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Need help converting 2DOF pneumatic sims to SimTools...

Discussion in 'Commercial Simulators and Peripherie' started by saucer78, Jan 24, 2017.

  1. saucer78

    saucer78 Member

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    Hey all,

    I started a thread in the commercial section, but might get more help in here since I have no idea what I'm doing. I've been in touch with the creators of these sims I have "inherited" but don't want to bug them to death and press my luck with their gracious tech support.

    These machines are currently using proprietary motion control boards created by a little outfit, j-Omega Electronics in the UK. I have pictures of the boards, but am not sure if I should post them without John's permission. However, they seem to be MIDI controllers, which I had no idea could be useful outside of music! The controllers connect to my PCs via serial connection, where they're fed data from a basic motion control program, also created by a private party.

    I'm wanting to upgrade the sims to handle VR, so that I can run Unity-based experiences, rather than the basic 3D mpeg videos we show now. For this, I'll need new motion control software, and it looks like SimTools 2.0 might fit the bill. Unfortunately, I cannot get the legacy version to connect to the sims. I've tried every combination of settings, but get no response.

    So, it looks like I'll need to convert the motion control boards to Arduino, SCN, or JRK, correct?

    Where on Earth do I begin?

    Here's an image of the current valve control, opening and closing the three pneumatic actuators, which operate on just two potentiometers: [​IMG]

    • Does anyone know if this is possible?
    • Which microcontroller might be best for this conversion?
    • Where do I begin to learn about how to wire such an interface?

    I'm a bit overwhelmed here, so thanks for any help at all!
    Last edited: Apr 10, 2017
  2. Ads Master

    Ads Master

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  3. noorbeast

    noorbeast VR Tassie Devil Staff Member Moderator Race Director

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    I am sorry but this does not belong in the DIY section and the admins @Pit and @RaceRay will just have to move it again.
  4. saucer78

    saucer78 Member

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    Damn, I just can't figure this place out :(

    Where should this be posted?
  5. SeatTime

    SeatTime Well-Known Member

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    You have been moved to the right area, good luck in your commercial endeavors.
  6. Bernd Manger

    Bernd Manger Active Member

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    I doubt that the pneumatic part will be useful in combination with a simulator for flying/driving.
    There are obviously only on/off valves used. That will surely result in a stuttering movement of the sim.
    The only chance for sensitive movements is the use of pneumatic servo-valves.
    But then the controller boards are also useless.
    Last edited: Feb 4, 2017
  7. saucer78

    saucer78 Member

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    Thanks for the reply.

    The machines are already in operation, and have been for some time. These are being developed for out of home entertainment, and not accurate, home-enthusiast racing sims like the majority of projects here. I keep hearing that pneumatic valves are no good, but have been working great for this application.

    Anyway, yes, the MIDI language seems a strange choice, but hopefully I might be able to find a way to bridge the connection between SimTools and the existing boards, as has been suggested elsewhere.

    I would have no problem replacing the current MIDI boards as well, but am having trouble finding a starting point for learning about integrating a microcontroller into a setup like this.
  8. yobuddy

    yobuddy Well-Known Member Staff Member Moderator SimAxe Beta Tester SimTools Developer Gold Contributor

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    Can you post a picture of the sim itself?
    Is it 2dof?
    I'm sure you could probably connect the valves to an arduino, but you would have to write your own code for it.
    (as no one else has this valve setup)
    • Agree Agree x 1
  9. Bernd Manger

    Bernd Manger Active Member

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  10. saucer78

    saucer78 Member

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    Well, two :(

    Sorry if I'm not finding the right places to post, but I'm confused by the segregation of threads here. Technically, I am commercial, but these sims are in no way ready for market and are still very much DIY. I assumed the commercial section was basically an advertising forum, for products that are ready-to-sell. Apologies!

    Anyhoooo....

    @yobuddy I cannot currently get actual photos of the sims' components, as they're covered in their white shells, like in the renderings.

    Here's a decent model I made to show the basic operation though:

    [​IMG]

    And here is one in action, at the first public demo.

    They are 2DOF, with one large pneumatic actuator controlling the pitch, and two smaller actuators (connected to a bike chain and sprocket) controlling the roll, at about 90psi. There is one pot for the pitch and one for the yaw. There is also a quick-release valve, that may be triggered via one of four extra effects controls, which will immediately release most of the pressure to give the rider a good drop/heave effect to add some excitement.

    As you may already understand, the valve board controls the air in and out of each actuator, making them move up or down to a certain distance, depending on the position of the rotary pots. From what I've gathered here, this "all or nothing" movement is not desired for accurate racing simulation, but is proving to be a very exciting and, still, somewhat accurate format for roller coasters and similarly styled rides. The inventor, Walt Noon, writes a bit about the way he's fudged the program to be more responsive here.

    So, currently the software is a lightweight program written in Visual Basic. It allows for programming of new rides via joystick input, which is then replayed in conjunction with a video file, I'm assuming much like the upcoming Video Ride Creator/Player for 2.0.

    So I'd love to license a couple of copies of SimTools 2.0, to help me replay VR media, rather than the current 3D mpegs, but the control boards are not communicating with the legacy version of SimTools I have installed. Upon further investigation, it appears that the boards use MIDI communication! I've emailed the creator, John Wale, again and am waiting for another reply, but did notice in his last email that rather than completely replacing his boards, he said it would be possible to "write an interpreter function which would, say, take data from SimTools as UDP packets from localhost and convert them to VF-2000 commands." (VF-2000 was a working title for the sims.)

    So I'm not sure if it would even require more hardware! As of my last email, John was too busy to tackle this anytime soon, but if it's something I can find a tutorial for, I'm willing to learn. However, if this is going to be WAY over the head of a n00b like myself, I might be interested in contracting someone to tackle this for me, since I'm hoping to make this conversion by the end of May at the latest. Maybe I/someone could even write a SimTools plugin for this??

    I understand that I'm a little fish in a big pond, and that I'll need to be patient if I want free advice, but if - if - this business takes off for me, I'll be purchasing SimTools licenses for every new sim that I build for myself, and could even work in a requirement for any new sales to do the same, in order to run my VR media.

    Thanks again guys! :thumbs
    Last edited: Jan 26, 2017
  11. yobuddy

    yobuddy Well-Known Member Staff Member Moderator SimAxe Beta Tester SimTools Developer Gold Contributor

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    The problem is only John Wale knows how to control your sim atm.
    Taking data from SimTools UDP packets and convert them to VF-2000 commands would be easiest for John Wale in this case I think.
    yobuddy
    • Agree Agree x 3
  12. yobuddy

    yobuddy Well-Known Member Staff Member Moderator SimAxe Beta Tester SimTools Developer Gold Contributor

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    You may ask him how to send commands to your simulator.
    And what the valid inputs can be. (like the range for each axis, example 0-255 with 127 as center)
    Anyway, see what he says.
    yobuddy
  13. saucer78

    saucer78 Member

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    Thanks for the help yobuddy!

    Luckily, John replied last night just to let me know he's going to hammer-out a proper email this weekend. I went ahead and sent him the tutorial for 2.0 from the plugins forum though, in case it will guide his thinking.

    If I have your attention, I have one more question, to hopefully calm my nerves: do you know if it will be possible - or possible through a plugin - to coordinate the playback of a Unity3D experience alongside hand-coded data from the Video Ride Creator coming in 2.0? See, these simulators are not suited for exact reproduction of telemetry data from a game, so (according to their inventor, Walt Noon) I'm probably NOT going to want to output precise positional data from a game, or in my case, a roller coaster or whatever I create in Unity. It will be much more entertaining if I'm able to program how it should "feel" rather than how it would actually behave. Does that make sense? There's also the issue of programming in the drop-valve and wind fans... will the Video Ride Creator you're working on include options for effects like these?

    Thanks again :)
  14. saucer78

    saucer78 Member

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    Hey there again yobuddy!

    I just read over my last message from you above (sorry it's been a few months, but I've just recently been back in contact with John Wale) and can only offer this much right now: apparently John's boards are somewhat based on MIDI, but use RS-232 serial protocol to communicate with the PCs, at 115,200 baud. The chairs use one linear potentiometer on each axis, each with a range of 0-1023 (even though we only utilize about 50% of this range). John says most of the real-time control function is on the controller board itself - the PC just has to 'fire and forget' position data.

    I was hoping that since the two of you were both programming gurus, you would be able to come to a consensus on possible compatibility much quicker than I could, since I'm a pretty ignorant liaison. I was hoping you could simply tell John, "SimTools was written in [x language] and communicates with motion control boards using [x protocol]." But I guess this stuff isn't that cut and dry.

    Unfortunately, John said he's a bit stumped without seeing some of the code you use for SimTools. Is this something you might be willing to share with him?

    Here is a screenshot of the current interface/calibration software if it might help you, and here's a link to a paper from Walt Noon regarding the creation of these machines (which contains some of the original source code). I'm afraid this is all of the info I can offer personally, without bugging John or Walt again...

    If you might have time to address my questions from the old post above, regarding the possibility of SimTools integration with our system, I'd be happy to purchase a commercial license and can hopefully help John get to work on a plugin!
    Last edited: Apr 7, 2017
  15. noorbeast

    noorbeast VR Tassie Devil Staff Member Moderator Race Director

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    If you add an @ to the user name that user will then get an automatic notification about the post, like this: @yobuddy
  16. yobuddy

    yobuddy Well-Known Member Staff Member Moderator SimAxe Beta Tester SimTools Developer Gold Contributor

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    @saucer78 ,
    Ok, so it looks like the interface is 10bit.
    So now all we need to know is what we send thru the serial port it set the current position.
    In other word, what does the 'fire and forget' position command look like?
    I would ask him "what would I send thru the com port to center the rig?".
    The answer could show us how to command the rig I believe.
    yobuddy
  17. saucer78

    saucer78 Member

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    Thanks so much @yobuddy!

    I've written John back with these questions and even linked him to this thread. As I told him, this is something I don't understand as well, but am eager to learn about. My only experience with "programming" simulators in the past involved a very easy to read text file, consisting of commands to move actuators as much as every tenth of a second. I have absolutely no idea what "language" this platform is speaking though!

    But I need to know, before we get in too deep here, if you believe a plugin written by John, combined with your Video Ride Creator, could allow me to run pre-programmed motion alongside a "live" 3D, on-rails environment, created in Unity?

    I understand that SimTools is meant to pull live telemetry data from a game, and that its upcoming companion - Video Ride Creator - is meant to allow for the recording of similar data. But, is this recorded data meant to only be replayed alongside an equally finite video, or can we finagle a way for it to be relayed alongside a live 3D environment from Unity?

    Thanks again for any help!
  18. yobuddy

    yobuddy Well-Known Member Staff Member Moderator SimAxe Beta Tester SimTools Developer Gold Contributor

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    @saucer78 ,
    If you make a "live" 3D, on-rails environment created in Unity, you should be able to use a normal game plugin to collect and run the sim.
    I don't believe you will need a pre programed cueing file.
    I think there is a unity plugin around here, but I have not played with it yet buddy.
    yobuddy
  19. noorbeast

    noorbeast VR Tassie Devil Staff Member Moderator Race Director

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  20. yobuddy

    yobuddy Well-Known Member Staff Member Moderator SimAxe Beta Tester SimTools Developer Gold Contributor

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  21. saucer78

    saucer78 Member

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    Yes, thank you @yobuddy. I looked into this a while back, but after speaking with Walt Noon and gaining more experience with this platform, I've come to understand why his "sim theory" for these specific machines involves the perception of motion rather than true telemetry output. At many points during our rides, we program the chairs to offer a "feeling" of movement/acceleration, rather than what a game might accurately output.

    Even though Walt originally developed these machines to work with Microsoft Flight Simulator, they have evolved to offer a MUCH wilder ride for entertaining customers, rather than an accurate simulation experience (which I do understand differs from the focus of the community here).

    So I would be happy to test telemetry output from a Unity plugin, but I fear that without great control over its settings, we would wind-up with a ride that hits too hard at times, or simply feels unrealistic to a rider. I'm no expert though... so you're advice is taken to heart.