Of all the ways to catastrophically break a Sega Rally Championship Arcade cabinet, Artica's hack at Portuguese hackathon Codebits earlier this month must surely go down as the most creative. With the addition of an Arduino board and an XBee RF module, the cabinet was made to race two camera-equipped radio-control trucks around the floor at Codebits VI.
Removing all the electronics from the cabinets (with all due reverence paid, one trusts, to the once mighty Model 2 board inside), the Artica team set about connecting the steering wheel, pedals, gears and buttons up to an Arduino board.
"There is a strange beauty in this sturdy mechanical systems," Artica writes on its blog entry about the hack. "They are so well engineered and one can feel they were pushed into the limits through the years, and are still able to be pushed a lot more."
With the addition of an XBee wireless radio frequency module, the cabinet is ready, in theory, to communicate with a radio-controlled truck. In practice, the truck needed to be modified with a receiver allowing signals from the Arduino board to be mapped to the truck's wheels, throttle and a video switch.
Naturally, to be able to control the cars using an arcade cabinet, the setup needs to be wired for vision. In a fitting nod to the arcade racers of yore, the trucks were fitted with two cameras, front and rear, affording different views according to racer preference. Artica reports that only hardened racers braved the front-mounted camera – and though I favored the (unhacked) Ridge Racer series in the 90s, I can relate.
Curiously, it turned out to be the video system that proved the greatest technical hurdle. Physically connecting an external video sourced to the cabinet's aging cathode ray tube screens proved too burdensome, so the team elected to replace the screens – with Mitsai CRT replacements.
In the end the hack proved a great success, standing up to continual use for the duration of the event, with the only significant downtime devoted to recharging the batteries of the RC trucks. Hats off.