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Ask Slashdot: Physical Input Devices For Developers? 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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Ask Slashdot: Physical Input Devices For Developers?

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  • Go and hire someone who can do Human Factors designs for user interfaces.
    • Re:Human Factors (Score:5, Interesting)

      by kiwimate ( 458274 ) on Friday November 11, 2011 @10:54PM (#38032156) Journal

      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.

      • by Anonymous Coward

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

      • Re:Human Factors (Score:5, Interesting)

        by paysonwelch ( 2505012 ) on Saturday November 12, 2011 @12:23AM (#38032576) Homepage
        @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 (Score:5, Informative)

          by walshy007 ( 906710 ) on Saturday November 12, 2011 @04:06AM (#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.

        • @kiwimate

          Please stop that, this is not twitter. We know you are replying to kiwimate because... your post is a reply to him. Doing this on threaded discussions is pointless and interrupts the flow.

        • by wmeyer ( 17620 )

          The better solution than a potentiometer is a shaft encoder, most of which provide two pulses in quadrature, thereby allowing you to sense direction in the lead-lag relation of the two pulses, and avoid the need for an ADC.

        • by CharlieG ( 34950 )

          I'd say close, but today, I don't know if I'd actually look at a potentiometer (pot). Pots tend to be noisy (or get that way) and you have the A/D issues that go with it - there are encoders that look/feel like good pots (sliders or rotary), just get one with the right number of counts, and go at it - of course, you'll have to play with "do I want to mimic linear or audio taper" and the like, but it's really just "a small matter of code"

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

      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 (Score:4, Interesting)

        by 0100010001010011 ( 652467 ) on Saturday November 12, 2011 @01:28AM (#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.

        • 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.

          • They're really serious about getting people on MSPs. Just the USB bridge and micro controller are more than twice the price of the whole board. I'll have to remember that next time I order something.
            • The only thing that sucks is TI thinks "Cheap" is all the Arduino is about. I'm going with Arduino since I'm finally ready to get into it. IDE on all platforms, ease of use. People have got it on Linux and OS X and Windows has 2 "commercial" IDEs that have limitations.

              The Launchpad is straight C, meaning you get to set all the pins in hex. BUT if you know what you're doing, it looks awesome.

              They would have taken the market overnight if they had everything Arduino had.

              • A simple macro would let you set and clear pins individually. OUTn &= 1 << x or something. I like to program in assembly anyway, so it doesn't matter to me. I have to laugh every time they say RISC though. It's based on the PDP-11.
    • 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: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

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

        • actually an excellent point. Oh goddammit.
        • by dintech ( 998802 )

          Speaking of which, ipads are used quite well in Music Sequencing software. Check out touchOSC. []

          You can turn the ipad into a custom control device connected to your PC via wifi.

    • It is for his personal use but I agree it is a bad idea for most people. Consider something as simple as text editing. The interphase for MS Word with all toolbars enabled uses most of the screen. Any updates to the software would be a fiscal nightmare for the hardware update.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 11, 2011 @10:43PM (#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.

    • by fyngyrz ( 762201 ) on Saturday November 12, 2011 @12:17AM (#38032546) Homepage Journal

      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.

      • 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 r

      • by iluvcapra ( 782887 ) on Saturday November 12, 2011 @01:02AM (#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.

      • by NormalVisual ( 565491 ) on Saturday November 12, 2011 @01:43AM (#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.
        • by fyngyrz ( 762201 )

          FWIW (anecdote is not data), my experience, based on 5 decades in the music biz, has been exactly the opposite. I have two Behringer mixers, a 32-channel and a 12-channel. The 32-channel serves me as a mixdown layer in conjunction with my 32-channel Mackie mixer and our digital recorder, which means 5-days-a-week duty; the 12-channel is in use every day with my computer system. Both have served me for years with no problems at all. I have a Behringer guitar amp, also works great, though I've not put all tha

          • I definitely agree that anecdotes aren't data, and all we're really doing here is swapping stories. I've only got three decades working in music as a side gig, but I do have two decades in software engineering and electrical design and repair. I'm glad that you've not had any problems, but I stand by my observations. My MX9000's power supply failed and required me to replace the aforementioned undersized voltage regulators (although the mixer itself appears to be built well), and my 2442 started smoking
      • 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.

    • 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

    • by dslbrian ( 318993 ) on Saturday November 12, 2011 @01:41AM (#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.

    • by Comen ( 321331 )

      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

  • by Anonymous Coward

    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]

  • midi faders (Score:4, Informative)

    by TheGratefulNet ( 143330 ) on Friday November 11, 2011 @10:49PM (#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.

  • USB MIDI controllers (Score:5, Informative)

    by LikwidCirkel ( 1542097 ) on Friday November 11, 2011 @10:49PM (#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.
    • by iluvcapra ( 782887 ) on Friday November 11, 2011 @11:01PM (#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.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      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.

  • by OttoErotic ( 934909 ) on Friday November 11, 2011 @10:50PM (#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.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      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.

      • If you are concerned about very-rapid keypresses, or multiple keys pressed at once, you want a MIDI keyboard (as in typically anywhere from 49 to 88 black and white keys, just like on a piano). Very rapid keypresses and multiple keys pressed at once is PRECISELY what piano music is all about.

        If you are REALLY dedicated, find an old Sequential Circuits Prophet T8. It had individual key velocity, individual key pressure sensing.

        Alternatively, you might look at [], and play

  • Existing Products: (Score:4, Informative)

    by Walwark ( 106442 ) on Friday November 11, 2011 @10:50PM (#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... (Score:5, Informative)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Friday November 11, 2011 @10:53PM (#38032138) Journal
    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.
  • 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

    • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

      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! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 12, 2011 @12:01AM (#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! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by sunderland56 ( 621843 ) on Saturday November 12, 2011 @12:26AM (#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.

  • by HockeyPuck ( 141947 ) on Friday November 11, 2011 @10:55PM (#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!"

    • by MacGyver2210 ( 1053110 ) on Saturday November 12, 2011 @12:23AM (#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.

    • 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
  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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

  • Start with this (Score:5, Informative)

    by RedLeg ( 22564 ) on Friday November 11, 2011 @11:02PM (#38032200) Journal

    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.


  • JazzMutant has some pretty nifty stuff [].
  • Space Navigator (Score:3, Informative)

    by Rhalin ( 791665 ) on Friday November 11, 2011 @11:10PM (#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.

  • Sounds almost like a (musical) synthesizer controller is what you need.
    e.g. something like: []

  • Analog knobs for digital information.

    Well, well.

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

  • 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.

  • Physical dials and switches aren't exactly a new idea... []

  • by rockmuelle ( 575982 ) on Friday November 11, 2011 @11:32PM (#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.


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

  • by GPLHost-Thomas ( 1330431 ) on Saturday November 12, 2011 @12:57AM (#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.
  • by tftp ( 111690 ) on Saturday November 12, 2011 @01:12AM (#38032762) Homepage

    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.

    • 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

      • by tftp ( 111690 )

        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

        • The idea of playing with electronic circuit boards and joysticks to create a cool avionics-like interface is really cool. But in reality the application of this will become a nightmare.

          I would suggest to the OP to stick with the keyboard. It already has more than 100 keys with tactile feedback, everybody is used to it, and they are cheap to replace.

          What he could do is create a keyboard sheet like those available in early flight simulators. That way he could lay all the controls on the keyboard (and leave th

  • by Anonymous Coward

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

  • 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.

  • 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. []


  • 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.

  • ...and then when you done with your control panel, you can set up Labview to turn the hardware into software again...
  • Does this help ? [] Descent and Quake II do are "large data sets", aren't they ?
  • This might work on the cheap, but you'd have to be able to figure out how to get it to work with your software: []
  • Let your interfaces speak MIDI and experiment with some conrollers, they start at about $50 (Korg Nanocontrol). There's not much risk in trying as MIDI has been there for a long time.
  • MIDI-over-USB controllers are cheap as dirt these days. MIDI itself is an 8bit serial protocol.
  • Audio recording control surfaces already have the tactiles that you would want. All you would really need to do is to subvert its core purpose to your needs. This is a somewhat pricey but very popular device: []
  • MIDI Controllers are definitely the cheapest and easiest. Livid uses a Class-Compliant driver, so you don't need any drivers. The Code Controller is nice and small for Desktop Use, but has 32-EncoderKnobs all with push-buttons. One really helpful apps for MIDI Controllers on Windows is: -Bome's MIDI Translator because it'll allow you to interface your controller with programs that don't accept MIDI Input. I haven't found a Linux/Mac equivalent, yet, but I'm sure someone's done it!
  • I have a Roland Midi controller PG-300 designed for a 1970's Roland Alpha-Juno2 analog/digital synth keyboard. It is an optional box with 1 push button and 36 sliders customized for the Alpah-Juno2. Its not for sale, just an example of a controller with lots of physical controls. Visit a professional music store, you might find just the controller you want used.
  • Knobs, levers, buttons, tons of them in a 20+ year old standard. You can get USB-based MIDI controllers for $100-$500 depending on how much you want and need, but I think something like the Akai MDP-16 or MDP-24 would be a really good starting place. Faders, knobs and large buttons -- all unmarked -- for you to start with.

    Maybe you can make some kind of cardboard cutout with labels that you can overlay on top to make it look custom and match the UI of your app.
  • I sometimes too want to use a tactile UI in data modelling applications with fast moving output signals. Knobs and sliders are quite intuitive ways to "dial in" biases, levels and offsets, or to navigate timelines and playback velocities or any other such parameters.

    However, it is extremely rare for a software application to command a sufficient premium to justify the price of adding a physical controller with it. The price must cover the upfront development cost which is often ten times more than novice p

  • .... steampunk crowd.

  • Many people have already pointed you to prefab solutions like you asked for, but some of them are a bit pricey; If you are going to have "lots of knobs" and the phidgets encoder gives you a single USB knob at 20 bucks, you might want to considering building your own or contacting an Arduino enthusiast who can pull off a custom model. As you can see, There are plenty of AVR based USB projects out there []. A single ATMega has 6 a/d converters which you can use for rotary knobs, and at least 8 binary inputs whic

FORTRAN is the language of Powerful Computers. -- Steven Feiner