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A joystick is an input device consisting of a stick that pivots on a base and reports its angle or direction to the device it is controlling. A joystick, also known as the control column, is the principal control device in the cockpit of many civilian and military aircraft, either as a center stick or side-stick. It often has supplementary switches to control various aspects of the aircraft's flight.

Joysticks are often used to control video games, and usually have one or more push-buttons whose state can also be read by the computer. A popular variation of the joystick used on modern video game consoles is the analog stick. Joysticks are also used for controlling machines such as cranes, trucks, underwater unmanned vehicles, wheelchairs, surveillance cameras, and zero turning radius lawn mowers. Miniature finger-operated joysticks have been adopted as input devices for smaller electronic equipment such as mobile phones.

Joysticks originated as controls for aircraft ailerons and elevators, and are first known to have been used as such on Louis Bleriot's Bleriot VIII aircraft of 1908, in combination with a foot-operated rudder bar for the yaw control surface on the tail.

The electrical two-axis joystick was invented by C. B. Mirick at the United States Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) and patented in 1926 (U.S. Patent no. 1,597,416)". NRL was actively developing remote controlled aircraft at the time and the joystick was possibly used to support this effort. In the awarded patent, Mirick writes: "My control system is particularly applicable in maneuvering aircraft without a pilot."

The Germans developed an electrical two-axis joystick around 1944. The device was used as part of the Germans' Funkgerät FuG 203 Kehl radio control transmitter system used in certain German bomber aircraft, used to guide both the rocket-boosted anti-ship missile Henschel Hs 293, and the unpowered pioneering precision-guided munition Fritz-X, against maritime and other targets. Here, the joystick of the Kehl transmitter was used by an operator to steer the missile towards its target. This joystick had on-off switches rather than analogue sensors. Both the Hs 293 and Fritz-X used FuG 230 Straßburg radio receivers in them to send the Kehl's control signals to the ordnance's control surfaces. A comparable joystick unit was used for the contemporary American Azon steerable munition, strictly to laterally steer the munition in the yaw axis only.

This German invention was picked up by someone in the team of scientists assembled at the Heeresversuchsanstalt in Peenemünde. Here a part of the team on the German rocket program was developing the Wasserfall missile, a variant of the V-2 rocket, the first ground-to-air missile. The Wasserfall steering equipment converted the electrical signal to radio signals and transmitted these to the missile.

In the 1960s the use of joysticks became widespread in radio-controlled model aircraft systems such as the Kwik Fly produced by Phill Kraft (1964). The now-defunct Kraft Systems firm eventually became an important OEM supplier of joysticks to the computer industry and other users. The first use of joysticks outside the radio-controlled aircraft industry may have been in the control of powered wheelchairs, such as the Permobil (1963). During this time period NASA used joysticks as control devices as part of the Apollo missions. For example, the lunar lander test models were controlled with a joystick.

In many modern airliners aircraft, for example all Airbus aircraft developed from the 1980s, the joystick has received a new lease on life for flight control in the form of a "side-stick", a controller similar to a gaming joystick but which is used to control the flight, replacing the traditional yoke. The sidestick saves weight, improves movement and visibility in the cockpit, and may be safer in an accident than the traditional "control yoke".

Ralph H. Baer, inventor of the Magnavox Odyssey console, released in 1972, created the first video game joysticks in 1967. They were able to control the horizontal and vertical position of a spot displayed on a screen. The earliest known electronic game joystick with a fire button was released by Sega as part of their 1969 arcade game Missile, a shooter simulation game that used it as part of an early dual-control scheme, where two directional buttons are used to move a motorized tank and a two-way joystick is used to shoot and steer the missile onto oncoming planes displayed on the screen; when a plane is hit, an explosion is animated on screen along with an explosion sound. In 1970, the game was released in North America as S.A.M.I. by Midway Games.

Taito released a four-way joystick as part of their arcade racing video game Astro Race in 1973, while their 1975 run and gun multi-directional shooter game Western Gun introduced dual-stick controls with one eight-way joystick for movement and the other for changing the shooting direction. In North America, it was released by Midway under the title Gun Fight. In 1976, Taito released Interceptor, an early first-person combat flight simulator that involved piloting a jet fighter, using an eight-way joystick to aim with a crosshair and shoot at enemy aircraft.

Computer port view of the Atari standard connector: 1. up, 2. down, 3. left, 4. right, 5. (pot y),[citation needed] 6. fire button, 7. +5 V DC,[citation needed] 8. ground, 9. (pot x).

The Atari standard joystick, developed for the Atari 2600, released in 1977, was a digital controller, with a single fire button. The Atari joystick port was for many years the de facto standard digital joystick specification. Joysticks were commonly used as controllers in first and second generation game consoles, but they gave way to the familiar game pad with the Nintendo Entertainment System and Sega Master System during the mid-1980s, though joysticks—especially arcade-style one—were and are popular after-market add-ons for any console.

In 1985, Sega's third-person arcade rail shooter game Space Harrier introduced a true analog flight stick, used for movement. The joystick could register movement in any direction as well as measure the degree of push, which could move the player character at different speeds depending on how far the joystick was pushed in a certain direction.

A distinct variation of an analog joystick is a positional gun, which works differently from a light gun. Instead of using light sensors, a positional gun is essentially an analog joystick mounted in a fixed location that records the position of the gun to determine where the player is aiming on the screen. It is often used for arcade gun games, with early examples including Sega's Sea Devil in 1972; Taito's Attack in 1976; Cross Fire in 1977; and Nintendo's Battle Shark in 1978.

During the 1990s, joysticks such as the CH Products Flightstick, Gravis Phoenix, Microsoft SideWinder, Logitech WingMan, and Thrustmaster FCS were in demand with PC gamers. They were considered a prerequisite for flight simulators such as F-16 Fighting Falcon and LHX Attack Chopper. Joysticks became especially popular with the mainstream success of space flight simulator games like X-Wing and Wing Commander, as well as the "Six degrees of freedom" 3D shooter Descent. VirPil Controls' MongoosT-50 joystick was designed to mimic the style of Russian aircraft (including the Sukhoi Su-35 and Sukhoi Su-57), unlike most flight joysticks.

However, since the beginning of the 21st century, these types of games have waned in popularity and are now considered a "dead" genre, and with that, gaming joysticks have been reduced to niche products. In NowGamer's interview with Jim Boone, a producer at Volition Inc., he stated that FreeSpace 2's poor sales could have been due to joysticks' being sold poorly because they were "going out of fashion" because more modern first-person shooters, such as Quake, were "very much about the mouse and [the] keyboard". He went further on to state "Before that, when we did Descent for example, it was perfectly common for people to have joysticks – we sold a lot of copies of Descent. It was around that time [when] the more modern FPS with mouse and keyboard came out, as opposed to just keyboard like Wolfenstein [3D] or something.".

Since the late 1990s, analog sticks (or thumbsticks, due to their being controlled by one's thumbs) have become standard on controllers for video game consoles, popularized by Nintendo's Nintendo 64 controller, and have the ability to indicate the stick's displacement from its neutral position. This means that the software does not have to keep track of the position or estimate the speed at which the controls are moved. These devices usually use potentiometers to determine the position of the stick, though some newer models instead use a Hall effect sensor for greater reliability and reduced size.

In 1997, ThrustMaster, Inc. introduced a 3D programmable controller, which was integrated into computer games to experience flight simulations. This line adapted several aspects of NASA's RHC (Rotational Hand Controller), which is used for landing and navigation methods.

An arcade stick is a large-format controller for use with home consoles or computers. They use the stick-and-button configuration of some arcade cabinets, such as those with particular multi-button arrangements. For example, the six button layout of the arcade games Street Fighter II or Mortal Kombat cannot be comfortably emulated on a console joypad, so licensed home arcade sticks for these games have been manufactured for home consoles and PCs.

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