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WHAT WAS THE TOP-SECRET "PUFFER PROJECT"?
Sensing an opportunity to bring health fitness and videogames
together, in 1982 Atari embarked on "Project Puffer," a top-secret
mission to develop a home exercise bike with two hand grip
controllers, a wheel speed pickup, and the necessary attachments
for an Atari computer or 5200. By interfacing their machines to an
exercise bicycle, Atari planned to make exercising fun.
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The Puffer featured hand controllers which easily attached to most
existing exercise cycles and gave the conscientious user directional
control. The act of peddling was to give the imaginary vehicle
motion and the rider exercise. Therefore, no peddling--no motion.
For the overzealous cyclist, a pulse rate sensor could be added to
monitor excessive heart beat activity.
The two hand controllers replaced the original hand grips on the
exercycle. The Puffer controllers were designed to fit as many of
the current exercycles as possible while at the same time remaining
inexpensive and durable. A magnet attached to the wheel monitored
the wheel speed and a Hall effect sensor detected the passing magnet
which can be read by the computer to calculate the wheel speed. The
housing for the sensor was also the junction box for the hand
controller cables and the computer cable. The computer required only
one cable to be connected to a joystick input.
Three new programs were developed to show Puffer's capabilities in
particular applications, and one more was modified to show its
limitations. The games were Jungle River Cruise (originally called
"Riverboat"), Tumbleweeds, Pole Position, and Ms. Pac-Man, all for
the 5200 and 400/800 (a 2600 game appears to have never been
In order to reach a wide spectrum of consumers, Atari planned on
producing three Puffer models - the Pro Model, an Arcade Model and a
Home Model (for the 2600, 5200 and 8-bit computers)
The Home Model consisted of two types -- a folding exercise bike
sourced on an OEM basis with Atari controls mounted on them, or an
add-on module for those who already own an exercise bike. The Home
Puffer was to plug into the joystick port of a 5200, 400/800 or VCS.
The suggested retail price was to be $150 with one game packaged with
the Puffer. Atari had plans on releasing controllers to fit other
exercise instruments such as rowing machines and foot pads if the
Puffer proved to be a success.
Just as Atari was ready for production of the Puffer and its
compatible software programs, the project was put in the back burner
as Atari began to lose an incredible amount of money in the
marketplace. The Puffer was resurrected in early 1984, and Atari
planned to aggressively market and sell the Puffer in the summer of
1984, with a full-scale marketing campaign that was to coincide with
the Los Angeles 1984 Olympics.
However, the purchase of Atari by Sam Tramiel in the Spring of 1984
brought an end to the ambitious product, as the new regime under
the Tramiels sought to identify Atari as a professional home computer
For more detailed information about the Puffer, including pictures,
schematics, game information and internal corporate documents, please
visit the Project Puffer Page at..