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XBox 360 Controller for User with Muscular Dystrophy

Status: Complete

A young man who loves playing XBox 360 games online with his friends has muscular dystrophy.  Initially, the standard XBox 360 controller has been an incredible tool for him, as it fits his hands, allows him to actuate the controls with minimal strength and range of motion, and can also be used to control a personal computer.  Unfortunately, as MD is a progressive condition, the controller has become increasingly difficult for him to use.

In order to address this problem, I have been working with an occupational therapist to determine whether a controller can be modified to fit his abilities.

I used an electric kitchen knife to carve a block of wheelchair seating foam into a replica of a controller, complete with mock thumb sticks.  When positioned in his hands, this allowed us to evaluate his range of motion and determine the ideal placement of the thumb sticks and buttons. This template was then used to create the design for a new, accessible controller.  In conjunction with this first design, it was necessary to:
  • Soften the pull of both triggers
  • Move the right thumb stick up and to the right, symmetrical to the left thumb stick
  • Rearrange the X, Y, A, and B buttons (as shown in the image to the right)
  • Replace the D-Pad with an analog thumb stick
  • Connect four 3.5mm mono jacks to actuate the "click" of the left and right thumb sticks, and the "down" and "right" functions of the D-Pad
(3.5mm mono jacks are very common in the assistive technology field, and are compatible with most "ability switches."  This person will use several "Ultimate Switches" places around his head, and two string switches attached to his toes to actuate the functions associated with these 3.5mm jacks.)

This plan was sent to Ben Heckendorn, who hacked a standard XBox 360 controller into shape, making the requested modifications.

Unfortunately, the modified controller wasn't a perfect fit.  The user could not reach the X or A buttons consistently, and the replacement of the D-Pad with a thumb stick didn't improve function as expected.  However, the other modifications worked beautifully.  This is a complex problem, and some trial and error is expected, but it's still frustrating when things don't work out as expected.

So plans were drawn up for version 2.  The following changes to the previously modified controller were required:
  • Replace the new thumb stick with the original D-Pad
  • Move the X button back to the right side of the controller, and move the A button to the right side of the B button (as shown in the second image)
  • Connect four more 3.5mm jacks to actuate the X and Y buttons, and the D-Pad "up" and "left" (in case he cannot use them, or he loses the ability as his condition progresses)
Because the D-Pad contacts of the controller were destroyed during the addition of the thumb stick, it was necessary to start over with a fresh controller, rather than continuing to modify the same one.  Ben Heckendorn continued the work, and sent along version 2 for testing.

In summary, the modifications to the fresh XBox 360 controller were:
  • Soften the pull of both triggers
  • Move the right thumb stick up and to the right, symmetrical to the left thumb stick
  • Rearrange the X, Y, A, and B buttons (as shown in the second image)
  • Connect eight 3.5mm jacks to actuate the X and Y buttons, both thumb stick "clicks," and all four directions of the D-Pad
With these modifications, version 2 is a success!  Though the addition of switch jacks rendered the D-Pad nonfunctional, he can use separate switches for all four directions when necessary.  He currently uses:
  • The modified controller, carefully positioned on the bed, between his legs
  • One button-type switch (Jelly Bean, Buddy Button, etc.) attached to the pillow behind his head with Velcro
  • Two "Ultimate Switches," one to the left of his head, and one below his chin
  • Two String Switches, which he pulls with his toes (mounted on boxes that I built from tri-wall cardboard, wrapped in wheelchair seating foam)
Each switch can be plugged into any jack, and used for any of the available functions, so they can be tailored to fit each game.  If he later discovers that he needs more switches, they can easily be added.  A "sip and puff" switch is a likely option.


Copyright © 2012 Gavin Philips. All rights reserved.