Computer Cockpit Simulator

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Asm5

A while back (quite a while actually) I decided to build a custom arcade gaming machine. I’m finally sending in a writeup since people still ask me from time to time about a final report. At the start, I brainstormed lots of ideas before narrowing down to what I actually wanted. Here are a few of the features that I started out with in my design:

  • Fully Enclosed

    I debated this one for a while but figured that as long as I was building it myself, then I may as well build it well and also in a way that would eliminate most outside distractions. Protection from a dusty apartment was much needed bonus.

  • Air Ducting and Ventilation

    A complementary requirement for a fully enclosed system. This added a few problems that I did not think to consider or even realize until after I was almost finished..

  • Actual Seat From a Real Car

    It looks nice, but more importantly it is very comfortable.

  • Wide Arm Rests

    Again, it’s all about the comfort. I don’t want to feel crowded, and the extra width means I can possibly add extra features later, such as a side throttle control, or a nice gear shifter, etc.

  • Surround Sound Speaker System

    Anything less would be too minimal for this project.

  • Dual Use of Steering Wheel or Joystick

    I don’t want to be limited to having it being just a race car or just a flight cockpit. I couldn’t find any existing solutions that seemed to handle this, so I came up with my own idea for this feature. It has a hinged shelf section, allowing the racing wheel to fold down and out of the way easily, without having to unclamp and then store it.

  • Movable and Portable

    This may have been the trickiest thing to implement. It’s not exactly going to parties, but I wanted to be able to build it outside, then get it moved inside the house, and of course back out again someday, too.

How It All Came Together

I would have liked to have been able to scan my original design papers that I drafted by hand and start out by showing them first, but during the course of building, I kept them outside for reference and they are now forever lost. Instead, I’ll begin with the first picture I thought to take.

Seat

I got this seat out of a Subaru XT6 from a wrecking yard. I started out in search of a driver-side seat with complete height and tilt controls, but became less picky as I realized that the clean selections were quite limited.

The other catch was that when I was lucky enough to find one in good condition, I could not get a parts dealer to sell it by itself and split up a good pair, so I grabbed what I could and came out okay. Incidentally, the seat is quite comfy. I measured lengths and angles, then cut boards to mount the seat level on a wood frame.

Frame

I had a couple of earlier pictures that I took before this one, but they are just partials of this one as I made progress. Hopefully, one of the first things that you notice in the photo is the shelf that I implemented for the steering wheel. I just scribed the pattern and then cut it with a jigsaw. I added a couple of surface-mount sliding bolts underneath to hold it up and keep it locked in place when in use.

While still clamped on, there is actually enough room for the wheel to completely fold underneath. Once there, door magnets latch to hold it out of the way. There is room for the joystick to sit on the shelf next to racing wheel, or it can be placed in the lower foot area. An old 4X CD-ROM drive sits on the left side of the shelf, and next to it is a removable drive bay. I intentionally chose the old 4X drive because unlike newer high-speed models, this one is virtually silent during operation, yet still fast enough for the purposes of this project.

The panel area to the right was originally going to get the power and reset switch, but I found a better solution later on. A nice thing about the drive bay is it that in addition to easy hard drive access, it was also to double as showing the LED lights, both for power and for disk access. Actually, I changed this feature later also.
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Brent Anderson

Construction materials to this point were mostly 1x6s, a few 1x4s, some particle board, and a couple of sturdy 6-foot long shelves for the bottom. The clearance between the inner side walls is about 24″, which is just right as this is what most seats will need, including the one that I picked up to use. The overall width then is about three feet. Using the 1x6s instead of 1x4s gave me the elbow room and extra space that I wanted from my original features list – better to have too much than too little.

There is room for the subwoofer to fit behind the seat and the computer will go in at the bottom front. I planned to add a bit of sound insulation of some type behind that board down there. Two L-shaped pieces, built like the one sitting in the center of the shelf, go in the slots on either side of the monitor brackets (the space is framed for a 19″ monitor), creating a recessed area for the speakers.

Above those areas will be the air vents, fed with ducting from a pair of fans mounted above the back of the monitor. The plan for the cockpit’s opening was also added at this stage, a door approximately 4 feet long on the left side but also including part of the top, with the hinge two feet in so that when open the whole thing will extend to be about six feet tall. Like this:

Diagram

Looking from the back, and not to scale.

Here you can see some more progress:

Front

In this picture, the rest of the monitor area has now been framed and painted with the vents added. I picked up a dual window fan at Wal-Mart and then cut it in half so that the fans do not sit together directly above the rear of the monitor. Unfortunately, the fans do sit slightly above the surface of the simulator, so I altered the design by deciding to box around that area later and then put an air filter in place above them.

The back panels of the speaker cubby holes are still missing in this photo. The whole monitor section actually lifts off from the lower section, which will allow me to finish painting the adjoining areas of the bottom section with ease. It also remains freely attached later on to help with moving everything inside and out as needed.

Back

This is clearly the back section. Like the monitor section, the entire back lifts off in one piece. Large bolts are attached which drop through holes in the bottom section and are then tightened into place. The small shelves, if you can see them, are for the rear speakers.

Fans

This is just a shot of the dual fans. Separating the fans meant rewiring them, thus adding some minor electrical work to my project as well.

Inside Shelf

Painting is done on this section and there is a better view of the shelf. The inside panels are just sitting in place, unattached at this point.

Inside Low

Another shot, and here you can see that the shelf is tucked away. I was relieved to finally test the magnets and see that it held the weight of the steering wheel just fine. Pegboard is used in the feet area for the vented air to exit through the front. I decided to add the control switches over on the back left side armrest, so as to provide access to them while standing outside of the simulator without reaching in and across.

I just used a dark wall plate with two standard light switches, one for an interior light source I added later and one for the combined fan and speaker power. I also drilled two holes for the PC’s power and reset push buttons, as well as two even smaller holes for the power and hard drive LEDs. This was needed because of my decision not to use the removable hard drive bay after all. Keeping the hard drive in the front with the rest of the computer parts keeps a little bit more noise just that much farther away.

Inside Up

Here you can see the door as it appears from the inside. Once painted black, the support pieces do not stand out at all. Through the right speaker cubby you can see the coiled venting hose that I had originally considered using to duct the air. The air vents also really seem to stand out right now and I had considered painting them, but once everything was finished it was dark enough inside to not notice them. I’ll probably pull them out and paint them eventually anyway.
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Brent Anderson

Door Open

I was holding the door open myself and so I could not back away for a better shot. Regardless, here is the door in action. It works much better than I had hoped. A weight of some type (heavy bar maybe?) extended above the door and along/near to the hinge will probably be used as a counter-balance to make opening and closing the door much easier. I’m now also considering the addition of a couple of the hydraulic arms used on the hatchbacks of small cars.

Case Area

Here is the front end where the computer will go. It rained for a couple of days and my tarp leaked just a bit, resulting in the water stain. Fortunately, everything survived okay and I did not have to replace anything. The triangular braces were added to provide some extra stability on those very rare occasions when it is tipped up on end for moving. In practice they worked perfectly.

Chair In

Finally a photo with the chair inside.

Door Up

Adding the door and right side wall.

Looking In

Looking in from where the monitor will sit. The chair’s frame also has holes drilled which then drop onto bolts extending through a board cross-drilled into the base, allowing for easy removal.

Full Size

The whole thing in action when I ran out of paint, but still needing some more work anyway. I got a little lazy with the pictures at this point until I finished it, but here we go anyway…

Hall

Bringing the base section down the hallway on end, you can perhaps see a 5″ high hinged door that matches up below the main door section. This small door is easy to open and provides easy access to the power switched before having to get into the cockpit.
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Brent Anderson

Wheels

Getting this piece moved was extremely easy, due to these wheels which temporarily mount on one end. Once sitting properly, the entire base is still moved quite easily thanks to plastic furniture glides that I nailed into the bottom supports

Back End

Here comes the back end. Seeing everything move inside piecewise just as I had planned was very nice.

Asm1

This photo shows it dropping into place. The covers were not added in these photos yet, but you can also see the switches that I added, involving a little bit more electrical work for my project. The switches on the right back armrest control power to the force-feedback steering wheel and joystick.

Asm2

Getting closer now, the 19″ monitor is now in place as well as a few other peripherals. The keyboard has a USB interface and is dark to match the rest of the interior. The mouse is a PS/2 optical so that it can just be used on my leg instead of making room for a mouse pad. The cable port isn’t painted in this photo, but you can see some of the cables already popping through. The steering wheel includes force-feedback effects and has two floor pedals. Behind the wheel is a Gravis game controller, and on the floor out of sight is the force-feedback joystick.

Mic

This is a custom microphone setup I built. It sits around my neck as a harness and, when combined with voice-recognition software, allows audible game control – good for flight sims.

Asm3

The rear speakers seen here, like the two front ones, each put out about 5w. Behind the chair is a 20w subwoofer, more than enough kick in such a very small space. After some tuning, the surround sound effects turned out really nice. Besides installing the switch plates, I also mounted a small halogen lamp which provides nice indirect lighting from behind the chair. A thick comfortable bathroom rug was then added on the floor. The normal sliding action of the chair works smoothly and allows for players of different sizes.

Asm4

Here are the original guts, before I rerouted the cables nicely. Also, most everything’s been upgraded now since the first build. A surge protector sits in the left of the photo, and on the right is a UPS. I discovered that the noise from the computer was not as big an issue as the vibration turned out to be, so I mounted the computer on cushioned foam padding which eliminated it nicely.

Asm5

You can finally see the filter box up on top in this photo. Overall dimensions once everything is setup are 6′ long x 4′ high x 3′ wide.
After all the time and resources I spent on this project, I thought I would use it all the time, but instead I barely used it all. It turns out that just building it was more rewarding than using it.

Everyone who’s seen it seems to be impressed, with the exception of one friend who said it sucked after he tried it out for a few minutes. I realized later that he had been racing with the power to the steering wheel turned off, which is why he couldn’t drive well.

Hopefully this inspires some of you to go build your own now. Good luck!

Brent Anderson

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