Project Controller: Using a Car as a Games Controller!

PC_Driving

Back in November I was invited to Sweden to see a unique project, where Nissan Sweden have sought to turn an entire car into a games controller with their leftfield ‘Project Controller’. They have connected a Nissan Qashqai to a Sony Playstation4 in order to play football games via the steering wheel and pedals. With their lab set up the game is easily played with steering to direct the players, the pedals to kick and the steering buttons for other functions. The key to the trick is how they have hacked into both the car and games console, without wrecking either of them.

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The choice of Konami’s Pro Evolution Soccer 2016 may not be the obvious choice for a car driven game, but the thinking ties in with Nissan’s being the official global automotive sponsor of the UEFA Super Cup and UEFA Champions League. With the tag line ‘Driving Football’, the link up suddenly seems obvious after a few initially puzzling moments. However with this interface technology any game could be played and the car controls mapped to different games functions.

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The trick to their hack is the car’s Onboard Diagnostics Port (ODP). Modern cars are not simply wired point to point any more, instead a network-like multiplex system connects sensors and devices on a common cable network called a Can Bus. Sensors map the movement of parts like the steering wheel and pedals to control modern systems such as stability control and parking assist. Having access to what these sensors are reading allows the car to be tapped-in to control the games console.

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The ODP below the steering column is more commonly used for fault diagnosis, but by being part of the cars multiplex system, for the electronics experts it’s just a clean way to hook into the cars CAN Bus network. With ODP device installed and wired to a USB port on a Mac, the messages flying around the cars wiring loom, can be captured and deciphered. So any network traffic from the steering, pedals and buttons gets read through the bespoke python software, before being passed back out through more custom software written in Air. The Mac then interfaces with a skeletal controller via another USB port. Unable to simply transmit messages to the PS4 due to Sony’s encryption set up, the hacked controller is simply wired to the USB cable, each button contact being replaced with a wire from the Mac.

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The beauty of the setup is the cars wiring and the PS4 console are untouched and completely standard, only a solitary controller being chopped up and sacrificed for the project. So simple is the hardware required, the concept could be applied to any modern car and any gaming platform.

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I have to confess I am not much of a footballer nor a gamer, so for the expert’s eye Nissan kindly provided the services of Jann Mardenborough, a winner of the Nissan PlayStation GTA academy, which took the young Brit from gamer to Le Mans driver, who is now moving up the ladder towards F1 as a GP3 racer. Clearly more than an expert in both cars and games consoles, in his first go in the car, he won 1-0 and then 2-0 in his second. Along with a collection of other professional gamers, the set up drew little criticism once the basic controls were mapped in their minds and away from the buttons/joy sticks of the standard PS4 controller. Despite the several steps from Can Bus to Console there was no appreciable lag and the car controls produced a well measured response from the game

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My game play was slightly more sedate and had far less goal scoring success, but that is clearly not a reflection of the set up more my poor game playing. Once in the car, there’s nothing to suggest it’s been tampered with in any way, no steering or pedals have been disconnected, even the windscreen washers work if inadvertently pressed!

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A large LCD screen is set up just ahead of the front bumper with speakers playing the games commentary. The games kicks off and the steering is turned to make the players move from one side of the pitch to another, the running speed is increased by the audio volume and the ball passed with the brake pedal. Once near the goal the accelerator pedal acts to kick the ball towards the net, albeit never into it during my attempts. The games flows and soon the fact that the control is by car and not controller is lost and it feels unusually natural to have the weightier car controls rather than lightweight controller to do the job. Indeed the slight heave on the steering wheel uses your muscles making the game of simulated football at little more akin to the real thing. In true English football style my games ended up goal-less and went to penalties, again the national stereotype sees me lose the shoot out and lose both games on penalties.

The ‘Project Controller’ team will now refine the set up and take it to football events to promote the Nissan UEFA tie in. It will be officially launched during UEFA Champions League game between Sweden’s Malmö FF and Paris Saint-German on the 25th November. Where football fans will get to drive football in a way never seen before. Going forwards, with this being a relatively simple concept, the set up could be put into a black box and consumerised. You could find yourself in your parked car playing games on your tablet or smartphone. Different games mapped into the car’s controls would give different experiences, racing games an obvious route, but track & field with the pedals, shoot-em-ups with the horn button, guitar games with the gear lever, anything could be possible!

Nissan’s YT playlist