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My Mechpit


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#1 Loc Nar

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Posted 11 September 2012 - 11:57 AM

Hi All,

This is a cockpit simulator I have been working onfor a while, primarily for MWO. I absolutely love the fully enclosed pits that are being made, and wish I could go that route. Propnut, Foust, TurboCorvair, and all pod builders, I salute you! I live in an apartment however, and have limited space in addition to the usual budgetary concerns. There are various other technical reasons as well, so I have developed what for me is a logical compromise of complexity and function. I took as many visual cues as I could from that incredible Hunchback cockpit artwork wallpaper, within the constraints of my materials. Structurally it is based off of a Schwinn 205p recumbent exercise bike, and is extremely sturdy and very adjustable to accommodate different size pilots. I am placing heavy emphasis on the kinematics and tactility of the controls, as well as adjustability. Other design criteria were ingress/egress and overall pilot comfort. My plan is to use it with a projector, but it would be just as at home in front of a triple monitor or even a single one for that matter... I'm a pilot IRL, and a simdork in general. Through other flight simulator projects I have developed my own list of priorities I deem important in order to achieve a high degree of immersion. I have found there is a certain saturation point, at which the sense of illusion becomes very strong, and as it turns out it is not entirely that difficult to achieve. For me, going beyond this point enters the realm of diminishing returns, which of course is all relative (usually relative to ones budget...).
http://i.imgur.com/AHmhr.jpg -Hunchback Cockpit
http://i.imgur.com/NpQbq.jpg -Hunchback Cockpit, POV
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A Schwinn 205p, as it would appear in it's natural habitat

update: Schwinn 205p stripdown- http://imgur.com/a/UBiV6

Some notes on the peripherals. The Thrustmaster Cougar HOTAS setup I started with was a unit from ebay, with a clapped out gimbal -knocking it down to my price range, and since I was already dreaming about an ideal stick for MWO it made sense since that would need a completely different gimbal. The Saitek Combat Pro pedals were also distressed ebay units -never used, but with some minor damage to the tension mechanism, ,making them affordable and hence suited to the hack I intended to do with them. The Saitek Cyboorg Command pads and Thrustmaster Cougar MFD's were also cheap ebay scores. I'm sorry if I sniped these from any of you guys...

Descriptions below the pictures:

MOCKED UP
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The stick/throttle are modded Thrustmaster Cougar HOTAS. Stick has gimbal made specifically for mech piloting, using absolute pitch/azimuth rather than momentary pitch/roll ( http://imgur.com/a/ixi64 descriptions in link/album -almost done!) and throttle a much longer arm. Pedals are Saitek Pro Combat, but I'm only keeping the two pedals & the electronics, and they will soon ride on new all-metal mechanisms. Cougar MFD's will one day have LCD's if MWO every supports external screens. Saitek Cyborg Command pads (and the MFD's) will one day be replaced with scratchbuilt backlit panels, but I am going to use the plug-n-play gear until the title matures.

BASIC TUB
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The layout and feel of this pit could be very easily changed, and with different panel/siderails, it would be a whole different mech. The construction is as simple as possible -but no simpler. The need for fasteners is kept to a minimum, and I have designed everything to be able to be replicated using basic shop tools -drill press, tablesaw, mitersaw, hand drill, basic hand tools. The Schwinn 205P is an ideal platform to start from, and is easily found on your local craigslist. There are also many good recumbent exercise bikes to choose from actually, use your imaginations! I have 3 of these, the other two being sailplane pits, and $50 is the most I've paid for one so far. I've alse seen some promising looking rowing and x-country ski machines too.

SUICIDE DOORS(!)
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Both sides open up like this, which makes ingress/egress very easy. When finished, they will rigidly lock to the panel. The forward sections of the siderails adjust fore/aft 4", to maintain alignment with panel when seat is adjusted fore/aft. *The seat moves more than 4", but that's as much adjustment as I can get on my siderails, so that sets the useable travel limit. This only leaves enough room to accommodate a 6'4" person, so circus freaks need not apply...

OPEN SIDE SHOT
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The 'doors' easily come off, allowing easy access as well as significantly reducing it's footprint for storage/travel. The pivot point for the doors is actually the stock handlebars that came with the Schwinn, but installed in a new spot/orientation. Note the two bolts in the middle of the main beam. This thing actually breaks down easier than an Akers-Barnes, and is able to be transported in anything capable of transporting one of those. Much easier to reassemble though, and requires no yoga to get in and out of :P

COLUMN/FOOT REST
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Lots to do still in this area... The pedals will be lower down and further back when on their new mechanisms, but work as is for the time being. The hollow areas of the column will house wires and electronics.

SEAT ADJUSTMENT/EJECTION HANDLE
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The handle sticking out at the bottom is connected to a very well designed cam mechanism that locks/unlocks the seat, allowing it to sllide on the rail, but solidly lock down with less than 1/4 turn. The ejection handle is cast aluminum (scavenged from an old golf caddy) and I can lift the entire pit up by it so long as the seat is near the center of gravity.

COLUMN -look ma, no fasteners!
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Vertical component is 2 pieces of 1x3 aluminum angle (ripped to .375x3) and the horizontals are 2" square. The Schwinn has a 2" square stub that this mounts on.

COLUMN REVEAL
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Remember those slot contstuction wood dinosaur skeleton models? I used my tablesaw to crosscut the slots. This allows much flexibility, and can be adapted to any size/angle/etc. There is also now a slot at the top, which holds a crossbrace to keep the panel on plane.

COLUMN CLOSE-UP
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Slots of fun!

NEW RUDDER PEDAL MECHANISM...
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...mocked up. This will replace the plastic squeaky/wobbly bits of the Saitek pedals. There are many parts missing, but this outlines the idea. All the metal parts here are cut from repurposed metal I have gathered along the way. I am utilizing my access to machineshop tools to make these parts, but they are not necessary ingredient for the pit but rather just to satisfy my finicky need for them to feel solid -able to support my full weight if I stood on them, something you can do in even the lightest of aircraft, let alone a 100 ton mech!

COUGAR THROTTLE MOD...
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...in progress. This is my kinematic mockup, which allowed me to find my ideal length for the new pivot arm I am making for the throttle mechanism. The stock one rotates on a 4" radius, and has to use 90deg of travel for it's full range, making the buttons start/end in awkward positions. New mechanism is about 8.5", and uses less than 40deg to achieve what amounts to a longer linear travel. Feels much better. Likely I will use a standard potentiometer for the pickup, since converting it to a Hall sensor requires cutting a trace on the board as well as adding a resistor and I'm trying to leave the boards stock. A high quality sealed pot is juuuuust fine for this though, but the stick will definitely have Hall sensors.

-Loc ***

Edited by Loc Nar, 21 September 2012 - 04:53 PM.


#2 Stickjock

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Posted 11 September 2012 - 11:59 AM

I like it so far...

#3 PirateNixon

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Posted 11 September 2012 - 12:11 PM

Excellent job man, I'm impressed. Now you just need this display setup.

#4 Urban UK

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Posted 11 September 2012 - 12:50 PM

Nice!

Ingenious way of making use of the recumbent bike frame aswell

#5 CyBerkut

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Posted 11 September 2012 - 04:43 PM

A LOT of good ideas there! ;)

#6 demonr6

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Posted 11 September 2012 - 04:57 PM

Whoa my neighbor left his garage door open and he has a weight bench that may get ganked..

#7 Nacon

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Posted 11 September 2012 - 04:57 PM

Nice, keep it up!

#8 ORIGINAL SteelWolf

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Posted 11 September 2012 - 09:32 PM

I like it. I'll have to reread the part about the center console and what all the buttons do.

#9 Foust

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Posted 12 September 2012 - 06:05 AM

This is awesome. Such a good build.

So I have to ask about the stick. Tilts forward and back and rotates? Is that correct?

#10 TigersRoar

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Posted 12 September 2012 - 06:41 AM

Pure genius! Well designed.

#11 Loc Nar

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Posted 12 September 2012 - 12:08 PM

Thanks for the kind words, all. ^_^

I'll have to reread the part about the center console and what all the buttons do.

Heh... sorry Steel, I haven't wrote that part just yet. As of right now, the center console has not had any buttons mapped to them, and the Saitek Cyborg pads are just mocked up on the console, partly for eye candy. Green backlit eyecandy. But also for function. Between the TM HOTAS and MFD's, I already have more buttons available than MWO uses, so what I see happening is I will likely only be using a few buttons on each of the units. Incorporating the center console allows me to loosely work towards my finalized button grouping, even if under-utilizing the gamepad's potentials. Closer to public launch, it will be more obvious what buttons MWO will actually use as well as what's on the horizon, and once I know that I plan on converting to custom panels with backlit (a must for projector use) buttons and a panel layout that looks much more like the Hunchback cockpit artwork, using either a Teensy++2.0 or BU0836X.


So I have to ask about the stick. Tilts forward and back and rotates? Is that correct?

Foust -this correct. I will add some more details and anecdotes though, since a simple 'yes' is not legal tender in a hardware forum ;) ...With the ball bearings and spring-loaded greased-plastic rubs it moves very smoothly despite the crudeness of the parts at this stage, which have so far all been worked on a drill press, table saw, miter saw, and basic hand tools. I can set the desired friction on the axes by changing the spring tension, and the pitch spring has a thrust bearing under it while the azimuth bearing is a sandwich of metal/plastic above and below the gimbal deck. With it balanced in pitch, it takes much less spring tension to hold it's position on that axis, allowing a wider useable tension adjustment range.

I will be using Alegro A1302 or A1301 Hall sensors for the pickups, with a dual N52 square magnet arrangement (Bic pen arrangement), mounted directly on both axis. As such, I'm leaning towards the 01's due to higher sensitivity (2.5 mV/G on the A1301, vs 1.3 mV/G on the A1302), the idea being they will make better use of the limited range of movement of the axes. I have not set the limits for the full range of travel yet, but will probably use +/-12.5 deg in pitch, and +/-22.5 deg in azimuth. Much more than that and button reaches start getting goofy at the limits.

I will soon be taking some better pics of the stick hardware mods, as the first set of shots I took was with my phone and I now have an actual camera. I will make my stick/throttle mod it's own post when I make a little more headway on them and get together better pics, and I will also elaborate on my pedal mechanism there.

-Loc ***

#12 Burned_Follower

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Posted 12 September 2012 - 07:16 PM

awesome design! Never thought of using a sitdown exercise bike. Brilliant!

#13 MrVop

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Posted 15 September 2012 - 03:39 AM

HI.

You seem pretty knowledgeable on this stuff so I have a few questions.

I want to use the teensy++ 2.0 to set up my own controls in my pit. the thing is I'm not sure what to use for input. Buttons seem fairly simple. And given the time I can see myself mapping a bunch of mundane stuff to back lit buttons. But as far as anolog input I'm not seeing too many in depth guides online.

I have decent soldering skills and have worked electrical stuff before but nothing in in depth electronics wise (ringed out wires fixed ****** soldering jobs and cannon plugs... simple stuff like that) So i'm wondering if this is too advanced of a project for me to jump on.

If it is. Do you have any suggestions on where it would be better for me to start.

Thanks in advance for the responses ya'll.

#14 Loc Nar

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Posted 15 September 2012 - 08:36 AM

you should try to make some of those to sell

Thanks ForestGnome. The thought has crossed my mind, but more in the form of making plans/documentation available, Then if a need arose, maybe offering different levels of a kit for folks that don't have all or most of the tools or aren't comfortable working metal and such. This way one can get their own Schwinn 205p locally (craigslist is your friend, keywords: 'recumbent schwinn') and assemble it there, avoiding the hassle and expense of shipping such a cumbersome thing. On the other hand, it does break down relatively small and is way under the150lb limit for standard shipping (before it switches to freight), so it is not unfeasible...

I'm going to document my process of stripping a stock 205p down and cutting off the few offending bits of metal and add it to this thread soon.

From the basic tub phase, one could add the peripherals that fit their taste and budget. Not impossible to make more of the pitch/azimuth gimbals, but I got to get the prototypes functional first :P To that end, today I've been playing with the Cougar guts plugged in and running in the device analyzer in Thrustmaster's TARGET software, and am about to test my mocked up Hall sensors (Bic pen arrangement) to see what kind of readings I get when I swap them for the pots. -followup- tested the mocked up Hall sensors and they work like champs! Got dead quiet/repeatable readings and it was immediately apparent that they outperformed the stock pots, which on my Cougar aren't even in bad shape...

want to use the teensy++ 2.0 to set up my own controls... not sure what to use for input... as far as anolog input I'm not seeing too many in depth guides online....any suggestions on where it would be better for me to start.

First, thanks for the vote of confidence MrVop. As to your Teensy++2.0 questions, it sounds like you know plenty enough to move forward using it for your controls. For what to use to hook up as sensors, you can use either potentiometers (10-100k ohm), or Hall sensors, which are easily fashioned like this: http://www.simpits.org/geneb/?p=299. Hooking up either type analog input to it is much like hooking up the buttons, but with 3 wires instead of 2. Buttons have a positive and a ground, but analog inputs have reference voltage, ground, and a variable output (Vcc, Gnd, Vout), which is what provides the position data. The Teensy's board inputs are pretty well marked, so you would see where they go. I don't have a Teensy, myself yet so can only offer generic advice, however Foust or Propnut on this forum are bot using it and are very knowledgeable on the subject. Another option to the Teensy++2.0 is the larger and more expensive BUO836X, http://www.leobodnar...oducts/BU0836X/ which is likely the route I will go once I make my own button pads and such, only because it is a truly plug-n-play solution that requires no programming and that's a variable I eliminate whenever feasible. Outside of setup and fine tuning, performance would be identical, seeing as they are both 10bit, although Leo's unit has more native inputs and I also prefer it's form factor. Good luck on your project, it's well worth the efforts!


-Loc ***

#15 Knt Maverick

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Posted 15 September 2012 - 08:52 AM

I agree with the request/suggestion of the public marketable set-up, and your "kit" idea sounds deciently thought for just "crossing the mind" all in all.. I've said on your previous posting and i'll say it again... damn fine work and look forward to the continued documentation of the process. will enjoy seeing the final product.

damn fine work, sir.

#16 repete

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Posted 15 September 2012 - 07:54 PM

Nice job Loc. Really like the foundation you're using there. Is there any chance you'll be able to enclose it? Surely you could do it in a way which wouldn't really add much bulk.

#17 Propnut

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Posted 16 September 2012 - 08:16 AM

Hey LocNar, looks great so far. Really looking forward to seeing what you do with the rudder pedals.

On the Leo Bodnar BU0836X, it is a great board and I recommended it to Foust before I knew about the Teensy++2.0. I have a couple of them and have used several more building controller boxes for other people. The drawback for me is that with shipping and the exchange rate, the BU0836X is around 85.00 USD and the Teensy++ is about 30.00 (after I add a breadboard for ease of connection). Programing the Teensy is simple and you get to give it a unique name. If you order a board from Leo make sure to specify that you want a unique name, and even then he often forgets or ignores those instructions. He makes a great product but his customer service is seriously lacking; he sort of "checks out" for several months here and there.

By the way, the BU0836X is a 12bit controller, the difference is that the asix have 4096 steps rather than the 1024 that the 10 bit controllers do, like the Teensy. For me 1024 is more than plenty, I cannot think of a time that I would need more precision than that and I fly a range of Sims (IL-2, Rise of Flight, DCS P-51, etc)

#18 Loc Nar

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Posted 17 September 2012 - 10:19 AM

Is there any chance you'll be able to enclose it?

Repete- on the practical side, I live in an apartment and have another simpit (sailplane), so space is a huge issue. Both of these are made to use with my projector/home theater in my living room, so need to be easy to move around/swap out. On the tech side, my efforts in this regard will be in direct proportion to MWO's level of cockpit support. Until we have full control of the UI and can undock the screenpit I'm hesitant to move forward, and the continuing lack of joystick support this late in the game does not fill me with hope. Not to sound pessimistic, but it's probably not likely we will ever get control of the UI, to prevent people from developing aimbots and other cheathacks so I'm not holding my breath. Due to possible marketing issues, the Artemis possibly further complicates this scenario. If any of these situations change however, making a mech shaped tent/shed with a few hardpoints to park my pit in will not be difficult since the pit is already electronically/mechanically a self contained structure. That said, if I had the space, and the cockpit support was there, I would be working towards a 210deg curved screen/triple projector setup from which to view through precisely cutout windows. Without the support I'll be working towards a triple monitor setup in a partial enclosure it can be rolled in/out of as needed.


Really looking forward to seeing what you do with the rudder pedals.

Thanks Propnut. Wish I had more to show... although there is more since the last pics I shared. Here's an album I started on the pedals, which goes without saying are a work in progress. I am gearing up to making separate posts on both the pedals and the HOTAS. Tonight I get some more machineshop access, so will hopefully get some more things done on them. In the meantime though, here you go: http://imgur.com/a/VqJl6

PEDAL MOCKUP (from album...)
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...but with a few more parts than were shown before and arranged closer to final configuration. The pedals will ride on ball bearing drawer slides, although in a different arrangement since in the end the slides will not be visible. The carriage on the center rails will have 3" of useable fore/aft adjustment range.



-LocNar

ps. also had great luck testing out Hall sensors. Here's a shot from the bench:
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The Hall sensor is mounted in the wood block with the bic pen body sticking out of it. It's just a test rig though, and my final 'pots' will be much slicker, but first just had to know how good they worked. Full post to follow...

Edited by Loc Nar, 17 September 2012 - 12:52 PM.


#19 Loc Nar

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Posted 21 September 2012 - 04:48 PM

Kind of a back step, but I've made an album covering the basic stripdown and beginning conversion process of a Schwinn205p. I have made two of these simpits into very different form factors (a sailplane and the mechpit) but up until this phase they are identical so I stopped there: http://imgur.com/a/UBiV6
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I have made progress on other bits, but will wait until there's a little more to make it more presentable. I am also adding relevant updates to my first page of this post, to make it easier to navigate for those who have not been following.

-Loc

Edited by Loc Nar, 21 September 2012 - 04:50 PM.


#20 Tronword

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Posted 24 October 2012 - 06:45 PM

I...actually have a ***** from reading this.





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