Project Leonardo, Sony’s take on an accessible controller

Marijn / ActiveB1t4 minute read

At CES 2023 Sony announced it is working on their own accessible controller. The controller, which currently has the codename Project Leonardo, aims to bring improved hardware accessibility to the PlayStation 5. The controller was designed in collaboration with organizations like SpecialEffect, Stack Up, and AbleGamers, and accessibility consultants and advocates.

Accessible out-of-the-box

The controller has a round design, about the width of a DualSense controller. It is intended to lay flat on a surface so there is no need to hold it. There are 8 button locations on the controller, somewhat resembling the petals on a flower. A single button in positioned the middle. These buttons are interchangeable with different shapes to meet a player’s preference or need. Some shapes even allow them to bridge two buttons. The buttons are white and look like they are textured like the grips on the DualSense controller. The stick and body are black, matching the design of the DualSense and the PS5 itself.

The Project Leonardo controller, with the different stick caps and buttons laid out alongside and around the controller.

The analog stick comes with three different stick caps, from the standard thumbstick design up to a larger ball shape. It can also be positioned in any direction along the controller, with an adjustable distance.

Going by the promotional images, I could imagine even more shapes may be thought of by makers and controller customizers. With the availability of 3D printing, this is an interesting prospect.

The buttons can be assigned to any function, and multiple buttons may be assigned to the same one. Additionally a single button can be assigned to two functions at once. These settings can be saved in up to three profiles that can be easily switched by pressing the profile button.

Add adaptive switches, but not many

Like its companions in the larger adaptive controller family, Project Leonardo also includes ports to attach external switches. These can be assigned to act like any other button. Unlike the Xbox Adaptive Controller and the Hori Flex Controller, the number of ports is limited to only four 3.5mm AUX ports. This would mean the controller is not as easily integrated in existing switch arrangements. But it should be compatible with the buttons in the Logitech G Adaptive Gaming Kit for example. It’s obvious Project Leonardo is designed to be more of an accessible out-of-the-box experience than a switch hub.

A close-up of a Project Leonardo controller, showing it from the side. 3 petal-like buttons are visible and below them two 3.5mm ports labelled E1 and E2.

The controller lacks the special haptic features and the touchpad of the DualSense controller. If Sony makes it possible to play PS5 games without these features in a controller, can we hope for DualShock support in the future? I ask this because many disabled PlayStation 4 players have customized setups built around adapted DualShock controllers. It would be great if they could finally bring their existing and often expensive setups to PS5.

Copilot, Project Leonardo edition

With Project Leonardo, Sony is also introducing their own copilot implementation to PlayStation 5. Copilot is Xbox’s ability to use multiple controllers as one. This allows players to divide their controls over multiple controllers. This also enables a second player to take over certain controls for assisted play sessions.

With Project Leonardo, players can combine up to 2 Project Leonardo controllers and a single DualSense controller. This can be done in any combination, giving a lot of options for a flexible arrangement of controls.

Lacking in the announcement however, is the option to combine two DualSense controllers in this way. If this were possible it would bring a more accessible experience to many players who may already have multiple controllers. We sincerely hope this is something that is made possible as well.

A DualSense controller, shown with two Project Leonardo controllers with different button and stick configurations.

“Millions of gamers play games to escape into a fun experience, build new friendships, or hang out together. The opportunity to make gaming accessible to more players is something all of us at SIE are incredibly passionate about.”

Jim Ryan, PlayStation president and CEO

Former mobility editor of Can I Play That? Grant Stoner talked to PlayStation president and CEO Jim Ryan in his exclusive interview about Project Leonardo for Wired. From the interview we learn about Sony’s continued commitment to accessibility. From their already impressive software achievements like The Last of Us and God of War, to hardware with Project Leonardo.

This is a huge step from Sony and sure to welcome many players into the PlayStation 5 ecosystem. The controller is currently still in development, so any concerns or uncertainties could be addressed before it releases. At this time, no pricing or release date have been shared.

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Marijn
ActiveB1tWebsite operationsHe/They

CIPT's resident one-person IT crew responsible for the looks, functionality, and accessibility of the site. Inclusion and accessibility troublemaker and creator of the Alt Or Not browser plugin for Twitter. Child of the 80's without an intention of growing up.

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