Picture of BARC Jeep - An XBOX Controlled Power Wheels
Make a power wheels jeep that is controlled by an XBOX controller. This particular build is using Power Wheels® Jeep® Hurricane with Monster Traction™ but should be usable across many different types of power wheels with small adjustments.

I wanted to do this project so I could drive my kids around. They are 2 and 3. We take the jeep out a few times a week. It's great for going to the park or just walking around the neighborhood. It works kind of like a stroller as far as containing and protecting them, but obviously way awesomer.

This project has also been built with expansion in mind. Because the motor controller boards have feedback, and there's plenty of room left on the Arduino microcontroller, it will be easy to add things such as proximity sensors and driver profiles. That way, when I give it to my little boy to drive himself, I can set the driver profile to be gentler as well as activate proximity sensors so he can't ram a tree.

Also, in essence this entire build is a fairly simple way to get a robot off the ground. My project was particular to the power wheels because I'd been dreaming of sitting on my porch with my controller and driving my kids in the yard, but really the setup could apply to anything with motor driven wheels and a steerable front end. (motor size etc taken into consideration of course).

I hope you enjoy reading about my project as much as I did making it. And if you do decide to tackle this Instructable and build your own, please contact me for any questions. I want to keep improving this so as many people can take that old Power Wheels and make it into the coolest thing on the block.

Now let' s make it!
Things you will need: Tools / Supplies:
     * Soldering Iron (i like this one)
     * Solder
     * Wire Strippers
     * A saw or cutting wheel to cut metal (i used an end grinder with a cutting wheel)
     * Wrenches / Screwdrivers
     * Drill - (a drill press is good for the steering plates, but a drill will work)

  • Connect the Arduino to the USB Host shield, then connect that to the Wireless gaming receiver.
  • Drive the linear actuator with the Pololu Jrk Motor Controller
  • Drive the motors already in the Power Wheels with the Pololu Simple High-Power Motor Controller
  • Connect both motor controllers to the Arduino so they are controlled by the Xbox controller.
  • Remove the steering mechanism currently in the Power Wheels
  • Build a custom steering mechanism that is controlled with the linear actuator.
Sounds easy, right!
ricky19852 months ago

This project is out of my realm, I am wondering if anybody on this page is located near the east coast near Dover Delaware and is willing to work on this project so that my son whom was born blind can have the opportunity to have a power wheel and enjoy this toy that all other 3 year old enjoy but at the same time do it safely, I am willing to pay some one to do this project and I will be the one supply all the material and hardware to get this job done. Thank you

Julezz3 months ago

Still not compiling. I'm thinking that my technique could be flawed. I have been copy and pasting your code directly into the Arduino sketch app vers 1.6.4. from this site. Perhaps I am getting extra *stuff* because of this?

I also wonder if the xboxrecv.h version could be an issue? I don't know. What I do know is that something I am doing is wrong.

In the Arduino app, Tools > Board: Arduino Uno - check! Tools > Programmer: AVRISP mkII (is this good - no idea). At first it was erroring out on the xboxrecv.h because I did not have one. Now I have one but is it the right one? It doesn't error out on that any longer.

Spent some times with friends tonight going over this. Truthfully, my friends all know C and I don't. *They* were the ones looking through all this. I was just trying to understand what they were talking about. Someone mentioned that perhaps this was rather ambitious of me - yes it most likely is but I am going to learn from this.

Thank you so much for all your comments and help. I do appreciate it!

DaniellD3 months ago
Collecting parts, so far...Working P.W. Vehicle, Arduino Uno R3, Keys USB Host Shield 2.0....more on way, very excited! I'm in the electronics field but kinda a nubie to arduino
Julezz3 months ago
Update 11-May-2015:
Tonight I was able to update the USB library and compiled successfully the xboxrecv. Yeah! Hopefully that is what I was supposed to do.
I ran into a snag compiling your code for the RC Power Wheels. The first compile returned an error of spi.h library not found. That one was fairly easy to fix. Running a second compile has seemed to hang it. I actually waited 30 minutes before killing it. I just tried it again. States that it is compiling the sketch and then just hangs. I'm thinking maybe I screwed up somehow with your code? No idea. Suggestions? I'll start picking through the syntax in the code because I can't think of what else might be hanging it.

Just fyi - I do have an original Arduino Uno from Arduino. It's the USB shield that is not an actual Arduino usb shield. Could that be causing the sketch to hang on compiling? I don't need to load the libraries onto the Arduino ... or do I? Doesn't the sketch use the library? Once the sketch compiles, then you upload the sketch to the Arduino, right?

Such a newbie - sorry. Thank you for your assistance!
RawLiquid4 months ago

Awesome job on this and lots of details, I've finally got most of the parts and am starting on this today. One note I did want to point out, In order to adapt this to the smaller power wheels, would require significant alterations. A key one being that stock, they do not have a single piece of metal other than screws, the rear axle, the 2 wheel axles, the steering shaft, and a flat bar for steering and maybe one more. The square tubing that you bolt the actuator to is non-existent in the smaller ones.

I don't suppose you ever got the steering working for the child? That is the only detail I've been slightly concerned with as I definitely am trying to get my son to take control but he doesn't yet understand that is what he is doing. Aside from that I may suppliment what you did here with details on adding a working horn, backup buzzer, and some lights. One additional selling point for using the Hurricane model, it has a working AM/FM radio, no display to see what station it's on, but kids are probably just as happy with music, and no repeating cheesy generated tunes to drive you up the wall...

NerdSpouse (author)  RawLiquid3 months ago

Hey, thanks! I am currently working on some major changes to this build. For starters, I made one little mistake early 2014 and burned up the $100 steering controller. This deflated my motivation for this project for a while but now I'm getting back on track.

I haven't fixed the ability for the kids to steer it themselves. Some ideas on the board is connecting a potentiometer to the steering wheel and wiring it to the Arduino. This way they'll have power steering and I can override it with the controller.

Second, I'm collecting different types of these toys and reverse engineering them all. I'm finding ways to add modifications to each without having to cut anything. Since I started this project I've built my own CNC and 3D printer to help with prototyping.

If you have any questions, tips, or need some advice please let me know. Once I finish this last (unrelated) project May 15th, I'm dedicating all of my energy to upgrading and updating RC options for these toys. Thanks again!

Can I ask what mistake it was? I managed to strip a metal gear servo for steering, just from a bump into a bush...I *was* collecting parts for the smaller one but when I found the hurricane on Craigslist my wife said yes but... so they all left quickly...
NerdSpouse (author)  RawLiquid3 months ago

The quick version: I used one set of batteries for the steering motor and both drive motors. Often the steering motor would slow because the drive motors are full power and vice-versa. One hour before the RVA MakerFest event I decided to rewire a new set of batteries so that there were 12 volts driving the steering motor and 18v driving the rear. Somewhere along the way I ended up wiring power to the wrong pins on the steering controller and *poof!* it was shot. $100 down the drain. I'm definitely designing my own board now.

Julezz3 months ago

Night 1: Received my USB shield today (finally). Ran your script to get my Arduino talking with my Windows Receiver and it failed. Did I mention this a learning adventure for me? New to all of this and this is my first go with Arduino's (which is why I chose this). Having a project is the best way for me to learn things. So many variables! I'll keep you in the loop.

NerdSpouse (author)  Julezz3 months ago

How's it coming so far? I'm curious to know what USB shield you picked out. I purchased the Sparkfun version and the original Circuits@Home version and found that the C@H version is far superior. The Sparkfun USB Host Shield gave me all kinds of problems.

Julezz NerdSpouse3 months ago
I'm stuck right now. I purchased the Keyes usb from GearBest. When I ordered it I wasn't paying close enough attention. Apparently they are based in Hong Kong. May have been a mistake.

I'm stuck on trying to get the script you posted to compile. Right now I'm slowly working my way through the script to figure out what I don't have set up right on my end.

This is my first experience with using someone else's script and I am brand new to Arduino. I did manage to load the usb library (I think).
NerdSpouse (author)  Julezz3 months ago

Best thing to do is go official for both boards. The 5 or 10 bucks I saved was not worth the headache later.

Definitely get an official Arduino-branded Arduino from your favorite internet retailer if you don't have one already.

Second, the Keyes USB board that you have is a direct, exact, clone of the original Circuits@Home shield. If you compare photos of the two you'll see only the company name has changed. This doesn't mean that the Keyes USB product has quality parts, so take that into account. Best thing is to just get the official board to start.

Lastly, my code is really, really old. I've been meaning to host my code somewhere else so I can keep it updated. My wife and I are doing another event this Wednesday and after that I have only one project, and that's updating this. So, the best place to start code-wise is the Circuits@Home library example. I just loaded it up a minute ago and it compiles just fine. So if you can get that working you're on the right track. I am working on updating the code to make it simpler and easier but I can't start until after the 13th.

Goo luck and keep me posted!

Julezz4 months ago

Thank you for posting this Instructable. I plan on using it to guide me through my first RC build. I'm still in the part gathering stage but I'll keep you posted as I progress. Hopefully I won't have too many questions for you. Thanks again!

NerdSpouse (author)  Julezz3 months ago

Hi Julezz, please reach out to me if you have any questions. I spent two years researching this thing before I bought the first part simply because I couldn't find anything else really like it on the interwebs. I've had some expensive mishaps with this project last year that really crushed my motivation to work on it. I'm getting back on track now and after May 15th, I'll be dedicating more time and energy into this and sharing/open-sourcing everything I come across.

Julezz NerdSpouse3 months ago

Thanks for the encouragement! I am in the parts gathering stage right now. I have everything except my USB shield which should be arriving any day now. Last night (around 2am cause that's when you think of these things) it suddenly occurred to me that I'm not sure if the current battery for my powerwheels works. I'll be testing that here shortly. It would be frustrating to not have that piece work because I didn't think to test the battery. I have to admit I'm nervous. I've never done anything like this before. Good to know I can post here if I have questions. Honestly, this weekend might see me getting started. Whooa!

tiberious4 months ago

In your code did you add a portion that looks to make sure the controller is still connected? say the batteries die or vehicle goes out of range.

NerdSpouse (author)  tiberious3 months ago

Good call! That was always on the "to-do" list for this project. See, the original design called for a single Arduino connected to a wired Xbox 360 controller communicating wirelessly via Xbee. i picked the Pololu motor controllers because they all used a serial protocol and the Xbee pair would just be a wireless link from Arduino to motor controllers. Well, there was so much electrical noise from the motors that this approach never worked.

While troubleshooting the problem, I rewrote the code, connected the Arduino directly to the motor controllers and used a wireless 360 controller. It worked perfectly. Then, to my surprise, the range of the 360 controller in open air was over 50 - 75 feet. So that was a double bonus and...well...I just left it like that.

And oh, believe-you-me, when it loses signal it doesn't stop! I've been to 3 Maker Faires with it and was always close enough to pull the plug, but never needed to. I'm designing my own transmitter/receiver pair specifically for projects like this and will definitely implement a "heartbeat" monitor. Thanks for your comment, I really appreciate it.

Treydoggnrhs 7 months ago
How much would you charge for a premade preprogrammed kit to just bolt on and plug up?
cellsk81 year ago

Hi friend, amazing work. I have a question, This hardware (http://articulo.mercadolibre.com.mx/MLM-452642616-convertidor-usb-serial-ttl-ftdi-uart-arduino-pic-atmega-avr-_JM) can replace this one "USB host shield"?. Thaks and congratulations!!!

NerdSpouse (author)  cellsk89 months ago

Thanks for the compliments! The link you provided is for a USB-to-Serial board based on a famous chip made by FTDI. Microcontrollers like the Arduino use very simple serial interfaces (TTL, SPI, etc) to communicate with other hardware and our computers use a very complicated serial interface: USB. The FTDI chip translates the communication between our computers and microcontrollers like the Arduino. If you're searching for a substitute for this shield Google "max3421e". This chip acts as a USB Host to translate USB hardware (mouse, keyboard, thumbdrive, etc) into something the Arduino can understand. Hope this helps!

mohammed-ft9 months ago

is there a way to connect the controller to Arduino without the usb shield ?

NerdSpouse (author)  mohammed-ft9 months ago

Unfortunately no. Not for an Xbox controller. Microsoft uses a proprietary 2.4GHz wireless protocol that hasn't been reverse engineered successfully. The easiest way is to capture the data via USB and the shield is just a fancy breakout board for the MAX3421E USB Host Controller chip. This project would have been a lot easier had I used a Bluetooth adapter and the PS3 controller, but the Xbox 360 controller is the best controller in my opinion. Way better than a grizzly.

carlosm511 months ago

Hello Friend

Good job, one question.

Also you can manually manage ?? as you connected the facility that has the car to work manually and control?

Excuse my English, I'm using google translator (Spanish-English)

Thank you

cellsk81 year ago

Hi friend, amazing work. I have a question, This hardware (http://articulo.mercadolibre.com.mx/MLM-452642616-convertidor-usb-serial-ttl-ftdi-uart-arduino-pic-atmega-avr-_JM) can replace this one "USB host shield"?. Thaks and congratulations!!!

rtalley1 year ago
amazing work. the only thing i did differently was use an aftermarket power window motor and a pot to turn the wheel!

This whole project is awesome. I have recently been planning to do
something similar, with the traditional r/c transmitter receiver. But
this would much cooler. How does the window motor and pot work? How do
you control limits, and does it return to center? Any information would
be greatly appreciated. I'm working on a power wheels escalade for my
daughter, it's a pretty heavy set up, how would it handle?

we used these for open cv experimentation in highschool
NerdSpouse (author)  kyle brinkerhoff1 year ago
That sounds interesting. In my original conception of this project I was making an autonomous beer cooler to follow me around the beach. That is until I saw the complexity in vision recognition. Any positive/negative experiences with opencv?
its clunky as can be right now and without a serious on board computer its pretty hard to keep a reasonable frame rate. might be better off with a radio based system that could triangulate the position of a key fob or somethin like that
Tazmjm691 year ago
Very cool project! There is a 6 wheel rc cart by blvdminss here on instructables (for Marcaine Art, if you're interested). You're kids have a cool Dad!
NerdSpouse (author)  Tazmjm691 year ago
Thanks Taz! I have a 2 and 3 year old and they love it. Also thanks for recommending the project by blvdminss. Pretty soon I will replace the lower plastic body of the Jeep with a metal chassis, rubber tires, beefier motors.
NerdSpouse (author) 1 year ago
Glad you liked it. Please feel free to ask any questions when you get a project started!
This is really cool. I don't know much about the arduino programming but I like this a lot. It would be cool to adapt an old electric wheelchair for a yard cart that could carry heavy weight :-)