Feb. 22, 2015 | By Alec

The very creative Ruiz brothers over at the electronic innovators Adafruit have revealed another very cool 3D printing project on their website, for a very fun, useful and portable addition to any gamer’s arsenal. It’s a do-it-yourself gamepad that can wirelessly connect to any Bluetooth gaming system (like your smartphone) and can be used to play games without any additional programming.

Once completed, it can easily synch up to any Bluetooth device at the puch of a button, and it can simply be powered with a 3-16 VDC battery, which can be charged via micro USB. In short, it’s a perfect keyboard controller for anyone who travels often or anyone who simply wants to add a new dimension to smartphone gaming.

There’s just one downside to this 3D printing project, and that’s that its relatively difficult. By their own admission, it requires quite a bit of soldering, wiring and assembling, so it might not be perfect for your first 3D printed electronics project. ‘It's great for getting practice and well suited for makers with intermediate soldering skills. It's not the easiest 'first-time' beginners project, but it can be done if approached with patience, ambition and positivity,’ the brothers write.

Now, to assemble it you’ll need quite a bit of parts, but the brothers fortunately include links to every single one of them in their construction tutorial. Crucial among them is the Adafruit Perma-Proto Half-size breadboard PCB, a credit card sized board that is perfect for the few buttons you need on a basic 3D printed game controller, while larger versions can be used for more complex alternatives.

3D printing itself is mostly straightforward. You can download all the necessary ready-to-print files here on Thingiverse, but be warned: don’t just press print. While the entire enclosure can be done in either PLA or ABS (with PLA being favoured for the lack of warping), the buttons itself can best be done in a flexible filament such as TPE, Semiflex or Ninjaflex which makes them sensitive and comfortable enough to use. Aside from that, its relatively easy to print, and won’t take more than three hours or so; you don't even need support structures.

But that’s just the easy part; it's the wiring, soldering and assembling that is the hard part. The circuit diagram can be a bit challenging as well. As the Ruiz bros. add: ‘Be very aware and cautious when wiring these connections. It's easy to get lost and lose your place/spot while soldering. Always double check your connections before you solder!’ Therefore just be sure to closely follow their example.

The power circuit itself is also a very complicated challenge to tackle, though the experienced tinkerers will doubtlessly know their way around. Nevertheless, it will be best to stick to their tutorial, just like you should when installing the buttons on the half-size perma-proto PCB. This step is absolutely crucial, so make sure the terminals are completely inserted and that the buttons are pointing in the right direction – nothing would screw up your game time more than malfunctioning buttons. Also don’t forget to trim the off the bottom rails of the power+ ground rails, otherwise the whole system won’t fit!

But if all of those many steps are somehow successfully completed, then its simply a matter of carefully encasing the whole system in your 3D printed body. Fully charge the 500mAh battery by plugging in a micro USB cable to the lipo charger (the light turns green when fully charged, and stays red while still charging). Once ready, your homemade gamepad will immediately start searching for a Bluetooth device to pair up with, which can take a minute or so (if it doesn’t work, find more info here). Once you’ve reached that stage, it really is plug and play; simply start up a suitable game (anything Mario-esque will do) and have fun with it!

Posted in 3D Printing Applications


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