Mario Kart Becomes Real Life with the Help of RFID Technology

A Screenshot from Mario Kart by Nintendo
A Screenshot from Mario Kart by Nintendo

( Waterloo Labs, a group known for running cowboy engineering projects has been able to make the famous Nintendo video game ‘Mario Kart’ a reality using Go Karts and RFID technology. Mario Kart is one of Nintendo’s most popular racing games due to players having the ability to pick up special items like bananas and shells to use against their opponents. These special items such as the ‘banana peel’ used to slip other karts and a ‘star’ that protects a player against any other item being used on them for a short time were powered with RFID. Waterloo Labs stated the following in making the banana peel work for their experiment, “For the banana item we used some plastic fruit and duct taped the RFID card inside the bunch. The first car to come into range with the RFID must hold the item in their kart for 2 seconds in order for it to be activate. Once the bananas are activated the next kart to come into range of them will have the steering locked to one side using a hydraulic piston.”

Here is a video of Waterloo Labs’ Mario Kart + RFID Technology experiment in action:

Listed below is Waterloo Lab’s system overview with electronic control details from their website:

System Overview – The go-karts behave normally until an item is detected. RFID tags embedded into each item transmit signals to the readers located on each kart. The compact RIO (cRIO) processes these signals and outputs the signals to control the corresponding pneumatic valves and servo motors that control the movement of the go kart. Steering is controlled with two pneumatic cylinders and the brake with one cylinder. The governor, or speed limiter, is controlled with two servo motors.
The units for the items listed in the following sections refer to the amount needed per kart.

Electronic Control
Our electronic control system consisted of:
NI cRIO-9004, NI 9401 DIO Module, NI LabVIEW 2010, NI LabVIEW FPGA Module, NI LabVIEW Real-Time Module, NI RIO 3.61

The cRIO (compact Reconfigurable Input Output) is a real time controller that we programmed with LabVIEW. The cRIO was responsible for processing signals received from the RFID reader, communicating with the central host computer, and outputting the appropriate signals to control the behavior of the go-karts. These signals are outputted through the NI 9403 module, which was used to send digital high and low signals to the pneumatic valves as well as PWM (Pulse Width Modulated) signals to the servo motors. Control of the NI 9403 module was done with FPGA code. This was mainly due to the fact that the cRIO 9004 model does not support Scan Engine.

Item Detection – What we used:
Wavetrend Serial Port Reader RX300, Wavetrend Personnel Tags TG501

To implement the item system, we turned to RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) technology. By implanting active tags in each of the items and having a reader connected to the serial port of each cRIO, we were able to detect items as they came in the vicinity of each kart. We chose to use active rather than passive tags because of the increased range of detection. Active tags actively send out signals and are able to do this due to a built in battery within the tag itself. This allows active tags to be detected within a range of at least several meters. Passive tags are unpowered and can only send out a signal when it is close enough to a reader to draw power from it. This gives a typical detection range of only a few inches. One unique feature of the system that we used was that the readers could detect not only the tag IDs but also the strengths of the signal from each tag. This allowed us to determine the distance from the tags to the readers.

For readers that want to compare how Mario Kart actually is in the video game, here is a video of Mario Kart being played on a Nintendo console:

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