Motion Rig upgrade: My journey....

ColinMac

Premium
427
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Fife, Scotland
I'm posting this as a possible guide to anyone else considering a motion add-on to their rig, much as I did... Hope it's of some interest:

A motion rig journey!

Having visited the SimExpo with Racedepartment back in 2018, my sim-racing hardware journey has continued unabated ever since.

Back then the Fanatec DD1 had been demoed but not yet launched, the Heusinkveld Sprints were just being launched at the show.

At that show, I wanted to try these products, and also try as many motion rig systems as I could - who wouldn't? There was lots of fancy very expensive equipment on stands, and everyone was trying everything they could.
Had a great weekend and a lot of laughs on various kit.

I came away with three goals :-
1. I definitely wanted a direct drive wheel.
2. I definitely was going to order Heusinkveld Sprints.
3. I was determined to get a rig motion system (at some indeterminate point in future). In VR, it was amazing!

Fast forward to 2020. I've got a Fanatec DD1. I've got a set of Sprints (both of which I love)

Now, motion. My final (for now?) holy grail.

I have access to a 3D printer. I printed all the SFX100 parts (If you don't know about SFX-100, it's an enthusiast project to build motion systems, which looks great but involves ordering lots of parts from abroad, lots of self build and assembled kit). I was determined to eventually get there, but in the meantime in the last few months I could at least print the low cost stuff, and so printed all the 3D components.

But I started to get nervous reading about EMI/RFI emissions issues where things behave irregularly like shifters etc. Also the coil whine noises talk made me less confident that this would be the solution for me. A trusted forumite sold his neatly finished kit, because he couldn't tolerate the 10 khz whine.

So, enter after Barry of SRG reviewed one of their kits, enter an unknown (to me at least) PT Actuators (http://www.pt-actuator.com) - a chinese company I'd seen offering discounted motion systems to iRacing drivers, in return for a PT logo on their cars. I got in touch with a very helpful Shao via the website, chatted about how I wanted to get a motion system, and offered a hopefully informative 'build' thread as I ordered, built, and got racing! After all, it can't just be me that doesn't know enough, or anything even, about this stuff.

So the order is in. I'm awaiting a delivery of the actuator kit, which is the 'lifters', their controllers, and the overall Thanos based controller - the brain which tells which motors to do what. How hard can it be ... ?

Now... the waiting for delivery...

A week later....

Massively heavy wrapped/strapped parcel arrives - after me paying the obligatory import duty to DHL (£67 in case you were wondering) ... So heavy the driver needed a hand to lift it from his van !
I unpack the box. Carefully check all the contents.

Then I put it all down - realising the task ahead of me - until the weekend.

Over the next few days I began to formulate a plan. My rig is the SimLab GT1 original (not the newer Evo) - strongly put together base of 40/80 sides, and some cross members, but no front bar and only a small 40/40 rear bar under the seat. First things first. Reinforcment to prevent twisting. I had some spare 40/80, so had it cut to the correct width to give me a square frame, with the cross members still there for additional support.

Next, where to put the three actuators. (PT-Actuators had joined me to a very busy WhatsApp group with many experienced members - so I asked the experts) Results were mixed - so I decided two actuators at the back and one at the front in the middle. (My SimLab Screen stand has feet either side of the rig at the front, which would have made the additional width of actuators tricky, without widening it)

Next. Dismantle some of rig and screen stand - for clearance mostly. Fit new 40/80 bracing ends to rig base. Bolt actuator brackets to the 80/40 with the supplied bolts. Next, bolt actuators themselves into the brackets. Simple, if hard going without extra hands.

Lacking anywhere to mount or enclose the Servo Driver units (I've ordered a small comms cabinet to house them) I bolted the three of them onto a MDF backboard. This is the bit I'd not really thought about - where to house these. Cables run from each of these to one actuator each. Long shielded cables, but I didn't want a spagetti mess under the rig. In the end, rear cables right and left are coiled and ziptied separately and stored under seat, and the front ones run down the wall side of my rig.

Then - three cables from the Servo Drivers, to the Thanos USB controller. Old 25way D cables (not seen those in years). The Thanos controller is the magic box that takes PC instructions and turns them into Servo Driver commands, which in turn move the actuator motors. Simple, right?

The controller has 4 buttons on it - and pressing these moved the rig ! - I was getting close!

A little more fiddling and cable management, and I was done. With the physical install, at least!
Next, the complicated stuff ...

I'd not given any thought to the actual process of taking simulation telemetry, and turning it into motion. At all.

It turns out I needed the 'pro' version of an application called SimTools. (License fee £55) This is the motion engine. It understands movement Axis's and how to turn game data into the correct axis of movement, and by how much. It's a massively complex product - as it supports all motion systems, with any number of axis of movement. There's a huge manual, as you'd expect.

Only, it doesn't understand many games natively - it needs 'interface plugins' - and for those you also need a paid subscription to 'https://www.xsimulator.net' - a forum dedicated to the creation of these plugins and all things motion rig. You can work the forum for some months to earn 'credits' to allow downloads, or you can short cut and pay a 2 year subscription to allow the unlimited downloading of current and any new plug-ins.

There are plug-ins for everything I think you could possibly use motion for - roller coasters, flight and space sims, and all driving games (at least those that can generate data). I paid the subscription and grabbed all the plug ins I needed.

SimTools patches games for motion - there's an automated button for that - and the plugin you downloaded likely contained a set of parameters about how much movement you would need. This stuff is all personal preference of course, and I didn't want it shaking my brain out - but a hopefully realistic representation of a shift in movement only, which I knew, in VR, would be absolutely convincing.

With a little help from the whatsapp group members it didn't take long before I had Assetto Corsa moving me. The pitch and surge - that's forward under braking, and moving back under acceleration were the wrong way round - but that was easily corrected in SimTools.

A little perseverance and experimenting with each of my sims in turn, and I soon had them all working. Simtools maintains settings for each, so you can over time hone the setup to just how you like it.

And boy. Do I like it.

Dirt Rally 2, for example. There's nothing quite like cresting a jump in Finland, feeling the ground fall away free from sensation, and then the rig arc back to forward as the car arcs down, then the 'impact' of landing, even off kilter - mostly due to my lack of skill setting given jump up. It makes me giggle. Every. Single. Time.

I'm quicker in Assetto - when in VR, there's an additional awareness somehow of what the car around me is doing - more than just shaker rumble, you can literally feel the slide etc.

It's not for everyone. It's silly expensive (but it's my hobby, ok? If I was a golfer...etc. My wife has simply given up.) But, in the end, it's amazing. Ridiculous, but amazing.

Another week later, my servo drivers are now housed neatly in a small comms cabinet, and the controller neatly mounted on top. When it's off, you'd barely know its there. But when it's on, the rig just comes to life.

Right. I'm done. My sim rig needs nothing. Nothing, I tell you.

You know, though. I've seen this little 5" screen....

Updates @ 14.10.2020

I bought the screen. Of course I did.

My actuators have now been phased out by the manufacturer - and replaced with better ones called 'scorpion'.

I've had some chats with a UK based importer who is in progress setting up. When he's ready, I'll suggest he register here, as a hardware vendor. Watch this space ! ....
 

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very cool and thanks for the write up! A few questions for you :)
- Do you think the upgrade to the new scorpion actuators is worth it?

- Any reason you went with 3 actuators over 4? Other than cost... Any regrets on not going with 4 actuators?

- Any plans to add traction loss and surge in the future?

Thank you!
 

ColinMac

Premium
427
210
Fife, Scotland
Hi.

The new scorpions are much better internally, yep. We have a very active whatsapp group even now with the PT folk in it, so we're not short on the tech info. Upgraded speed, and reliability.

I went with three actuators really due to cost. The software accounts for the number though, and actually you get exactly the same forces. I'm adding a fourth one potentially as some become available due to folks upgrading to scorpions, but am perfectly happy with three.

TL and surge - watch this space. Gotta say it hadn't been bugging me to, but an opportunity may be arising...
 
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