How Force Feedback in Flight Simulation Works
What is Force Feedback?
- Force feedback is a type of "haptics," which is a type of technology that gives a user tactile (touch) feedback, as opposed to strictly audio and visual feedback through speakers and a monitor. Force feedback is used in a variety of games and programs, but especially in flight simulation situations, where having force feedback responses helps to train a pilot's reflexes and prepare them for flying an actual aircraft. Force feedback is programmed into the software by the software development team, and can be specific for one particular brand or type of joystick, or be generic enough that it works on a variety of joysticks.
How is Force Feedback Programmed?
- When a flight simulation program is developed, programmers look for key situations that need to give the user a force feedback response. For example, if an aircraft is flying along and encounters turbulence, in a real life situation, the joystick would shake in response to this. The programmers replicate this type of feedback by taking real world data and programming it into the program, so that whenever virtual turbulence is encountered in the simulation, the program knows that it needs to send a signal to a joystick that contains specific information about what intensity and direction that feedback is manifesting in. This information is delivered in real time from the computer to the joystick, through a USB or other type of cable link.
How Does a Joystick Deliver Force Feedback?
- When a joystick receives signals from the computer program that tell it what type of force feedback is needed, a series of motors and vibrators inside of the joystick come to life. These motors and vibrators are keyed to read the specific signals sent from the program, and interpret the signals into direction and intensity commands. Once the commands are interpreted, the motors and vibrators become active, forcing the joystick to move in a particular direction, or vibrate with a specific intensity. This whole process happens instantaneously, and is invisible to the user. All the user sees is an action taking place on the screen and then he feels that action happening in the joystick at the same exact time. For some joysticks, a light sensor is placed where a user's hand rests so that it only delivers force feedback responses if someone's hand is physically resting on the joystick.