping metal screws sink a single screw into the bottom of the pedal platform and through into the wood to keep the platform in place. There is nothing but plastic down there do you don’t have to worry about ruining anything.
So there you have it. Chrome, and ergo… what more could you want? Now if you are a fan of the racing wheels that have the clutch as well, the process if all the same. Just position it a little to the left and your golden.
What would any racing simulator be with out a kicking sound system? Well…. a racing simulator with out a sound system… but thats just my point! We want a sound system. Something that could piss off the neighbors even – if we wanted (duh)! Well to add the thump to our racing simulator here we chose a basic 5.1 surround sound system from Creative. I will admit I am not exactly a Creative sound system fan, but for these projects its really a good match. For about 45.00 you can get a decent 5.1 system with a sub that it not too shabby.
So basically we will be putting the pods in the 4 corners and one up on the steering wheel itself. We chose to use a self adhesive Velcro to mount it to the carpet and zip tie the cables to the frame to avoid any moving parts. Due to the front speakers being further away from the user than the rear you will want to use your sound card’s surround sound configuration settings to make the rear speakers a little quieter.
In the rear we will be mounting the speakers facing up so to keep the sound where we want it. However, you might want to consider using a seat out of a Miata from a visit to your local junkyard since they have speakers mounted right in the headrest (thanks David for the heads up). It shouldn’t cost allot, but the trade off is you lose your racing seat, and may have some more tuning to get the surround to work well.
Next, mount the subwoofer behind the seat. The reason we mounted it here is after some testing we found that the rumble in your gut it produced was quite nice. Bass output and volume can be used to increase the realism factor. With some perforated angle iron pieces we attach the subwoofer to the platform. We got the angle iron from Home Depot for $5.00 and a couple bags of screws as well. Screw the sub to the angle iron pieces. Another advantage of the Creative speaker set is the height of the subwoofer. With the angle iron it sits quite comfortably between the sliding mounts for the seat. Using a bigger sub could cause you to become “creative” for your sub mounting solution
Next up, rolling the seat all the way forward position, take your sub and test for fit. Then slide the seat all the way back and make sure it doesn’t hit the sub and gives an inch or two of clearance. Using a combination of wood screws and 2″ self tapping metal screws attach the sub to the platform both in the wood and through the wood and into the metal frame. Its really important to take two things into consideration here with this setup. One is to make sure that your sub is really mounted well. Don’t scrimp here unless you like to learn from doing things several times over (listen up you software guys). The second is most subs are not shielded. So keep your computer a fair distance from this.
After you have your sub mounted run all the cables from your speakers to the sub, make sure that your seat does not hit the jacks with the cables plugged in and the seat all the way back. Any extra cable (and yes there will be alot!) bundle up and zip tie to keep things nice and neat and out of the moving parts at the rear.
with most of the cable clean up done slide the seat back slowly paying attention to the cables to insure that they are not in the way of the seat so they dont get pinched or cut, cleanup any sloppy cables and use zip ties to manage them.
Finally run the volume control up to your “dash board” and mount it so that its not going any where. I used epoxy to make sure it was good and set. Once again pay close attention to your cable management and run them in the conduit where you can. So there you have it. Now you just need to plug into your computer and 5.1 sound is blasting right in your face.
So with all the attention to creating motion, and sound we found the 19″ monitor we were using during the testing phase to be a bit on the anemic side. So we used a prior project that we did and slightly adapted it to fit this project. The poor man’s LCD projector was a great fit. Nothing quite like playing your favorite game on a 100″ screen. I will admit it was cool enough to really get me hooked on the Need for Speed Underground game. (For about 15 min, then my Attention Deficit Disorder set in like wild fire on … look! a shiny thing!). There really isn’t allot to this addition. Just a screen, an overhead projector and a overhead LCD panel. overhead projector and overhead LCD panel and both available on eBay starting at about 50.00 and I recommend a new screen as a 100″ screen is only about 95.00 at newegg.
The principles that make projection in general possible are very simple in concept. You need simply four requirements to be met: a light source, the brighter the better; some form of imagery medium, film or LCD it’s all the same conceptually; a focusing mechanism to help provide a crisp image; and finally a display medium. There are many ways of accomplishing each of these requirements. We will be glancing over them here because its just easier to look up the poor man’s LCD projector for our LCD Projector. The only real difference is that this needs its own stand to sit on behind the simulator.
Overhead Projector – $37.00 +
LCD Projector Panel – $50.00 +
Screen – $110.00
In most cases you will need a reflective surface which may be either treated with aluminum (for higher contrast in areas with ambient light) or a white surface with small glass beads (for high brilliance under dark conditions). Using a painted wall is usually not a good idea. Most paints are gloss or Semi-gloss and reflect and diffuse the light and there for color away. There are several ways to get your screen setup. From wall laminates to wall mount dropdown screens, to portal tripod based screen. I strongly recommend Newegg for this. Their pricing and shipping are bar none.
Portable Tripod Unit 85″ $65 – $100
Manual Walmount 100″ $110 – $180
Automatic Walmount 100″ $330 – $490
Wall Laminate $20 – $190
Starting to get the big picture…
19″ or 100″… it dosent take an MBA to see whats better when it comes to screen size. This addition in whole can cost 200 – 300 depending on additions you choose, but the amount it adds so the entire experience, priceless!
The Exaust System:
So we have covered a lot of bling up to this point, but I realized that there was a lot that hadn’t been covered that are standard issues in car culture. And by standard issue I am not talking about wardriving equipment. First off is the chrome exhaust. Another part for less than 5.00 at the ole super mart… with a single screw I was able to upgrade this simulator’s entire exhaust system! And chrome is so cool! Right?
Riding on a cloud of light:
Next up is the neon systems of the car. but neon is for chumps! Lets face it, we’re geeks here and some things cant be compromised. So our “light cloud” will be powered by a cold cathode lighting system for a computer case mod. With a few simple parts. a light kit for 12.00 and a 12V power brick from radio shack or your local electronic salvage group and some zip ties, one can upgrade their simulator with some sweet ass ground effects! Just dont choose any known range colors or you run a risk of a drive by. Maybe you should exclude this unless you have a rail gun mounted on it as well.
The Caffeine holder:
So what car look alike anything would be complete without a cup holder? Well I am sure you thought of about 20 instances as well. But that dosent make very entertaining reading now does it? Or does it? Anywho, for 99 cents in the auto section we found this beauty! Its one of those clip on holders and it worked perfectly for what we needed on this project. It clipped on to the arm that holds up the wheel like it was meant to. Now we have a place for that late night ultra jumbo caffeine drink thats close at hand!
Control Panel Safety Switch:
Returning to the safety control switch we installed in the control console. With the system turned on make sure that when the switch is closed (in the off position) that it breaks the signal from the steering wheel using a voltmeter or just letting the platform tilt. Either way the entire point of this addition is safety. The large red cover gives a large surface area and makes it hard to miss if the need ever arose that you would need to trip it. Like running out of Mountain Dew (you’re right we shouldn’t even joke about this. We apologize). Or side effects of drinking too much and sitting to long. Although its also a good practice to leave it in the off position when not in use.
With the system fully powered up and safety switch in the on position use the software based testing, configuration and settings to test the left / right axis to verify the appropriate motion occurs. You want no more than 15 degrees of motion. If you exceed this there are a couple options, use a couple pressure switches to stop the motion on the down stroke, or adjust the output if possible on the power supply you are using. Fortunately we were able to just drop the amp output of the power supply to achieve our needs in this respect.
to make up for the extra current draw from the motor in the controller by adding the relay set for the motion platform, were fortunate if you used the recommended controller to just be able to increase the output of the power (“force”) via the software included, or downloaded from the Logitech site if you ordered a used one from somewhere like eBay. This is a really painless process. Just edit the settings with the slide bars and boost it from the default 80% to 110%. Doing this will help keep the effects in the steering wheel strong and noticeable, while providing ample power to the relays.
The Full Test:
Before I make one statement here. I want to be very clear here that I personally played test pilot with this project. So don’t go off calling child services here. I just had to use this picture of my daughter playing with this because it was so cute.
So testing on this project really came down to what was the level of intensity I wanted to enjoy/endure. Tweaking the amperage of the power supply to the platform was the only way I could adjust this realistically while keeping the steering wheel responsive. As we stated before the force is created by pulsing power to the motor, not increasing voltage or amperage. If we adjust the intensity in the software we in effect make the pulses further apart (microseconds) but in doing so due to the mods in the controller we really impact the controllers feedback power. So use the power supply for the platform we recommended because of the variable nature of it.
To match the theme of this entire article being a little different as a whole, I decided that my final thoughts today should be mixed up a little… this was a really fun project to do. The time and planning, the research and the experimentation was a really rewarding and exciting part of this project.
Admittedly though…. this project took alot longer than I would have ever expected. Many people emailed me with concern over the future of invent geek. And with the influx of emails it really made me think about the entire purpose of the site. Granted it is a creative outlet for those like my self. But I realized there was more to it for me.
One thing that rang true for me was that alot of commentary I received was with regards to the final thoughts pages of the articles I have written. Alot of people want more of an overview, or summary, or just
some form of a formal closure to the article. Well here is where our site differs from many out there. We want you in some way or in part to expound on the projects we have done. For those who haven’t read the about us page I really recommend doing so, the spirit of our projects and our goal of this site is really captured there. We revel in great and new discoveries…. but we cherish the ability of creative and divergent thinking with a practical or even semi-practical use in our daily lives. Take what we have done here and add to it. We know some parts are rough and unrefined. But that’s the whole goal. To at least create a framework that others can add to and evolve into something really great. It is with that spirit that humanity exists, open source software can have a place in the real world, and those who fear change fight and legislate against. So pick up a hammer or torch and put some time into gaining experience, and share what you have learned with others that share the same interest. Experience never hurt any one, yet unbridled ignorance has. In the words of Eleanor Roosevelt “People grow through experience if they meet life honestly and courageously. This is how character is built.”
We thank those that have supported our cause and interests and we will be adding some more functionality soon to open this up more to the community as a whole.
I have received some emails from people constructing this that have used other winches that don’t seem to be compatible with the system we have here. Remember to carefully spec out your own stuff. This is not meant to be a comprehensive guide, but more to help others with the complicated design of a system like this.