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Ask Slashdot: Physical Input Devices For Developers?

timothy posted more than 2 years ago | from the solenoids-in-shoes-are-a-start dept.

GUI 147

First time accepted submitter paysonwelch writes "I am a developer and entrepreneur and I am considering developing a very graphically rich and custom interface for my latest application which does charting and analysis of large data sets. The application would feature lots of gauges, knobs and levers. As I was thinking about this I said to myself, why not hook up physical knobs and levers to my computer to control my application instead of designing them in 2D bitmaps? This could potentially save screen space and provide tactile feedback, and a new way of interacting digitally with one's application and data. So my question is whether or not anyone out there has advice for building a custom solution, perhaps starting with a mixing board, or if there are any pre-fab kits / controllers for achieving this?"

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Human Factors (1)

fidget42 (538823) | more than 2 years ago | (#38032074)

Go and hire someone who can do Human Factors designs for user interfaces.

Re:Human Factors (5, Interesting)

kiwimate (458274) | more than 2 years ago | (#38032156)

Yep. If you want to waste a couple of hours, read this story [] from a couple of days ago to get a taste of the difficulties of trying to cater to people. (For what it's worth, here's [] my contribution to the debate.)

I am curious about the details behind your thoughts. The only key to your target audience is that it does "charting and analysis of large data sets". Could be a number of industries, from finance to utilities looking at PMU data from the electric grid. It makes a difference - you're an entrepreneur and developer (although your home page says you're an artist), so it'd seem to be a safe assumption that you want to commercialize this. If that's the case, you want to consider the physical location of where this is going, how complicated it'll be to provide input and get output, how quickly people will need to react, how much space they'll have around them, how many will need to be installed at a location, etc., etc. All of those considerations make a big impact on whether this is even a workable idea in the first place.

As fidget42 said - hire someone who does this stuff for a living. That is, if I'm correct in my assumption you actually want to commercialize this.

MEMS joystick (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38032526)

There was this a few weeks ago. Nice analog feel with a digital output.

Re:Human Factors (5, Interesting)

paysonwelch (2505012) | more than 2 years ago | (#38032576)

@kiwimate thanks for the response. I will definitely check those stories out. My thoughts about this are general in the sense that as developers we often only use keyboard / mice. If you think of AV professionals though they often use mixing boards to get work done more quickly and finely tuned. So why are generic components not more readily available for general development purposes? Surely by using a potentiometer it could provide much more precise resolution than a mouse, faster and easier than typing in decimal numbers. In a sense you answered your own question. Using physical input devices other than a keyboard and mouse could be expanded to many different industries. I'm not really looking to commercialize this, most of my work is for personal interest. As far as my website, I am working on bringing a blog online for my technical non-artistic interests. I considered combining them however art people usually don't get technology and vice versa. It's a turn-off for people visiting a single website with diverse interests. My opinion is that its better to specialize when presenting information. It's an idea and this is my starting point, to get input on possibilities. Perhaps I could hire someone to do it, but I enjoy the process of learning and adhere to the old adage that "if you want something done right do it yourself".

Re:Human Factors (4, Informative)

walshy007 (906710) | more than 2 years ago | (#38033322)

Since you say this is for personal interest, I shall link you to what I use for sliders/knobs.

This [] is rather useful. 30 knobs, 9 sliders, many buttons and doubles as a fully weighted piano. Whole thing is powered over usb bus and I picked mine up on special for $450. usb midi compliant so no drivers required, works nicely with whatever midi subsystem your os uses.

Trouble these days would be finding one, production stopped some years ago.

Programming wise midi support is probably the best way to go with this, large support for varying hardware much of which has knobs and sliders.

Re:Human Factors (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38032182)

I wish slashdot would do that. I mean, who was the retard that decided to put a source forge top downloads box on the main page? The best part is, most of the top downloads use source forge for the downloads but moved actual development to google code or git hub because source forge is so awful to use. Sourceforge: rapidshare for free software.

Oh Please No (1)

masternerdguy (2468142) | more than 2 years ago | (#38032076)

I don't want an arbitrary number of custom input devices for various applications.

Re:Oh Please No (2)

Ethanol-fueled (1125189) | more than 2 years ago | (#38032088)


I am a developer and entrepreneur and I am considering developing a very graphically rich and custom interface for my latest application which does charting and analysis of large data sets. The application would feature lots of gauges, knobs and levers.

Labview's already been invented, man. Get yourself a project box and some synchros, servos, stepper motors, and you're all set.


Re:Oh Please No (3, Interesting)

0100010001010011 (652467) | more than 2 years ago | (#38032832)

Or Simulink & an XPC.
Hell with an XPC box and a few dozen knobs we built an entire engine hardware in the loop simulator. Knobs for air pressure, engine speed, throttle position, etc. Took one of our technicians about 3-4 days to get all built up.

Or if you're poor an arduino and some Pots. That's all "Knobs" and "sliders" are. Go read up on voltage dividers. Get yourself a A/D converter. Feed one side 5V, Set 0V to 0%, 5V to 100%. Tada read it with the Arduino and you have yourself actual inputs.

Here's one already done with an Arduino [] . The more pots you want find something with more analog IO.

Buy a project box from from radio shack drill some holes, put it all in. You could probably do most of it for under $50.

Re:Oh Please No (1)

0100010001010011 (652467) | more than 2 years ago | (#38033174)

For got about the TI Launchpad.

Here you go. 8 pots, 2 linear resistors, a TI Launchpad and enclosure for $30. []

Figure out how you want to communicate (USB, UART, etc) and write the code (just a huge while loop reading the pins) and send it out over your selected interface.

Re:Oh Please No (1)

OttoErotic (934909) | more than 2 years ago | (#38032174)

For sure. It can be great to build an input device tailored to your own uses, but if the intent is to market this thing you'll never build something with physical knobs, etc that works well for everyone. Which is why I'd love a Tactus [] if A) they actually existed or B) they wouldn't cost $10k.

Re:Oh Please No (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38032318)

Oh Please No just get an iPad it's much better :^)

Re:Oh Please No (1)

OttoErotic (934909) | more than 2 years ago | (#38032348) actually an excellent point. Oh goddammit.

Flight Simulator Inputs (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38032078)

I would do some research into inputs for Flight Simulators and I'm not talking about the big commercial ones. The hardcore fans build quite sophisticated flight sim setups in their home all with custom controls to match their aircraft of choice with all the knobs, switches and levers. There are quite a few companies that cater to them as well.

Have some experience here (5, Interesting)

fyngyrz (762201) | more than 2 years ago | (#38032546)

I'm developing features for software defined radio [] . Higher end radios, for those of you who don't know, tend to have a lot of controls. Bandwidths, IF shift, notch filter(s) with frequency and Q settings, AGC decay, intercept and knee, frequency, band, memories, panadaptor controls, waterfall controls, demodulator type, demodulator settings... it really goes on for quite a while.

Initially, I mapped a whole bunch of functions to keys, but eventually ran out of keys. Sure, there are on-screen controls, but they're not as nice as physical knobs. Essentially similar to the problem the submitter faces, at least in some respects.

So, my solution? First, a Griffin Tech Powermate knob [] for tuning -- because that's what you do most of with a radio. Big knob, very precise, easy to use. Then, a Behringer BCR2000 B-control rotary control deck [] . Cost was about $156 from Amazon. This is a MIDI device that can map any of 32 knobs and 24 buttons to arbitrary functions. Coding to the device was relatively simple; implement a MIDI learn function, then map whatever seemed fun to a physical knob or button. The board will remember several scenes, too, so you can set up a bunch of controls all at once. Works great. There's another version of the board [] with a somewhat similar price but a different complement of controls, works similarly, though I think it's a bit more biased towards audio concepts (faders, specifically.)

There are other physical control solutions that utilize MIDI out there as well, but I have found none as economical as the BCR2000. BTW, I don't have anything to do with Behringer other than as a satisfied customer.

Re:Have some experience here (1)

PopeRatzo (965947) | more than 2 years ago | (#38032654)

So, my solution? First, a Griffin Tech Powermate knob [] for tuning -- because that's what you do most of with a radio. Big knob, very precise, easy to use. Then, a Behringer BCR2000 B-control rotary control deck []. Cost was about $156 from Amazon. This is a MIDI device that can map any of 32 knobs and 24 buttons to arbitrary functions. Coding to the device was relatively simple; implement a MIDI learn function, then map whatever seemed fun to a physical knob or button. The board will remember several scenes, too, so you can set up a bunch of controls all at once. Works great. There's another version of the board [] with a somewhat similar price but a different complement of controls, works similarly, though I think it's a bit more biased towards audio concepts (faders, specifically.)

That would be about my recommendation, too. There are so many great MIDI controllers out there right now and they all connect via USB. I use two of the BCR2000s in my project studio and I can switch them on the fly to control any of dozens of different things, from volume to filter sweep or very fine input to step sequencers. There's a Powermate on my desk as a monitor control. I just got a 3Dconnexion SpaceNavigator that I haven't taken out of the box yet, but it looks very cool. I have no idea what I'm going to do with it yet, because it's not just a simple rotary knob like the Griffin.

Now MIDI may not be fine-grain enough for the author's needs, but it would be a place to start, I think. The Powermate and SpaceNavigator are probably a lot finer

Re:Have some experience here (4, Informative)

iluvcapra (782887) | more than 2 years ago | (#38032720)

Something cool about the Behringer BCF is that it has motorized faders, and the fader moves can be controlled through non-proprietary messages, which is pretty unusual and awesome. The fader legends on the BCF are null in the middle, because they're meant to be used for organ drawbars and parameter automation, so that makes them a bit more generalist than regular flying faders, which usually null toward the top.

Also, the BCF gives you an EXPRESSION PEDAL input! Don't knock it till you try it, gives you two hands free for controlling a continuous parameter. I've used an expression pedal to control shuttle speed on a video playback.

Re:Have some experience here (3, Informative)

NormalVisual (565491) | more than 2 years ago | (#38032908)

I will go one step further and recommend the submitter visit Musician's Friend [] or Sweetwater Sound [] and check out any of a number of MIDI control surfaces. I am happy a few people have had good luck with Behringer gear, but based on my own experience I refuse to let another piece of it in my home. I can't speak regarding their MIDI gear, but their mixing/recording gear *sucks* - they can't design proper power supplies to save their lives, and in general their gear is designed with low cost as THE primary driving factor and IMO it can sometimes be a fire hazard. It's great fun when you fire up a mixer and smoke rolls out of the power supply, and then you open it up and find that the voltage regulators they used in the supply were rated for about half the current they needed to handle. I bought a Behringer patch bay thinking, "there's no way they could screw THAT up". I was wrong. Plastic parts where metal was needed, and low quality 1/4" jacks throughout.

I'd go with a more upscale manufacturer such as Korg, Yamaha, Roland, etc., or if it has to be low-cost, M-audio is not too bad.

Korg padKontrol (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38032964)

Speaking of MIDI controllers, I've done some work with the Korg padKontrol:

This deals with the native mode specifically, so it stops behaving as a MIDI device and more like a collection of knobs and fully computer-controlled lights.

Re:Have some experience here (1)

EvilIdler (21087) | more than 2 years ago | (#38033264)

If MIDI devices are OK to suggest, mine is the Novation Launchpad. They have decent documentation for it, and its buttons can cover hundreds of functions at once, if programmed right.

Re:Flight Simulator Inputs (2)

couchslug (175151) | more than 2 years ago | (#38032868)

As a former avionics weenie and aircraft mechanic, I WISH "everything else" had aircraft switchology and variety of tactile feedback and control shape (so you can FEEL them and not LOOK at them).

Consider making something like an much larger F-16 MFD but as four "bars" of buttons you can attach to the edges of your monitor with double-sides automobile trim tape (tough stuff!).

Touch screens "ain't shit" compared to a MFD. For one thing, your fingers don't block the screen.

Make it work with flight sim programs and you'll have a larger market than you originally intended. Make a MilSpec version and suddenly ANY rugged monitor can be turned into a BIG MFD, and if it breaks or the vendor quits you can convert a different screen easily. MANY ground applications could benefit! Modern adhesive solutions mean a properly installed "MFD strip set" would stay solidly attached.

A calibration option to align displayed parameters with MFD strip buttons would take care of aligning them to any display.

Ensure your MFD switches have good tactile feedback. Between button and rocker options you could have quite a variety. An optional Thinkpad-style "clit mouse" at each bottom corner would be nice too.

Re:Flight Simulator Inputs (5, Interesting)

dslbrian (318993) | more than 2 years ago | (#38032892)

I can't believe no one has suggested one of the many MAME interface boards. Arcade enthusiasts have a myriad of inexpensive interfaces for connecting custom controls to a computer. They are cheap and easy to use: [] (follow U-HID links, or the I-PAC, Opti-PAC, etc links) [] (follow the controls interfaces link)

Buttons, spinners, joysticks (optical, microswitch, etc), and analog controls - there is almost certainly an off the shelf interface for any kind of basic control like that. Beyond that a microcontroller kit (arduino or other) could fill in anything more exotic. I'm going a similar route to this for a custom CNC control panel I'm building, fun stuff.

Re:Flight Simulator Inputs (1)

Comen (321331) | more than 2 years ago | (#38033118)

Using Midi controllers like many people mentioned would be the easiest way, but agree that many people in the Flight Sim community could help with building something more specific to your needs. I worked for a flight simulator company many many years ago, that made a flight simulator that eventually got bought by Jeppesen Sanderson (if you do not know them then you do not fly airplanes IFR, at least not commercially) and I used to put these consoles together for them (maybe 10-15 a day) for many years, was a cool job, and learned allot about PC's and hardware back then. All I can say is that these consoles were not easy to do yourself, but might be allot easier now a days. Here is the only picture of the console I built everyday I could find online anymore, kind of sad but this was pre/early internet days before companies had websites even.

Arduino (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38032090)

I think you would have really great success creating with an open source platform like Arduino.

Re:Arduino (1)

fsckmnky (2505008) | more than 2 years ago | (#38032112)

Arduino ... with some analog to digital converters, and some old fashioned pots ( sliders and knobs ) and buttons, with the arduino sending the events via USB, to the linux kernels input subsystem, would make for a simple real world control panel, so I second your suggestion.

Re:Arduino (1)

RackinFrackin (152232) | more than 2 years ago | (#38032236)

You wouldn't need the A/D converters. The atmega328 (main chip on the arduino) has them built-in.

Re:Arduino (2)

fsckmnky (2505008) | more than 2 years ago | (#38032262)

Surely it doesn't have an infinite number of them, hence, the reason Jesus invented multiplexing and data buses.

Re:Arduino (1)

ChrisMP1 (1130781) | more than 2 years ago | (#38032320)

Correct - in fact, it only has one, which it already has multiplexed over six input pins.

other controller choices (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38032100)

This sounds like a great idea to me, but don't expect a lot of takers. You might start out with one of the gaming mice that have buttons and other controls all over them, to see how you like using many non-keyboard inputs.

Another place to start might be model airplane radio control consoles--USB output is provided to practice flying your model plane in a flight simulator. Same for radio control model cars--this driving game is a simulation of an RC car [disclosure, I did a small project for this company] [] see tab, "USB Adaptor".

here are some ideas, but maybe not a good idea? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38032102)

been a while since I looked at this stuff but phidgets makes such things. "physical widgets"

probably would go with adruino based stuff today, though... but you might look at both.

game controllers too?

All that said, If you want others to use your stuff, having to buy special hardware to interface with it will likely be a barrier to adoption and not looked upon as a plus.

midi faders (3, Informative)

TheGratefulNet (143330) | more than 2 years ago | (#38032114)

lots of dials and knobs via midi boxes.

sound cards used to be able to import midi control data.

alternately, if you are into diy, arduino for the pure hardware interface and then send serial rs232 data up to the host (via usb but its still serial inside). you can read knobs via the a/d pins on the arduino and you can read buttons via port expanders or local pins.

Re:midi faders (1)

paysonwelch (2505012) | more than 2 years ago | (#38032606)

Arduino looks a lot like what I had in mind thanks for the tip, I'll definitely be checking it out.

USB MIDI controllers (5, Informative)

LikwidCirkel (1542097) | more than 2 years ago | (#38032116)

Electronic musicians have been demanding high-quality tactile interfaces for many years. There are various USB MIDI controllers on the marked with various arrangements of knobs, buttons, keys and other moving things. Check out M-Audio and Alesis and other big names, and you might get some good ideas.

Re:USB MIDI controllers (4, Informative)

iluvcapra (782887) | more than 2 years ago | (#38032194)

Note well before going down this route: MIDI controllers are optimized for very good time resolution and fast response, but a MIDI continuous controller like a knob will generally only have 7 bits of resolution. Some controllers offer better but the message format isn't always standard. I use the 2-octave keyboard version of a Novation ZERO SL Mk 2 [] , this has plenty of buttons, long faders, and detentless soft-knobs: set up a MIDI router and you're off.

If you have an iPad you can also design your own knob/fader/button/X-Y pad interfaces with an OSC client [] , OSC controls aren't limited to 7 bits and there are plenty of libraries and utilities for handling OSC messages.

Re:USB MIDI controllers (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38032402)

I came here to say this. I work in a graphics research lab and several of my colleagues use these for tuning parameters in shaders and data ranges. It turns out to be wonderfully useful instead of, say, editing an XML file and reloading the application.

tons of choices out there (4, Informative)

OttoErotic (934909) | more than 2 years ago | (#38032120)

X-Keys [] or Monome [] or any one of a million Control Surfaces [] , for starters. Or Arduino obviously. Personally I think that for a lot of applications the best solution is to drop the knobs and switches, take apart an old USB keyboard, and build a custom button-based interface using the matrix board. Interface it with hotkeys built into your app, and this way it shows up as a regular HID without needing specialty drivers.

Re:tons of choices out there (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38032710)

Be wary when re-purposing keyboards like this - they tend not to work well in certain scenarios, such as very-rapid keypresses or multiple keys pressed at once [] . Any 3 keys together will likely work, but it gets iffy beyond that, depending on the keyboard and key combination.

Existing Products: (4, Informative)

Walwark (106442) | more than 2 years ago | (#38032122)

People who use software for music production like tactile controllers as well. There's a range of products out there from the korg nanokontrol (~59US) series up to the euphonix line (~1000US+). Most nowadays use USB and older ones tend to use MIDI. Motorized knobs are hard to come by in this market, but lots of products use LED rings to provide visual feedback since the encoder is endless. Motorized faders on the other hand (is this a lever? lol) are rather plentiful and not too expensive. Start your search with "control surfaces" and possibly some other terms like 'DAW' or 'MIDI' or 'USB'

What you want... (5, Informative)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 2 years ago | (#38032138)

The electronic music/DAW/DJ crowd has been all over this sort of stuff for some years.

Something like the Aurora [] is an open source hardware example; but there are a large number of devices at various price points and levels of openness that boil down to a whole bunch of knobs, buttons, and sliders, with some sort of computer-compatible interface(often MIDI or USB-MIDI device, sometimes with a driver or plugin for Ableton or Max specific to the device).

The audio guys may not map 100% to your requirements; but they have the advantage of being a reasonably large, reasonably active, community with a fair amount of existing hardware available off the shelf.

As an alternative, many contemporary microcontrollers are capable of serving as USB slaves. Something like a teensy [] is pretty cheap and makes it dead easy to turn inputs from buttons and sliders and rotary encoders and things into USB HID keycodes.

Arduino (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38032142)

Try arduino. You can attach all kinds of sensors (including knobs, buttons, etc) and interact with them programmatically. The arduino can even run wireless, as a web server or client. Low cost also - $30 for the board, a little more for the sensors.

Noo! (0)

backslashdot (95548) | more than 2 years ago | (#38032148)

No, don't use knobs .. what's wrong with using a 2nd display .. with a touch based UI (put them on a second screen .. you can buy cheap QVGA touchscreens and drive it with a $25 raspberry pi computer) ..use the color of the knob or slider to depict its value too (red for low, green for high, with shades in between).. don't make it an ugly 2D bitmap .. just use a nice 3D-looking button. The advantage is that you can easily make the knobs that are unneeded disappear when you are not using them. They are also easy to customize. If you need tactile feedback .. use vibration .. if the user is moving the setting beyond that recommended vibrate the screen and/or show a popup (maybe temporarily depending on what they are doing .. have the popup disappear on its own if they revert or its unnecesary etc.).

If you have a bunch of physical knobs, it's hard to tell by glancing what all the knobs are set too .. whereas if you have a second display unit that shows in colorized sliders/knobs .. it's easier.

Re:Noo! (1)

rtb61 (674572) | more than 2 years ago | (#38032300)

More than that, how about a touch screen display ie tablet to control the application whilst the output remains on the main screen, no feedback but readily customisable input.

Re:Noo! (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38032474)

Physical knobs work much better than touch screen 'knobs'. Also, red and green are the worse colors to use. Out of the color blind or partially colored blind people (and there's more than you think), red-green color blindness is highest percentage.

Making dynamic GUI in the sense that the controls move around is a great way to confuse users. They can't build muscle memory when you do that and have to take a moment and think about what they're trying to do instead of just doing it.

Vibration, really? Cheap touchscreens don't vibrate, it sounds like the user doesn't/shouldn't be holding the device (so they won't fell the vibrations only hear them), and if you mean visible vibrations in the GUI that's bad too: the user's finger will be covering the control and watching a whole screen vibrate is annoying (and gives some people headaches). Real controls provide real feedback. Knobs and slides can have notches or bumps in them.

Pop-ups are one of the best ways to annoy users. Avoid them as much as possible.

If you're concerned about needing to customize things after the product is build, create prototypes first. If your final product requires UI changes, it wasn't created properly.

Your way is much more complex with the additional software, sounds like it would cost more money, and requires high tech which has a greater change of breaking or having something go wrong. Stay with KISS, go with the hardware controls.

Re:Noo! (4, Insightful)

sunderland56 (621843) | more than 2 years ago | (#38032590)

No, don't use knobs .. what's wrong with using a 2nd display .. with a touch based UI.

Touch based UIs only work if you are looking at them.

Car analogy: imagine a car with all of the controls on an iPad, which you put on your lap. Try driving while watching the road.

Research why Guitar Hero worked.. (5, Interesting)

HockeyPuck (141947) | more than 2 years ago | (#38032166)

While the Guitar Hero guitar was a PITA for retailers (huge box, took up space), it wasn't the game itself that sold people, nor the controller. It was when people put the controller on, that it conveyed a feeling of "I'm a rock star".

That feeling itself is what made GH a great game. Same holds true to flight sims, driving games with steering wheels and plastic guns. They add an emotion to the game that isn't there with a gamepad/joystick/keyboard+mouse.

I got a chance to meet Kai Huang at a class I was taking and he was telling me that when they brought the controller to the VC guys. The VC guy put on the controller and before even playing the game told Kai and his brother that he was sold on it. The VC guy said, "I don't know how to play guitar, but I feel like a rock star!"

Re:Research why Guitar Hero worked.. (3, Interesting)

MacGyver2210 (1053110) | more than 2 years ago | (#38032574)

I'm waiting for the version of GTA where I get to drive with the wheel and shoot with the gun at the same time. That would be raw.

Re:Research why Guitar Hero worked.. (1)

paysonwelch (2505012) | more than 2 years ago | (#38032692)

HockeyPuck this is exactly the essence of the idea that sparked my initial question. Besides the technical aspects, is it possible to have more of a connection with the system you are interfacing with? What are the implications of this? By using controls that have a finer resolution, tactile response, and break the mold of what we are used to, perhaps they would lead us to new discoveries within our applications that we might not have made otherwise. Discoveries that would occur because we are interfacing with our systems on a new level. Often painters will look at their works in the mirror or upside down to see the work from a new perspective. Perhaps finding ways to interact with technology other than keyboard / mouse can give us a new perspective as developers.

For really custom solutions use an Arduino (2)

Caballero (11938) | more than 2 years ago | (#38032176)

If you really want to do a custom interface and have a little hardware skills you should try an Arduino. You can interface to any hardware device and feed the data to the computer over serial USB.

Hack existing controllers (1)

CityZen (464761) | more than 2 years ago | (#38032188)

The easiest approach to prototype or make a small number of devices is to hack existing devices such as USB game controllers (or HID devices of any sort, really). Tear them open, wire up your own switches and knobs. Then you can typically use the controller's own software to map each button to a keystroke or other action.

Arduino? (1)

echusarcana (832151) | more than 2 years ago | (#38032198)

Depends on the throughput you need.

A cheapo Arduino board ($35) has 6 10-bit analog inputs and is fairly easy to program. You could send the data back to the computer through the USB port (or network or even bluetooth with the right add-on cards). Nice pots would be about $8 each perhaps. The wiring is very simple.

You could use a multiplexing selector arrangement to increase the number of analog inputs at a cost of some complexity. Just be aware that AIs tend to require a settling time.... so like I said - it depends on the throughput.

It would certainly make your project very distinguished. It would take some time to sort this solution out, so allow extra time.

Start with this (5, Informative)

RedLeg (22564) | more than 2 years ago | (#38032200)

Griffin Powermate. Been around a while, affordable. []

Let the net do your shopping to save $bucks.

Lots more out there, this has easy interface via USB.


Re:Start with this (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38032352)

Buy. Hack.

Re:Start with this (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38032792)

I used these on a computer for a visually impaired person (not blind). They work well and are high quality, and there is also an API for them for they are extensible.

Great Idea! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38032202)

As a pilot all I can say is...

There's a reason aircraft pilots prefer graphical "glass" panels. They're versatile, configurable, don't wear out, have no mechanical parts, and can be moved from one MFD (Multi-Function Display) to another with a button.

Yeah you go with your buttons. You have no product. You have no prototype... and already you're trying to make it 30 years obsolete.

There's a reason the original Atari controller failed. You're on the same track.


Re:Great Idea! (1)

sunderland56 (621843) | more than 2 years ago | (#38032560)

Aircraft only use EFIS for secondary controls. The *important* stuff - throttle, control surfaces, flaps - is still done by good old traditional mechanical interfaces.

So, in other words, you're agreeing with the OP.

Re:Great Idea! (1)

gavron (1300111) | more than 2 years ago | (#38032682)

lol high tech is getting modded down! EFIS is used for primary flight controls and has been since the Boeing 767 in the early 1980s. I know the US FAA requires "Steam gauges" to be in the aircraft, they're certainly not used to monitor N1 and TOT! Nobody uses them to monitor fuel and "adjust for altitude" lol. Garmin has recently upgraded its series to allow for touchscreens and remove buttons. I don't know who the OP is anymore but "knobs and buttons" and other mechanical actuators have been soundly rejected by pilots, boaters, and military men.

Try multi-touch interfaces for configurability (1)

toppavak (943659) | more than 2 years ago | (#38032224)

JazzMutant has some pretty nifty stuff [] .

Space Navigator (3, Informative)

Rhalin (791665) | more than 2 years ago | (#38032228) []

Probably not exactly what your looking for, but its top notch hardware with a reasonably nice SDK. Depending on exactly what your app does, the multiple axiseses of control might also be beneficial.

ps3 move or kinect? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38032238)

I've been seeing lots of projects pop up that use the move or kinect interfaces..

Seriously, what is an 'entrepreneur' these days? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38032248)

I've started and sold 3 businesses over the last 10 years and currently own 2. Last year I netted a little over 450k, most of which from selling one of my businesses. I would *never* call myself an entrepreneur, I'm not a Steve Jobs or Bill Gates. I'm a small business owner who knows how to build a business and sell a product. I'm always wary of people who call themselves entrepreneurs, this is a title that should be given by others, not by yourself.

Re:Seriously, what is an 'entrepreneur' these days (-1, Flamebait)

Khyber (864651) | more than 2 years ago | (#38032264)

Entrepreneur: A person who organizes and operates a business or businesses, taking on financial risk to do so.

Most small business owners fit in this category/definition.

Did you graduate high school, oh Dave Thomas?

music tech research toys (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38032254) []

Full Circle (1)

Khyber (864651) | more than 2 years ago | (#38032256)

Analog knobs for digital information.

Well, well.

Best solution (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38032266)

Get run over by a bus.

Rip apart a keyboard (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 2 years ago | (#38032276)

Buy the switches and knobs you need and solder them to the terminals of keys on your destroyed keyboard. Thats the cheap way.

Arduino (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38032286)

Use an arduino or several, you can get up and running faster than probably anything else. A lot of organizations with money will use Labview for that sort of application, but I've tried both and IMO Labview is much less capable and much more expensive.

Also why would u use knobs to interface with large data sets when u can use a scientific computing language like matlab or idl to do it?

OSC is your friend (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38032288)

Many modern USB controller interfaces utilize the OSC interface. There are numerous programming modules for many languages to interface with it. Its commonly used for MIDI style audio data routing, and lighting control. But its perfect for what you're after as well. A Korg Nanokontrol would be an ideal, super cheap and mini knob-and-fader solution.

Programming that utilizes off the shelf interfaces will save you quite a lot, allow you to keep your spec open, and potentially shorten your development time considerably. Or at least provide you with a great proof-of-concept until come VC can come to help fund some fancy custom hardware.

Ahhh, the internet. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38032292)

Ignoring the disabled since the dawn of time.

Wow, I have stuff like this (1)

kamakazi (74641) | more than 2 years ago | (#38032314)

Somewhere in my collection of stuff I have a box of SGI knobs, and I think some buttons as well. SGI made them as serial devices to hook to their workstations, probably in the Indigo days, maybe as recently as Indigo 2.

I think these days you would look either to the music world or the arcade cabinet builders if you were looking for something that would give tactile input and didn't require a lot of hardware hacking.

Well aren't you special (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38032332)

You're inventing Circos? []

Korg nanoKontrol2 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38032338)

Korg nanoKONTROL2 USB midi io, programable, ready to go. use a standard multiplatform midi io lib like rtmidi and you'll be up and running in less then 10 minutes.

Phidgets (2)

rockmuelle (575982) | more than 2 years ago | (#38032344) []

I've used Phidgets in the past for exactly this application (research into UIs for large data). Lots of premade USB controls available and easy to hook up most analog controls to their IO boards. I went to the local electronics shop and bought a slew of buttons, knobs and slides and had no problem hooking them up with phidgets.

For programming, I wrapped the C library in Python using SWIG.


bad idea (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38032350)

Yes because computers need more buttons and knobs!

Arduino Uno as HID (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38032416)

Arduino Uno [] (and make it act as HID) with this shield [] or this shield [] using Buttons/Switches [] , Knobs/Meters [] (only specifying SparkFun because other places I've used with much better ranges require bulk purchases) in/on some like one of these enclosures. []
Everyone can bitch about how the Arduino is a hobbyists tool but after getting the parts I managed to whip up a working and ready-to-be-implemented control board which controls a rotatory camera mount under an aircraft so you can do alot with very little.

DIY MIDI controller source (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38032554)

Check out Livid Industries (, they make musical control surfaces and offer a DIY hardware kit, looks like it supports knobs, faders, and buttons. Bearing in mind the limitations of MIDI (mentioned earlier in this thread) it could be a way to go.

Yeah, get one of these (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38032578)

If you happen to know .net, and are targeting windows pc's, this is the best easiest way to do that
with a little bit of electronics reading, and basic .net skills you cold do that in a jiffy.

ummm.... (1)

sunfly (1248694) | more than 2 years ago | (#38032586)

Lots of levers and knobs? Can i simply say... yikes?

arcade controls (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38032630)


Slashdot Punked Again! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38032658)

WoW LoL. Slashdot Gods have been Punked! and Many times this week ... not to mention the past year! HHHHHHOOOOOOO.

FU Slashdot Gods.


Open Source, of course! (1)

IceFoot (256699) | more than 2 years ago | (#38032674)

I like this idea a lot. And it seems like an excellent project for an Open Source Hardware community to develop a flexible platform for sliders, knobs, and switches to interface with a PC or Mac. Then anyone who wanted sliders, knobs, and/or switches wouldn't have to re-invent the wheel.

I have a physical input device for you... (0)

bigsexyjoe (581721) | more than 2 years ago | (#38032696)


Re:I have a physical input device for you... (1)

paysonwelch (2505012) | more than 2 years ago | (#38032716)

"That's what she said"

Korg NanoKontrol (2)

GPLHost-Thomas (1330431) | more than 2 years ago | (#38032698)

No need to make anything by yourself. Just get a Korg NanoKontrol, and you'll have enough knobs. It's very cheap too: about 30USD.

Expensive (2)

tftp (111690) | more than 2 years ago | (#38032762)

Nobody so far pointed that out. I'm doing electronic R&D and manufacturing in small quantity, and I can tell you that while the R&D for your thingy is ridiculously simple (I can do it within a few days easily) you will lose your shirt on manufacturing it.

Another issue is flexibility. Unless your product is a control for a nuclear power station, which is designed once and then used for 25 years with no changes, you will experience different needs. With GUI changes are easy. With hardware they are between hard and impossible.

Customization is part of that problem. Some people are righties, other are lefties. You can remap controls only if your physical knobs are laid out symmetrically. Are they? What if they aren't, and can't be? Then you have a problem.

All in all, I think hardware controls are good only in a fixed, closed system. You still have limited flexibility because every knob can be mapped to do whatever, but if knob A only rotates 270 degrees but you need at least 3600 degrees (or continuous rotation, with an optical encoder) then you are out of luck.

Re:Expensive (but that's not necessarily bad) (2)

Yoik (955095) | more than 2 years ago | (#38032938)

The op is right, such things are easy to design, but the per copy cost for software controls is near zero while a controller box will cost you a minimum of $100 or so including labor with no upper bound depending on complexity and materials.

However, you will have no piracy issues or weird DRM code to irritate your customers. Also a lot of folks are more willing to pay big bucks for tangible objects. Even when not in use it might be a nice status symbol to have on a desk or in a doctor's office. I see more medical equipment than I want to, and most of it consists of a small computer in a big fancy box with maybe a custom sensor or two.

Re:Expensive (but that's not necessarily bad) (2)

tftp (111690) | more than 2 years ago | (#38033110)

a controller box will cost you a minimum of $100 or so including labor

There are other headaches that a pure software guy is likely to not be aware of. For example, hardware requires shipping; sometimes that is expensive. Hardware wears out and breaks - and tell me about breakage of things that are designed to be handled all day long! Spills of coffee and other funny liquids, hits with massive objects, cords ripped out - he will see it all. Worst of all, he will replace all that stuff essentially for free. Maintenance on this level (below Dell and IBM :-) is not a profit center.

But as you say it's not rare when an otherwise dull business plan is saved by a smart piece of custom hardware that nobody has. Or perhaps not saved (just ask the CueCat about that.) You are right that often hardware is sold where, in truth, no hardware is needed. But it makes many people happy. The seller gets to eat that day, and the buyer knows that the entire set is supported, and if something fails it's not his problem but the manufacturer's. The manufacturer is also comfortable knowing that no weird, bottom rung hardware is plugged into his carefully tuned system.

With regard to DRM, though, it's a mixed bag. First of all, hardware dongles can be had for a few dollars if you want them. But more and more ISVs don't want them. Why? Because they are that very hardware that get lost, breaks, and requires physical handling. The cost of an incremental copy that was zero suddenly becomes $20 + shipping, and that's something that can be tolerated only if your software is sold for much more than that.

Today's computers are loaded with unique IDs. If you want you can get serials of a bunch of serialized parts (CPU, m/b, video card, HDDs) plus MAC address (forgeable but hardly anyone knows how to,) and all the other hardware information that is not unique within the make and model but is different across many customers. If you combine just a few of those identifiers you get an excellent dongle, and you don't need to pay even a cent for it. All you need to do is just a simple RSA code to encrypt and to check signatures, all neatly provided to you within Windows. Your biggest problem is not false positives, it's false negatives.

But, one says, how do I move the license from box to box? It's easier to do by individually licensing each box, or issuing a site license, or maintaining your own license server for floating licenses. Rare is the software that is so impossibly expensive that every single copy has to be counted. And if your s/w is truly that gem, get a dongle, hire a team for support, and still you will be rolling in dough. Everyone else should stop quaking in their boots. Besides, most of specialized software is never cracked; and software that is cracked is cracked regardless of how hard it was supposed to be :-)

Japan (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38032770)

You should go to Japan, or at least cater their market.

phidgets (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38032786)

they doesn't solve the mechanical issues, but you can buy a whole slew of moderately expensive
encoders, sliders, switches, etc with a usb interface. the interface library is available on most/all
platforms..but its not very difficult to reverse engineer the interface if you dont like the way they've
set it up

i've made quick and dirty controllers with them out of aluminum and stashed a little usb hub in there

otoh, instead of paying them $18, I now buy a $2 atmel tiny and a 0.79 encoder

PIC chip (1)

Weaselmancer (533834) | more than 2 years ago | (#38032852)

Do a google search for "pic usb hid" and you'll see dozens of projects that use the 18F series of pic chips configured to be keyboard/mouse like devices. From there it's simple to interface your application to the device. Easy peasy.

I've got a back burner project for something like this for a MAME cabinet I'm planning. Yes, I know you can just buy USB pinboards for mame cabinets already. I want to build my own.

midi controller, for sure (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38032872)

There are loads of easy to use midi libraries for may different languages, and more midi controllers than you can shake a stick at. A simple library to translate incoming midi continuous control messages into UI tweaks wouldn't be too hard. I had something similar working in python a few years ago and it worked like a charm. For fairly little money, it is easy to find a midi controller with at least 10 sliders, 10 buttons, and 10 knobs but the available variations are nearly endless. Devices are usually mappable so you can set any available knob to any arbitrary controller and channel.

Jog/Shuttle control (1)

steveha (103154) | more than 2 years ago | (#38033028)

Others have already mentioned MIDI stuff, flight sim stuff, and the Griffin Powermate. But nobody has mentioned a jog/shuttle controller yet.

Depending on what you are doing, one or more of these might be useful. Contour has two different models and I am sure there are other brands out there too. []


Putting it together (1)

Animats (122034) | more than 2 years ago | (#38033052)

Others have described where to get the knobs, sliders, switches, and indicators, and how to hook them up. For the panel itself, there's Front Panel Express [] , which makes nice looking front panels with any desired cutouts and permanent lettering.

If this is to be a commercial product, the device should present itself as a collection of USB Human Interface Devices. That spec covers everything from a steering wheel to a touchpad.

I personally think this is rather retro, but it's certainly buildable.

CMR/I (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38033090)

Dr Bruce Chubb created a Computer Model Railroad Interface a number of years ago. The controller board connects to a computer via a serial link. The all-in-one board has a set of input and output pins. It is expandable as far as you want to go. Many modelers use it to read switches from and control lights on train control boards. There is also a backplane version with room for many 32 bit input and output cards. These systems have been adapted to many uses other than model railroads. They are even used in some industrial applications. The circuit boards and extensive documentation are readily available. They also have an active group on Yahoo.

LabView (0)

flyingfsck (986395) | more than 2 years ago | (#38033102)

...and then when you done with your control panel, you can set up Labview to turn the hardware into software again...

Simple,easy, cheap - joystick port USB adaptor (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38033286)

Each inexpensive usb to old fashioned joystick adapter lets you directly connect four knobs or sliders and four buttons. Some adapters have two posts, so that's eight on / off buttons and eight sliders or adjustment knobs connected through one adapter.

No connecting electronics are required, the pots are wired directly to the port. Calibration utilities are either included in the OS or ready to find, as are functions for reading the inputs.

For dozens of controls, mido or a DMX lighting desk connected to an RS-485 high speed serial card.

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