Xbox wireless controller

Microsoft, 2021

The original Xbox console was released in 2001 as Microsoft’s answer to Sony’s PlayStation 2 and Nintendo’s GameCube. With its powerful hardware (the first to include a built-in hard disk), Ethernet connection, and the launch title Halo: Combat Evolved, Xbox became a massive success. A year later, Xbox Live redefined online gaming for consoles, and an entire ecosystem of multi-player games has followed in its wake. 

Though the original Xbox controller started off a little bulky, over time Microsoft has streamlined an ergonomic design with steadily refined haptic feedback and heightened precision of control. Xbox also has the distinction of having made gaming more accessible for people with disabilities with the Xbox Adaptive Controller, allowing players to use external devices such as switches, buttons, and joysticks to create a custom experience that suits their specific needs.

The two joysticks are situated at the top left and bottom right of the Xbox gamepad. Each high-strength plastic lever connects to a potentiometer and a tact switch. Housed inside this metal box, springs and tensioners measure the change in resistance and convert it into an electrical signal, which is then interpreted by the console as a specific direction and degree of movement. They also allow the joystick to spring back to the neutral position when released.

Looking at the Xbox Wireless Controller from below, we see two rumble motors with differently-sized weights. When an in-game event occurs that triggers haptic feedback, the corresponding motor spins an off-balance weight. The imbalance this creates causes the controller to vibrate. By using two motors of different sizes, the controller can create a broad spectrum of tactile feedback by varying the intensity and combination of the vibrations. The larger motor (on the left) handles powerful vibrations for high-impact events, while the smaller one (on the right) generates subtle vibrations for lighter actions.

Zooming in beyond the weighted disc in the right handle of the controller, we can closely examine the armature core of the small DC motor, which is composed of stacked laminated metal sheets. As electric current flows through the copper windings wrapped around these sheets, a magnetic field is generated around the armature. This magnetic field interacts with the magnetic field created by the stationary coils, known as the stator. The interaction between these magnetic fields causes the rotor, which includes the armature, to spin.

Unique to Xbox, each trigger has its own independent rumble motor, spring-controlled miniature versions of what we just saw in the handles. These have long been part of the Xbox gamepad design, and they do an excellent job of mimicking the sensation of pressing a car’s accelerator or brake. To the right of the motor we’ve cropped into here, you can also see the contact clamps for the AA batteries that power the controller.

Xbox’s latest and greatest custom controller is the Elite 2 (and Elite 2 Core), which offers customization across the board. You can swap out both adjustable-tension thumbsticks, the d-pad, and paddles on the back. With a wraparound rubberized grip, it offers even more ergonomic comfort than ever before.

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