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Hardware Hacking Input Devices Build Games

How One Man Helps Keep Game Controllers Accessible 130

Posted by timothy
from the division-of-labor-limited-by-extent-of-market dept.
capedgirardeau writes with a clipping from the AP about engineer Ken Yankelevitz: "[W]ith the retired Bozeman engineer's 70th birthday approaching, disabled gamers say they fear there will be no one to replace Yankelevitz, who has sustained quadriplegic game controllers for 30 years almost entirely by himself. The retired aerospace engineer hand makes the controllers with custom parts in his Montana workshop, offering them at a price just enough to cover parts." Yankelevitz builds interfaces to control an Xbox 360 or PlayStation.
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How One Man Helps Keep Game Controllers Accessible

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    Shouldn't this be something Microsoft and Sony should be doing anyway?
    • by Samantha Wright (1324923) on Saturday June 11, 2011 @08:08PM (#36414494) Homepage Journal
      Yes, but due to the dynamics of capitalism, they don't.
      • by Leuf (918654)
        You would think that taking a loss on a thousand controllers per year would be worth a bit of positive press to compete with lots of negative press over things like rootkits and getting hacked. I mean can't you just see the "Sony cares" ads?
      • by gangien (151940)

        and also due the dynamics of capitalism, someone else fills in the void, in this case it's Mr. Yankelevitz.

        • and also due the dynamics of capitalism, someone else fills in the void, in this case it's Mr. Yankelevitz.

          Didn't bother to read the article, did you?

          Mr. Yankelevitz didn't recognize a profitable niche market and use his small-business agility to step in where the big guys couldn't. He's selling these controllers for the cost of materials and giving away his time, skills, and experience for free. He's not making money and has no expectation of a return on the time and effort he's expended, ever. It would be impossible for him to make a living wage manufacturing these devices at his current price point.

          If

    • Why is a manufacturer needed at all ? If I were quadriplegic, I'd build myself an appropriate controller. Oh, wait...
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Shouldn't this be something Microsoft and Sony should be doing anyway?

      No it should be done by an entrepreneur who will fill a niche and make a living doing do. That's how capitalism is supposed to work. Expecting the behemoths to do so and then being snarky to them for not doing it shows your failure to understand capitalism and self-reliance.

      Oh, wait, this is /. ........

      • Shouldn't this be something Microsoft and Sony should be doing anyway?

        No it should be done by an entrepreneur who will fill a niche and make a living doing do. That's how capitalism is supposed to work.

        Bespoke engineering in small quantities would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars per unit. It would be right up there with custom military equipment. At that price nobody would buy the units.

        • by _Shad0w_ (127912)

          I was going to say "...but bespoke engineering in small quantities is exactly what he's been doing for 30 years." and then realized he started doing it when he retired and charged just enough to cover his costs, so he wasn't actually making a living out of it. Really the only person - or people - who could take over are other people with the required skills who don't need to make a living out of it but have the time to spare.

    • by nospam007 (722110) *

      "Shouldn't this be something Microsoft and Sony should be doing anyway?"

      The can't even be bothered to comply with the laws to make their websites usable by people with disabilities.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Many companies make right-handed ergonomic or gaming mice, but few make them for left handers. Lefties are about 10% of the population, and it isn't a big enough market for them to bother with. I don't know the percentage of quadriplegics, but I'd wager it's ay least 4 orders of magnitude less.

    • by RogueyWon (735973) *

      Don't forget that in a world where console manufacturers were forced to make their consoles accessible to people with disabilities, there basically wouldn't be a Wii (or PS Move, or Kinect).

      Until a few months ago, a friend of mine was dating a girl who worked as a therapist in a centre that helped people recover after "life changing" accidents or surgery - in other words, people who found themselves suddenly lacking (or at least lacking the use of) an arm, a leg or more. They didn't take younger kids - that

      • by grumbel (592662)

        So, in a world where developers were required by law to make their products fully accessible,

        Requiring full accessibility would certainly go to far and would simply be impossible in a general fashion, but it wouldn't hurt to much to force them to actually follow proper USB HID standards or publish the protocol their controller use, to at least make building third party controllers a little easier. Currently even something simple as an arcade stick that works on Xbox360 and PS3 is already a mess, both use USB, except hat Microsoft specifically locks out any unlicensed third party gear. PS3 in that r

    • by _Shad0w_ (127912)

      Market isn't big enough to make it worth their while. To make the controllers cost effective they would be horrendously expensive for the end-user. Alas that's how business works. TFA notes that he's only sold 800 controllers in the last 30 years,

  • by Dishwasha (125561) on Saturday June 11, 2011 @08:01PM (#36414438)

    TFA: "Quadriplegic gamers now have around a dozen different actions they can work with their mouth."

    Damn, I need a quadriplegic gamer consultant to provide training for my wife.

    • by davester666 (731373) on Saturday June 11, 2011 @08:04PM (#36414460) Journal

      No problem. I will be happy to drop by and consult with your wife as to how she should best use her mouth.

      For a reasonable weekly fee, I'm sure it will only take maybe six months to a year for her to master the techniques I have to teach her.

      • by ae1294 (1547521)

        No problem. I will be happy to drop by and consult with your wife as to how she should best use her mouth.

        For a reasonable weekly fee, I'm sure it will only take maybe six months to a year for her to master the techniques I have to teach her.

        I know everyone is thinking this is a sex joke but 'davester666' takes gaming extremely seriously and is also the Korean World Champion of Star-Craft...

    • by PopeRatzo (965947) * on Saturday June 11, 2011 @08:09PM (#36414500) Homepage Journal

      Damn, I need a quadriplegic gamer consultant to provide training for my wife.

      That's strange, the guys from the Union Park basketball court and I think she's great. She does complain quite a bit about your performance, though.

  • by LWATCDR (28044) on Saturday June 11, 2011 @08:09PM (#36414498) Homepage Journal

    Really what a great and admirable hobby. This is a gentleman that must sleep well every night.

    • by Brummund (447393)

      Could not agree more. What a brilliant man and engineer!

    • by godrik (1287354)

      That guy must be seen as a heor by his "customers". Hats off!

    • by AmiMoJo (196126)

      No thanks to Microsoft though. The XBOX 360 controllers use some kind of encryption to prevent third parties making their own. Recently some Chinese guys figured out how to bypass it, but until then the only way to make a 360 controller was buy a license from Microsoft.

      If you head over to the SRK forums you can see how all the joystick builders have to wire in the PCB from a 360 pad to support it. One chip can do every other console in existence, but a "pad hack" is the only way to connect to a 360. The old

      • by LWATCDR (28044)

        This is a clear case of unintended consequences. Microsoft doesn't care at all about block the sale of these controllers. What they didn't want was a bunch of cheap knock offs making money from their console.

        • well, it would be unfair to let one and not the other.
          • by LWATCDR (28044)

            No it would be wise. Thing is that it is probably blocked by a bureaucratic hell at Microsoft. If they where really smart they would offer to give this guy the parts to make these controllers. Probably cost them all of a $1000 and be worth millions in good PR.

  • on the Xbox 360? The controllers have special chips in them to lock third parties out? I can see him getting permission, but those chips are complex and hard to come by... Is Microsoft giving him a supply as charity? Kudos if they do.
    • by eakerin (633954) on Saturday June 11, 2011 @08:33PM (#36414660) Homepage

      He's not trying to complete on price w/ Microsoft; So there's nothing stopping him from buying an official controller for each one he builds to get the interface hardware. It just becomes part of the BOM cost.

      Then he just has to replace the buttons and joysticks with ones that work for his end-users.

    • by Bob_Sheep (988029)

      The same way I made a wireless arcade controller, by soldering leads directly onto a genuine controller and then connecting them up to the switches.

    • by locopuyo (1433631)
      He uses an official Xbox 360 controller connected to his device to make it work, so it passes through using the real chips.
  • I wondered whether he decided to patent his design, in an effort to license it to a manufacturer. The reason I wonder about this is that if he stops making these because of health or death, no one else will be able to make them either, unless the patent ownership is passed on, sold, or the patent expires. Which would seem like a shame.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Just publish the designs on the web. You don't have to own it to pass it on, you simply have to share it. -- Hiten

      • Just publish the designs on the web. You don't have to own it to pass it on, you simply have to share it. -- Hiten

        I'm not sure, as IANAL, and stuff. But my understanding is, in the U.S. at least, that if a design is patented, then it can't be legally manufactured by an unauthorized party. Publishing the design on the web or other public forum doesn't change the protection a patent offers. Remember, patents and all they describe are all available to the public already from the USPO itself.

        Just to be clear, I'm not trying to hate on this guy. I admire his work, and he's just the sort of person patents are intended to ben

    • The only thing that would stop someone from making these would be if he enforced this hypothetical patent. It seems very unlikely that he would do so after being dead.

      Then there is the other thing - he started making these controllers 30 years ago. Any possible patents would be either expired or otherwise moot.

      • Patents, like other legal things, can be inherited. If he held the patent (as an individual), then it would just become the property of his next of kin. As we know nothing about who that is, what happens from there is unpredictable. It's of minimal commercial worth, so they would probably just ignore it. Worst case, they sell it to a patent troll. He might have left it unpatented just to avoid such a scenario, or simply because he doesn't want to spend time on the paperwork of an application. There is nothi
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Still waiting for my Wii Fleshlight

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Similar projects and people:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=83nSodg-HTU

    http://benheck.com/03-16-2008/new-single-handed-controller

    http://benheck.com/Games/Xbox360/controls/1hand/singlehandcontroller.htm

    I think it's great that there are a handful of people focussing on gamers who would otherwise struggle with standard controllers. I only wish the Sonys, Microsofts, and Nintendos of this world would occasionally take the lead in this research, or at the very least contribute to some R&D once in a while.

    • by Braedley (887013)
      Ben Heck was the first name that came to my mind. He may even be able to improve on the design. No offense to Mr. Yankelevitz, but Ben Heck's controllers, even the prototypes, have a fit and finish that I don't quite see in Ken's work.
    • by GNious (953874)

      Yup - Ben Heck could be a "replacement", in the sense that he has the skills and interests to possibly be talked into taking up the mantle.

  • by Altheron (80735) on Saturday June 11, 2011 @08:52PM (#36414764)

    As a gamer who has a mild neurological condition that limits fine motor control in one of my hands... and have become increasingly annoyed at the complexity of controllers and control schemes (the shoulder buttons on a dualshock controller are particularly hard to reliably control)...

    I both salute this man, and I wonder what kinds of games one can actually play with such a controller... the amount of reflexes and reaction time required to play most (90%?) of the games, seems like it would be beyond what you could convey through one of these devices in a useful amount of time..

  • by westlake (615356) on Saturday June 11, 2011 @08:56PM (#36414790)

    If someone wanted to fill his shoes, it wouldn't be an easy task.

    He puts each controller together by hand, using his engineering skills to solder dozens of switches and circuits. Controllers are offered for just over $200 and include a 1-year warranty for repairs.

    "If the bottom line is profit, there's no way to make a profit on these," Yankelevitz said.

    Yankelevitz said larger companies and game manufacturers have shown no interest in producing the controllers because the market is so small. He's sold just over 800 of the devices through 30 years. Factory construction of the controller would be cost prohibitive, over $1,000 each.

    Man builds 30 years of quadriplegic gaming [msn.com]

    • by TubeSteak (669689)

      Considering how much Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo spend on advertising, you'd think they could offer the same service in-house.
      Even if they gave away the modified controllers for free, they'd more than recoup the cost through increased goodwill and word of mouth.

  • Publish the schematics for what he does, let the community deal with it.

    Guy's a star and I want to hug him but there are a LOT of people out there who would do this gratis if they knew how.
    • The schematics aren't the problem here, because they are identical to the ones already used for people with full motion. The mechanics are what is making this difficult.

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