Race car steering wheel. Tom Riley; Kelda Riley.
There are several auto racing programs on the market, but playing them with a standard joystick or paddle doesn't give you the sensation of driving a real machine over a racecourse. This month we will build a steering wheel that closely simulates the controls of an automobile.
This analog input device has a single potentiometer that is turned by the steering wheel and a push button that serves as the accelerator or horn. A special plug/socket lets two of these units operate at the same time, thus opening up the possibility of two-person competitive racing programs. With this controller and appropriate software, game players can learn valuable driving skills such as recovery from skids and automatic reactions to traffic hazards. This steering wheel puts you in the driver's seat.
The steering wheel prototypes were tested on an Apple II Plus computer using the International Grand Prix program from Riverbank Software, Inc. (P.O. Box 128, Denton, Maryland 21629). The unit will work on any program that uses one paddle and one push button. The design can easily be adapted for other computers by duplicating the pot value, wiring, and connector of a standard paddle.
This controller is similar to the airplane steering wheel (Creative Computing, April 183, pp 244-259), but its design is even simpler. In fact, this is one of the most straightforward projects in the series: the parts are easy to find, construction is mostly woodworking, and the wiring requires minimal familiarity with electronics. Take some care with this project and the result will do you proud. Construction Of The Wheel Support
Figure 1 is a photograph of the finished unit. A detailed side view appears in Figure 2. The key parts are the leg board, the lower and upper supports, the pot mount, the three stops, and the wheel itself with hub and switches.
Figure 3 gives you details of the construction. The pot is shown mounted on the upper support so that you can see which electrical terminals are used and the location of the cables. A detailed cross-section of a microswitch mount is also shown. The two microswitches are wired as a single pushbutton.
Most of the parts are 1/2" plywood. A scrap of birch plywood was used for the wheels of the prototypes, but common fir plywood would look almost as good. The plywood was too thick to make a comfortable leg board, so 1/8" tempered masonite was substituted. The wheel hub was cut from a scrap of hardwood (oak or maple is preferred) since hardwood will drill and tap better than softwood. Mount the pot on a scrap of sheet metal that is stiff but that can be cut with sheet metal shears.
Cut the two lower supports from two 3" x 9" pieces of 1/2" fir plywood. This will produce a medium-size steering wheel. If the unit will be used primarily by adults, you may want to add two to four inches to the length of the supports. The extra length is especially desirable if you use the wheel while holding a small child in your lap. Children like to play with this controller even when they are too young to understand the program. A pair of wheels, one with the longer supports, works well for parent/child games.
The holes in the supports are merely for decoration. The large one was cut with a hole saw in a drill and the small one with a 1" paddle bit. Center the two lower support pieces half an inch apart on the leg board and attach them with four 1" x#8 flathead wood screws and carpenter's glue.
The upper support is fashioned from three plywood pieces and the sheet metal plate on which the pot is mounted. Attach the two larger pieces together with two wood screws and glue. Cut out the sheet metal plate, then drill, countersink, and fit it to the pot mount. Hold the metal with vise grip pliers while drilling, or the sheet will spin and cut your fingers. Size the central hole (usually 3/8") to fit the pot. The small hole is for the spin prevention tab on the pot. The four corner holes are for 1/2" x#6 flathead screws. Don't install the small stop mounting block until you complete and trial fit the wheel. Construction Of The Wheel
The wheel itself can be any size that suits your needs. The 10 1/4" diameter of the prototypes was determined by the size of the mateial on hand. For wheels much larger than this the size of the upper support will have to be increased. Draw the wheel on the plywood with a compass and straight edge and cut it out with a saber saw or coping saw.
The hardwood disk for the hub was cut out with a power drill hole saw. Drill and tap the two holes before attaching the hub to the wheel. No lubrication is used for tapping in wood, but you should remove and clean the tap several times during the process. Attach the hub to the wheel with carpenter's glue and clamp it with a 1/4" bolt and flat washers through the center hole until the glue dries.
For the prototypes we purchased Radio Shack #275-016 lever switches. Cut a rectangular cavity for them in the wheel spokes with a small wood chisel or X-acto knife. This cavity should stop one ply short of coming through the plywood. Then drill a small hole the rest of the way through for the wire. Finishing And Assembly
Sand all wooden parts and remove sharp corners with a fine wood rasp. Fill any holes in the edges of the plywood with wood putty or with wood splinters and glue.
Smooth the edges of the sheet metal pot mount with a fine file.
Now slip the top support between the two bottom supports and secure it with wood screws and glue. Make certain that the screws, which come in from opposite sides, miss each other. The angle of the finished wheel is set by this step. Figure 2 shows the approximate angle, but you can suit yourself since this adjustment is a major factor in personalizing the unit.
Install the pot mount with the pot in place. Place several of the washers shown in Figure 3 on the pot shaft. At least one washer should be polyethylene plastic (cut, for example, from a coffee can lid). The rest of the washers can be masonite, wood, or plastic, cut out with a hole saw. It is easier to add washers than to cut off a pot shaft; about 1/4" thickness of washers will take up the extra pot shaft length.
Drill out the central hole in the hub to remove glue and then fit the hub onto the shaft. Curve the top of the stop mount with a rasp to fit the curve of the hub loosely. You can put a thin piece of cardboard between the hub and the stop mount while marking its position. Then, with the wheel removed, attach the stop mount with a single screw and carpenter's glue.
Now remove the wheel and pot mounting plate and sand all wood parts. The wheel will look best if stained and varnished. The other wood parts should get two coats of a bright colored enamel. Finish up with a coat of satin-finish polyurethane varnish over all the wood parts. A coat of varnish not only improves the appearance of the device but also keeps the enamel from leaving marks on furniture and floors. Electrical Wiring
For the electrical work you will need a pencil soldering iron of 25-42 watts with a fine point, a damp sponge for cleaning the tip of the iron, wire strippers, a pair of small long-nose pliers, and small-diameter resin-core solder. Even if you are a beginner you shouldn't have much trouble with the electronic work involved in this rpoject. Use the proper tools and be careful with the soldering.
Make two photocpies of the schematic (Figure 4). On the first copy, color in each wire and solder joint as soon as you complete it. When you finish your work, color in the second copy as you check each connection.
Buy long-shafted pots of good mechanical construction. They should have a screw driver slot on the end; you will have to cut the slot with a hacksaw if the pot lacks it. Figure 3, the back view of the upper support, shows the terminals to which you will be soldering the cable wires.
For the switches, use any small momentary-contact, single pole single throw, normally-open switch that can easily be mounted on the wheel spoke. The hinge on the Radio Shack lever switch is somewhat weak so we reinforced it with a matchhead size dab of silicone sealant. The two switches are wired so that either of them will act as PBO and are connected together by a pair of small wires.
As you can see in Figure 4, only a three-conductor cable is required for a unit. We used a four-conductor telephone cable and doubled up the +5 supply wire. The cable can be secured to the lower support with a plastic-coated wire tie passed through the two small holes shown in the lower support.
The cable from the pot to the wheel can be secured by forming a small flag, or tab, on the side of the cable with electrical tape. Wrap several layers of tape around the cable, leaving the 1/4" flag off to one side. On the pot mount end secure the flag under the mounting plate; on the wheel end use a small flathead screw and washer to secure the flag. Figure 3 shows each end of this cable so that you can correctly route it.
The cable is about 11" long and makes a loop behind the wheel. We used a piece of the four-conductor telephone cable, although only two small conductors are needed. You can work out the exact length and placement of the cable after the stops are installed.
The plug/socket shown in Figure 5 is similar but not identical to the one for two-person games described in our article, "Multiple Socket Extensions" (Creative Computing, May 1983, pp. 260-271). With this plug/socket single-pot paddle can be plugged into the back of the first race car wheel, and the second unit will function as GC1 and PB1. You will be able to use two steering wheels for competitive racing games as soon as someone writes the software.
The plug/socket is a standard wire-wrap socket on which all pins except 6, 3, and 10 are cut to 1/2". Cut pin 6 to about 5/8" and cut pins 3 and 10 to 1/8". Then bend the pins out slightly and straighten them to fit over the spades of a 16-pin DIP header. Plug the header into a loose socket before soldering and double check to be certain that both #1 pins are on the same end. Pin 6 must be bent across to reach spade 10 on the header, and pin 2 bent to reach spade 3. Install the pull-down resistor R1 between the socket pins. The cable usually enters from the pin 8 end. If you have difficulty inserting a plug into the socket after the soldering, stick a sewing needle into each hole in turn to realign the socket parts.
If you decide to make a second steering wheel you will want to use a standard plug/socket on it so that foot pedals can be used with the wheels. (Our design for foot pedals is included in The Controller Cookbook from Creative Computing Press.) Final Adjustments
Now mount the single stop on the upper support. For all three stops you can use small rubber feet or faucet washers held on with pan-head screws. Reinstall the wheel with the washers on the pot shaft, leaving the set screws loose. The best set screws are the allen-type, but those with standard screwdriver slots will work.
At this point install the main cable and plug, but leave the cable tht runs to the switches disconnected. Check your work visually against the schematic (Figure 4). If you have a multimeter, check the resistance between pin 1 and pin 8. This must measure at least 50 ohms on any controller and should be completely open (infinite) on this unit.
Turn your computer off, plug in the new controller, and turn the computer back on. If start up is not completely normal, turn it off immediately and recheck all work on the steering wheel. When the system starts up properly, run a program that will verify the functions of the controller. You need to see the readings of GC0 and PB0 continuously so that you can adjust your unit for full scale and zero.
Try turning the weel left and right to determine if you can get readings over the full range of 0 - 255. Center the wheel and adjust the pot shaft inside the wheel with a screwdriver until you obtain a reading of 128. Then press the wheel firmly onto the shaft and tighten the set screws.
Turn the wheel gently clockwise until you feel the internal stop. Back off until the reading just becomes 255, and place the second stop on the wheel snugly beside the first stop, which is mounted on the upper support. Mark the center of the second stop with a sharp point. Follow the same procedure counter-clockwise for 0, and mark the third stop. Turn the computer off and unplug the steering wheel. Remove the wheel from the pot shaft and install the two stops on it.
The wheel can now be reinstalled and centered on 128. The readings should cover the full range from 0 to 255, but when you turn the wheel you should hit the external stops before you reach the weaker stops inside the pot.
The pushbutton cable is installed by first attaching it to the upper support. Then experiment with various lengths of cable while turning the wheel. This cable should make a single loop behind the wheel to keep it out of your way while you are playing. When you have determined the correct length and direction for the cable, install a tape flag and screw it onto the wheel near the hole for the switch wire.
As noted in Figure 4, both switches are wired in parallel so that either of them can function as PB0. This lets you use either hand to press the pushbutton. The cable wires are attached to the common (C) and normally open (N.O.) terminals. You can secure the pair of wires between the two switches to the back of the wheel with silicone sealant. Finishing Touches
You may want to cover exposed electrical connections with silicone sealant (clear sealant is the least messy to work with). You can cover the bottom of the leg board with cotton felt, gluing it on with contact cement. A deal or paper cutout glued to the center of the wheel looks sporty. Be sure to draw a number on the sides of the lower support with a felt tip marker. We used 0 for the first wheel and 1 for the second. Numbering the units will help you keep track of which is which when you play a game.
Test your unit one more time with a paddle checkout program and then run your favorite racing game. A Note on "Controller Corner"
This is the last in a series of six articles on homebuilt controllers for personal computers. These and other projects are included in The Controller Cookbook from Creative Computing Press, scheduled for release in October. In addition to the foot pedals we mentioned, the book features an Atari to Apple adapter and the greatest joystick ever, Super Stick.
For readers who are intrigued by the idea of building a piece of hardware for your computer but somewhat uncertain about your skills, we present an electronics tutorial and step-by-step soldering instructions.
In the meantime, keep writing to us. We want to hear about any problems you encounter and about your successes in building and improving these devices. We have already incorporated several of your comments into the book. For now, good luck in your efforts to expand your knowledge of personal computers.