Trackpads, Are we ready to ditch the gimbals?


The picture above is the new video game controller from valve, you can read more about it here. Note that there are no thumb sticks just trackpads and a touchscreen. Are rc controllers lagging behind the times by using analog components (potentiometers) and bulky mechanical gimbals?

I realize that there is a good argument for sticks and switches you can operate just by feel if your flying fpv. But it would be nice to have a thin. light. high resolution digital rc controller with fewer moving parts.

Please comment with your thoughts on ditching gimbals.

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  • Given that the tactile enhancement I mentioned is based on generation of variable electrostatic forces, it should be possible to vary those forces over time (i.e., a time varying field). This could be used to generate a radial flux which (I suspect) would be perceived as a radially directed pressure against the skin. This is exactly what you get with standard joysticks.

    The tech is there... the question is, is the will/drive/backing there to produce such a product and push it to market, given that we already have a very successful product that dominates the market (and has for decades). I think if we do see a transition to haptically enabled touch surfaces they'd have to offer (much) more than current input devices.

    Another downside to touch surfaces (playing devil's advocate here) is the need to use exposed skin to contact the device. I like wearing gloves when I fly in cold weather and these don't diminish (considerably) my ability to obtain relevant feedback from the transmitter joysticks.

  • Joysticks certainly have good feedback.  On my radio the further from center the more pressure I feel.  As you move the joystick it's position on your fingers changes in a repeatable manner due to both position and angular change of the joystick.  Additionally center is extremely well defined due to detent and center spring position guiding your fingers back to center. Surface pads can a best provide feedback on distance from center but not apply force pushing back to center. Without looking at the sticks I can feel were the sticks are due to both my finger positions, the feel of pressure due to gimbal springs and the feel of the joystick on my fingers. 

    The haptic feedback they describe sounds better to me than they typical feedback from onscreen touch pads but I don't think IMHO it would equal the physical joystick feedback.  It certainly would be interesting to try.  I can see situations where for reasons of environment and contamination (dirt, chemicals, water) where this system could be very useful and perhaps a better solution than joysticks.

  • Most people who fly R/C would agree that they like knowing where their thumbs are relative to centre... this is information we get using spring force since its proportional to displacement. Standard touch surfaces don't give this state information. Here's a different perspective on evolving from the current setup toward touch (or similar) inputs: Tactile Enhancement of Touch Surfaces

    While it might be hard for some to transition from a standard R/C transmitter to a touch surface with active tactile (friction) feedback, I have no doubt that new flyers could learn to use such devices effectively. As evidence, I look at my young daughters and how they quickly and effectively they adapt to various input devices I throw at them and how quickly they exceed my capabilities at fine control in high dimensional input spaces (and I'm no slouch).

    TeslaTouch: Electrovibration for Touch Surfaces
    Olivier Bau
  • Soren, we already do.  Brushless gimbal motors.  They are servos with a single moving part.  They just don't have any torque. ;)

  • - but when we get a servo with a single moving part I will be more enthusiastic!
  • Admin

    The two concentric ridges on the track pads gives the end points and center when finger tips feel the contour. Any thing in between these two points are unknowns which where we loiter most of the flying time. So knowing the position of stick without altering the stick positions is going to be tricky in trackpads IMHO.

  • I quite like the mechanical feedback (or springs) of my sticks. I get a lot of tectile to determine what the actual center is of the stick. Next to that, the physical endpoints of the sticks I would miss very much on a trackpad.

  • "Trackpads, are we ready to move to an inferior method of control?"


    Why are you trying to fix something that isn't broken?

  • Developer

    At the moment I cannot think of a better solution then gimbal stick for fine grain control of four control axes at the same time. But since we are looking for "the next thing", having active feedback on the sticks would be a definitive improvement. Being able to feel the actual force on the control surfaces in an airplane would be great, and give instant feedback about g-forces and imminent stalls. On a copter it could be used to tell the operator how much wind the copter is actively fighting at any moment etc.

  • Developer

    @John: Just like the steering wheel in a car. It's near perfection for control! 

    RC Controls do have feedback via the springs that return the control to centre. if these needed to be stronger i'm sure that's what we would have. The current setup is pretty good. If you break it down it surprising how many elements are already part of the control system people use everyday.

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