I’ve been playing Elite Dangerous since it was released and have been playing similar games for as long as I have been gaming. Since its release, I had wished that I could better utilize the ability to move my player’s head around while flying. It was only a few weeks ago that I heard of EDTracker while reading a post on reddit’s /r/EliteDangerous. EDTracker is exactly what it sounds like: a head tracker for Elite Dangerous. Actually it’s a head tracker that can be used for whatever game allows the use of a joystick to be assigned to head movement. It’s recognized by a PC as a USB joystick. For more details, checkout the EDTracker homepage. You can order parts form the EDTacker page or there is a kit available from hobbycomponents.com. I bought the kit available from hobbycomponents.com featuring the now discontinued 9150 module. The 9150 has been replaced by the 9250. The difference seems to be increased performance while being smaller and using less power than the 9150 module. As you can see from the pricing is that this kit is very cheap for the components included. Similar components from other sites such as Sparkfun will cost you more as of early September 2015. Also, this kit is many times cheaper than other head tracking solutions such as TrackIR. So if you’re willing to put in the work, you can get very accurate head tracking as a fraction of the price.
building the tracker was not walk in the park since I was going for as compact a build as I could. Thankfully I didn’t have to design the circuit myself. The EDTracker website hosts a guide written by community member Bartybee that outlines how to build the tracker as you see it in the pictures. As you can see, The PCB is cut to size then sandwiched between the Arduino and 9150. Soldering the tracker together in this manner was tedious if your not an expert at soldering. Bartybee’s guide also calls for a very thin gauge wire described as “doll house wire”. The holes on the PCB allow for wire that is no bigger then 17 AWG including the wire’s casing. This wire allowed him to run it through the holes in the PCB. I didn’t have any wire that would fit through the PCB holes so I was forced to make it work with the wires soldered on the top side. This worked fine but it got a little crowed near the end. The wire soldered to the 9150 header didn’t interfere with mounting the 9150. I just made sure the wires were soldered as far down the post as I could without melting the header (too badly!).
I’d suggest buying the pre-made PCB if you’re looking for a cleaner and easier build. I didn’t feel like paying the extra cost so I paid for it in elbow grease! If you choose not buy the premade PCB then make sure you research cutting PCB. I got by with a heavy duty box cutter and patience but a hack saw would be a better choice. Thankfully, all was well once I double checked everything and powered it up for the first time.
The tracker is used with a client program that you must download from the EDTracker website. You will also need to download the Arduino drivers from the site but only if you don’t have the Arduino IDE installed already. The drivers allow the PC to recognize the Arduino used in the tracker so that the client can flash it with the firmware they’ve written. I already had the IDE installed so this wasn’t an issue. I had no issues getting the client to recognize the tracker or flashing the firmware. Once that was done, I made sure to watch the calibration video made by the developers which explains how to use the client as well as how to calibrate the tracker. The calibration is very simple but is something that must be done every time the device is powered on. In fact, the tracker spends the first 20 seconds after powering up calibrating so be ready for that before you plug the USB cable in. From there, I booted up Elite and mapped the head look axes (up/down and right/left) with a only a very small deadzone.
With the tracker mapped, I jumped into the game and was quickly blown away by the added immersion that the head tracker added to the experience. The accuracy is great and the tracker is always responsive. I have very few issues with drift and whatever drift that has occurred was due to my poor initial calibration on power up. The only issue I have is mounting it to my head phones as they do not have a solid band but rather two stiff cable supports that connect the ear pads as you can see in the first photo.
I would readily recommend this to anyone who has a flight sim they enjoy even if its only casually. This tracker greatly increases the immersion while gaming so it is easily worth the price. Also, don’t be afraid of putting together yourself as the guide is very complete and there are videos that go through common issues that come up when putting the tracker together. Another thin to keep in mind though is that the tracker is not wireless so you will need a USB cable that is long enough to connect to your PC while allowing you to sit comfortably. I have seen others wrap their headphone and USB cables together to help cut down on the mess of wires. If you can handle the extra cable and the build then you too can bring your favourite flight sim experience to another level!