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Arduino-Based GIMX Project Beats Console-Peripheral Obsolescence

Gareth Halfacree

GIMX with Logitech G27 Wheel

Anyone who works with technology will be familiar with the term 'planned obsolescence,' a revenue-driving technique whereby successive generations of a product lose compatibility with their previous generation counterparts - and, in extreme cases, are built with a definite life-span in mind by, for example, swapping out hard-wearing components for parts which will fail sooner. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the world of video games, where buying a new console typically requires the user to buy entirely new peripherals as well.

Hacker Mathieu Laurendeau isn't happy with the status quo, though, and his answer is to turn to microcontrollers for the answer. Mat has been working on a project called the Game Input MultipleXer, or GIMX, which takes a handful of cheap off-the-shelf components - a USB-to-TTL serial adapter, an Arduino Leonardo or compatible microcontroller, and an optional Bluetooth adapter - and turns them into a dongle capable of connecting otherwise obsolete controllers to modern gaming consoles.

The design isn't quite standalone, however. While old, eight-bit consoles typically accepted nothing more than some switch inputs on a dumb nine-pin port, modern consoles use USB or Bluetooth for connectivity and typically build a form of digital rights management (DRM) into the controller which prevents manufacturers from building third-party clone controllers without paying a licensing fee. To get around this, there's a software component to GIMX which has to run on a PC that sits between the controller and the adapter dongle. For gamers that don't have access to a Windows- or Linux-based PC, there's support for the Raspberry Pi - and, potentially, other low-cost microcomputers capable of running a Debian-based Linux distribution, such as the sub-£10 Orange Pi PC.

Recently, Mat updated GIMX to add support for Logitech force-feedback racing wheels, which allows gamers playing racing titles on the PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360 or Xbox One to hook up low-cost PC steering wheel and pedal sets in place of expensive console-specific wheels while still receiving full force feedback support - meaning that the wheel will actively respond to in-game events, such as twisting if your wheels lock up or juddering as you hit a bumpy stretch of road.

If you're interested in the hardware design, Mat has published a build guide which supports a number of low-cost 5V development boards and USB-TTL adapters.

The application gets data from the peripherals (mice, keyboards and joysticks) and sends controls to the game console over Bluetooth or USB. Other controls such as gesture or voice are possible through the use of external software that emulate peripherals.

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