When it comes to flight sim hardware, most of us look to a variety of sources for our hardware. Thrustmaster, CH Products, Saitek and Microsoft have all offered big, mass market hardware options over the last couple of decades. VKB-Sim, VIRPIL, Honeycomb, and others are newer on the scene offering some slightly more specialized factory produced options. There is, however, another option out there. You can build it yourself and AuthentiKit might just be the source of your future flight sim controller hardware. How? Let’s have a look!
Do it yourself hardware
This might be the future of flight sim hardware – but it’s already here for some. Self constructed hardware using 3D printing is a still niche yet growing way to take a 3D digital file and print it out on a dedicated 3D printer. This is the foundation of what AuthentiKit is trying to bring to flight simulation.
I’ll admit that I first heard about it a while ago and didn’t really connect with the idea. I was fortunate enough to share a few e-mails with Phil Hulme, the founder of AuthentiKit, and I now understand a little better what they are trying to do with the technology. Of all of the things he said in our e-mail chain, it’s these two sentences that I think really connected the vision that he had:
The first rule I set myself was that AuthentiKit should require no soldering, no workshop tools and no metalwork/cutting/sawing. It should be something you could assemble at your kitchen table Airfix style.Phil Hulme
That’s kind of incredible. The Airfix analogy is relatable as I suspect a good number of us have tried or succeeded in building 3D aircraft models at some point. If that sounds like something you’d be interested in, AuthentiKit is looking to bring that same home built, DIY, experience to flight sim hardware.
To get a setup working, you need a few things. An open source control hub with a USB connector is intended to act as the heart of the setup and the intention is that multiple grips and other pieces of hardware can be snapped in and out depending on the aircraft you want to fly. You also need to source some hardware components either yourself from your local hardware and electronics store or via SimKitSupplies.com. Finally, you need the 3D CAD (Computer Aided Design) files which AuthentiKit is making available as an open source – that means that they are free. You print them yourself on your own 3D printer or find a local maker studio which usually have one or more 3D printers available (my public library has 3D printers as it turns out so yours might too).
What can you make?
So far, AuthentiKit is offering CAD files of the various grips, throttle quadrants, and trim wheels for the Spitfire Mark IX, Mark I, P-40B, and a DR400. The latter two are still a work in progress.
The sticks and throttle quadrants all make use of Hall Effect sensors, a sealed bearing design, and of course your own 3D printed components plus some parts from the hardware store. As mentioned earlier, it all plugs into a universal hub which can handle multiple components. Watch the video to learn more.
If you decide to 3D print your own Spitfire IX control then its up to you to build it but there are available guides and videos that walk you through the process. And, as quoted earlier, it’s all intended to be done with a minimum of equipment and hardware know-how. Just some time and a bit of DIY-spirit.
This video showing the self assembly process for the AuthentiKit Spitfire Mark IX is about an hour long, but, at the end you have an reasonably accurate recreation of the real thing. That’s very cool and I suspect for VR users will offer that kind of 3D VR space to real world mapping that you can’t quite get with other hardware. You can also use their 3D files to print yourself a mounting rig for the setup – one customized and flexible to your specific desk setup.
The future that is here
Having read about and seen some of the work that people have done to put together their own AuthentiKit hardware, I am left with the distinct impression that the idea behind this is both ahead of its time but something that is also here right now for people who want to take the plunge.
3D printing is becoming a big thing. Aerospace companies are using industrial 3D printers to build components that are going in real aircraft. There’s also a growing “makerspace” culture that I’ve attended talks on in the past where community hubs will have the hardware and you just need to supply the printing materials and pay some sort of membership fee to cover expenses.
It may take another dozen years but I think we’re heading to a place where at least some of our hardware will, in the future, be self created. AuthentiKit is in on the ground floor with an open source approach that aims to drive more people to create their own replicas that can be shared with everyone. That’s a very cool idea and it’s only going to grow.
It may not be for everyone and I’m not quite ready to take the dive into this DIY kind of setup, but I can definitely see the appeal and I know that it will only grow from here. There are also ways to get AuthentiKit hardware created by others if going down the 3D printed future isn’t for you. The “No Printer?” section of their website that may appeal.