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The Telsa II pods Technology review

Pod Construction

The pods themselves are made from plywood. The hinges, the rollers, are all standard stuff that you can get from any hardware store. The wood is painted black. The outer casing of each pod, is made from a thick gray plastic. Each panel of this outer plastic is about 6 feet in height, and together they cover the entire pod giving it that futuristic look.

Computer Hardware

Each Pod has a main computer inside it. The main computer is more or less a standard off the shelf gaming PC, albeit slightly old. A sound blaster and a car amp make up the sound sound system, an AGP video card for the main screen, and a PCI video card for the Radar display, and one PCI video card for all five of the smaller screens. For the smaller screen the video card outputs as if it’s a single long monitor, the cable splits this image before it goes to the smaller screens.


The Cockpit Electronics

The user experience begins inside the cockpit. There are large display monitor in front of the player for the in-game-action, this simulates a window to the outside virtual world. A second monitor and buttons, simulating the system radar display. Five, smaller monitors and more buttons comprising the MFD (multi-Function Displays) more on this later. Of course, there are the joystick, throttle, and foot petals. Over all the system has 5 displays, and around 57 buttons, plus joystick, throttle, and foot petals. Remember all these buttons, and displays do function in game, and they're not just lights.  

MFD (multi-Function Displays)

It takes eight LEDs, eight buttons, and one little green CRT monitor to make up an MFD.  The image right is me reverse engineering two of the MFDs, more on this in a later post. Each of those little displays you see in the cockpit photo are MFDs. There are 5 MFDs total per pod, 6 if you include the Radar display. The circuitry behind them are proprietary. These boards called, Buttons Boards, are no longer manufactured. It maybe a good future project to design a replacement for these boards.


RIO Board (Remote I/O)

The gaming PC communicates with these buttons and keypads using a proprietary board called the RIO board stands for Remote I/O. The RIO board serves as the main board from where all the other control systems communicates with. This RIO board has up to 8 ribbon cables communicating over a low level serial link with the MFDs. Only 7 are used.  At its core is a single Toshiba microcontroller chip, running at 8MHz, and a old UV flash ROM. The surrounding electronics appear only to buffer and amplify the bits across the long cables. The RIO board then forwards the received commands to the gaming PC via a serial cable to COM1 of the the PC.

The commands going from the RIO board to the PC are sent over serial to a DB9 into COM1 on the PC, not as keystrokes from a keyboard interface. This means that no other game, can be played on this platform except for the ones made by Virtual Worlds: MechWarrior, and Red Planet.

The Mission

My task here is to replace the RIO board with an open source alternative that communicates with the PC as a USB keyboard. For me to do this, I need to have a complete understanding of the MFD Button Boards and the serial protocol used on the cables. I have to reverse engineer the Button Boards and/or sniff out the protocol used on the cable. I've ordered a Bus Pirate(below), and a more complete logic analyzer (to read all the data lines at once). I will also need to pick up a cool sounding hacker handle, pizza, and some kind of energy drink.

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