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Are joysticks just for Gaming?

A joystick in simple terms is an input device which has a stick that ‘pivots’ on a base and signals its angle or direction to the device it is controlling. Often seen in the cockpit of military or commercial aircrafts, and also used in the control of machines such as cranes, trucks, wheelchairs and more – today it is also well recognised in the world of computer gaming!

From its original invention to remotely control aircraft in 1926 by C.B. Mirick at the United States Naval Research Lab, to being used as part of the NASA Apollo missions to control the lunar lander test models the joystick certainly has an interesting history which doesn’t show signs of slowing down. Modern airliners have given the joystick a new lease of life for flight control as a side-stick (similar to a gaming joystick) to control flights.


How did joysticks go from controlling real life aircraft to those in games?

In 1972 the first video game joystick was invented by Ralph H. Bear – inventor of TV video games – to simply control a spot on a screen horizontally and vertically. In the 1990s joysticks were in huge demand with PC gamers and became a must have for flight simulator. Today though, these types of games have declined in popularity and joysticks have had to evolve in order to keep up with the changing requirements.

Since the late 1990s thumbsticks (otherwise known as analogue sticks) have grown in popularity and became a standard feature on controllers for video game consoles such as the Nintendo 64 controller. The reason for the name ‘thumbstick’? Simple – it can be controlled using only the thumb.

The beauty of the thumbstick in gaming is that the device is able to determine the stick’s displacement from the neutral position and doesn’t have to keep track or estimate the control speed. To do this the devices will use a potentiometer or a Hall Effect sensor to determine the stick position.

Surely joysticks are more than just a gaming stick?

Joysticks are becoming more and more robust, reliable and smaller these days and can be found in applications as varied as you can imagine – especially in the industrial and manufacturing world.

Believe it or not the joystick is in such great demand that it is virtually becoming a replacement for the traditional mechanical control lever in modern hydraulic control systems and is commonplace in cranes, excavators, forestry equipment, assembly lines and more. These types of joysticks have had to be designed to be more robust with a higher life cycle than those in gaming to offer the reliability needed in these types of environments.

This is where ‘Hall-effect’ technology comes in. Introduced in the 1980s Hall Effect sensing provides contactless sensing that is immune to dust, dirt, mud and water and applies the properties of electromagnetism through the usage of ferromagnetic material.

APEM have introduced the TSAA3S14A Thumbstick (RS stock number 123-5675), features the non-contacting Hall Effect technology to give long-performance. Being similar in size and operation to “gamepad” controls in a ruggidised industrial package with IP69K rating you will find these being used for military robotics, material handling, and UAV and UGV operator control units.

They can be submerged up to 1 metre thanks to their IP68 rating, which makes me wonder – where is the most unusual place that these could be used for gaming????

Connector Geek is Dave in real life. With 28 years in the industry, Dave likes talking about connectors almost as much as being a Dad to his two kids. He may still be a kid at heart himself...

27 Oct 2016, 13:38