6DOF joystick crams a cockpit's worth of controls into one hand
It almost goes without saying that flying aircraft or spacecraft is tricky – even in games. The third dimension really complicates things, and traditional controllers or joysticks can only really provide half the puzzle. Now, a small startup called Sublight Dynamics has unveiled a prototype for a one-handed joystick with six degrees of freedom.
If you’re driving a car (in real life or in a game), you’re only worrying about two degrees of movement: you can go forwards/backwards, and left/right. But once you leave the ground behind, movement becomes far more complex. Suddenly, you have up/down to contend with too, as well as three rotational axes – pitch, roll and yaw.
Controllers that combine all six degrees of freedom (6DOF) have eluded enthusiasts. But now, Sublight is showing off a new design for a 6DOF joystick that can be used with one hand, and comes packed with an array of other buttons, levers, triggers and dials.
Rather than sitting on a flat surface, the 6DOF joystick is designed to clamp on the edge of a desk. There, a user can simply push or pull the handle in the desired direction – up, down, left, right, forward, backward, as well as tilting and turning it to make use of the rotation axes.
The joystick is kitted out with various force sensors that tell it which direction it’s being moved in. That design choice apparently makes input changes smoother and small adjustments easier. Plus that means there are no bearings or other parts that can wear out. It’s designed to be operated with one hand, whether you’re a lefty or righty thanks to a swappable palm rest.
To fit a cockpit’s worth of commands into one hand, the 6DOF joystick is fitted with no less than 32 customizable inputs. That includes a dual-stage main trigger, forward bump trigger, thumb button, three two-way levers that your index fingers can reach, a two-way pinky trigger, two four-way sticks, an eight-way stick, and two analog knobs.
All of these inputs are completely customizable in Sublight’s own settings program, which lets players tweak things like sensitivity, output curve shape, dead zones, axis inversion and axis output order. Interestingly, these settings are stored on the joystick itself, so you won’t have to re-enter everything if you plug it into someone else’s computer.
The joystick outputs via USB, and can apparently work natively with any PC program that supports six axes of analog input. So far, the team has tested it mainly with games like Elite Dangerous, Star Citizen and Overload. Besides gaming, Sublight says the 6DOF joystick could be useful in robotics and VR.
For now, Sublight Dynamics is funding the 6DOF joystick through Kickstarter, where it’s already raised over US$17,000 of its $40,000 goal, with 27 days remaining on the campaign. Pledges start at $985 for the joystick, an arm rest plate and a left-handed palm rest, or $1,050 for all that plus a clamp.
That is admittedly expensive, but the team says that this is a limited first run of only 65 units, which will be assembled by hand and undergo individual testing. If this is successful, a second, much larger run is planned to take place later next year, where the price is expected to drop. Backers of this campaign will get 50 percent off the next batch, if they were to order a second one.
If this first run does come to pass, shipping is planned for March 2020. Check out the 6DOF joystick in action in the video below.
Source: Sublight Dynamics