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Discussion Starter #1
Well, I'm thinking on it. I have an AML 060 but I have been rather reluctant to hack it so perhaps a Ruby Kit would be better to experiment with. Hmm.

Anyhow, I have already coded up some firmware and an Android Phone app to control 3 servos and trigger some digital outputs. Here is a bench demo:


I have to stick it in a real locomotive now to test it....
 

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Seems to work well!

What distance can you get out of a smartaleckphone Bluetooth? I always thought Bluetooth was a very short distance... like a few feet at most.

What does the receiver do if/when it loses the data signal?
 

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Looks fantastic! Good work keep us informed. It could be used for control of points on the layout as well. Arduino and a servermotor shield?
 

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Seems to work well!

What distance can you get out of a smartaleckphone Bluetooth? I always thought Bluetooth was a very short distance... like a few feet at most.

What does the receiver do if/when it loses the data signal?
There's (apparently) a new version of Bluetooth recently spec'd and released in most newer phones. An option is a more 'intermittent' mode, where the two devices aren't constantly sending each other info. This mode, used by the Bluerail guys, allows for longer distances and more reliable communication, as they can resend until they get an ack. Or so the Bluerail guys told me.
 

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I've been using an Arduino board with a Bluetooth receiver in a couple of my locos for about 6 months now. Range is good (30-40 feet, at least), but the Bluetooth is very sensitive to voltage. If the batteries fall a hair under 5v, it drops the connection. Otherwise, it works well. A friend wrote the app to control his sparkies and modified it for me.
 

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Discussion Starter #7
I'm getting about 100 ft with a $50 phone from Amazon. My RX is based on the Atmega328 using a BT board from robotshop. I've also got versions for straight battery using an ESC and Battery/DCC driving the Economi 400 and TCS Wow 5amp decoders. I've also got some QSI code too but it's quite not complete yet.

Is anyone interested in a kit of this? It's a pretty simple build, I purposely designed it for easy assembly. Surface mount is nice but it's a pain to hand solder so I went with all through hole stuff.

http://martinsant.net/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/P1030332.png

Here is a link to the phone I'm using. I don't have service on it, I just use it with Bluetooth and Wifi.

https://smile.amazon.com/BLU-Advanc...UTF8&qid=1510443563&sr=1-3&keywords=BLU+phone
 

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What happens if someone calls you in the middle of running?
 

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This topic is very interesting to me, since Lionel O gauge locomotives now come with a Blue Tooth option and MTH 2017 O gauge sets are only offered with a phone application to run them. I personally think MTH has shot themselves in the foot, as not everyone has or wants a smart phone. Lionel at least gives the customer a remote and allows the Blue Tooth option. MTH customers will be forced to cough up another $60.00 for a controller if they opt out of running their set from a phone.

Technology is great - when it works, but I don't think it should be rammed down the customers' throats. Scot's question is quite valid. Have the application designers even thought of that event?

I think the customer should be allowed a choice between cutting edge control and older systems that are KNOWN to work.

My $0.02,
David Meashey
 

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Discussion Starter #11
All well and good and certainly valid concerns but the idea here is to purchase a $50 smart phone that you ONLY use for train control. It has no phone service. It's just a 'tiny color touch screen controller of things'. It's quite remarkable the computational power in these little guys.
 

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Scott, that was really funny.
 

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https://www.raspberrypi.org/products/raspberry-pi-zero-w/

Hello,

I can't design even the simplest of electronics, but I suspect this ready available thing
https://www.raspberrypi.org/products/raspberry-pi-zero-w/
coud be used in multiple ways

- as receiver for servocontrol in a livesteamer, also beeing able to generate bell and screaching brakes sound. And either produce a whistlesound. (An old idea of mine is to change the tone / pitch of a real steam whistle, that has a microphone attached. Perhaps the board could do that as well.)

- as receiver to operate servos for switches and old style signals, or continuos servos for bridges, turntables, and cranes (staionary and mobile). Water rsistant servo motor casings could be 3-d printed. As well as a battery box. According to discussions, because it does not operate a "real time operating system", there is a limit to the number of servos it will successfully operate, without "jitter", but one guy had operated 8 servos successfully. The upper limit has not been tested.

The way I imagine it, one would connect the switchmotors with electrical wiring directly to the central controlbox and batterybox. In a station or switchyard, this would be very easy, for controling those key switches. For that annoyingly distant ""branching off switch, one would have a separate control and batterybox.

- As a complete and stand alone receiver and sound module for sparkies. Perhaps a simple (?) add on circuit would be needed.

- As a wireless receiver, being able to manipulate any existing digital decoder in sparkies, irrespective of the protocol used. Like LGB and Rocco using Scalectric, Maerklin Motorola, DCC, and others. (MTH uses Protosound?). Again, perhaps a simple (?) add on circuit would be needed. This setup could be used for an existing trackpower layout, conventiona, or DCC, only using one unit.

- Also it could be the basis for a conventional controller, with physical turning knobs and togglers. Stand alone, or paired in conjunction with a smartphone or tablet.

- Otherwise, a software controller for smartphones and tablets would be the remote. Perhaps with simple "tabs" to choose engines, mixing livesteam and sparkies would be possible, or a switchboard screen.

- Because such locomotive receivers could be bidirectional, RF ID tags could be placed in the track, with a receiver in the locomotive, enabling ATC (automatic train control), and preprogrammed routes. That would also work with livestem engines.

- Currently, this board is to big to be used in the smaller scales as onboard receivers, I would guess. There might be other boards though.

- It could perhaps also control charging of rechargeable batteries. Again, perhaps a simple (?) add on circuit would be needed, to handle higher current.

Am I completely out of touch with reality?
 

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Discussion Starter #14
It's one thing to list all the wonderful things you could do, it's another to tie them all together and make it work. I think it will be quite a challenge to get the RPi zero to do everything you listed but by all means, give it a go, I'd certainly be interested in your results.
 

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Dave, you state that MTH O gauge sets are only offered with a phone app.

Where did you see that information? You are stating that MTH O Gauge no longer works with DCS or DCC, pretty unbelievable they would abandon DCS and the recent addition of DCC to the Protosound III.

Please read page 4 of the 2017 catalog https://mthtrains.com/sites/default/files/catalog_files/2017_v_1/index.html

Perhaps you saw where you can use an app to run the train. Some people love it, but if you go to the forums where MTH is heavily discussed, you will see that this additional hardware is not as "evolved" and "trouble free" as their original control system, which is even more problematic than using DCC with their stuff... although for people who love cell phones and don't use a lot of functions it can be good. But it's new so it will take a while to get better.

We've had inexpensive wi-fi control for DCC for years, the software is free.

Greg

This topic is very interesting to me, since Lionel O gauge locomotives now come with a Blue Tooth option and MTH 2017 O gauge sets are only offered with a phone application to run them. I personally think MTH has shot themselves in the foot, as not everyone has or wants a smart phone. Lionel at least gives the customer a remote and allows the Blue Tooth option. MTH customers will be forced to cough up another $60.00 for a controller if they opt out of running their set from a phone.

Technology is great - when it works, but I don't think it should be rammed down the customers' throats. Scot's question is quite valid. Have the application designers even thought of that event?

I think the customer should be allowed a choice between cutting edge control and older systems that are KNOWN to work.

My $0.02,
David Meashey
 

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Martan, just to be clear, I'm not critisising your project! What board are you using?

Greg, you are talking about DCC via track power, right? I think the new Bluetooth standard is a more practical aproach than WiFi, if you want an onboard receiver.

I'm basically not knowlidgeable in the technical stuff to judge if my outline of ideas are possible. I did just find out that adding sound output is very simple though.

I've been frustrated for years, that Maerklin an LGB hasn't gone batteries and wireless years ago. At the time Maerklin offerd a multi protocol controler, they should have gone wireless. Maerklin sort of understood that todays children find the idea of a non-remote toy wehicle very strange, so in HO, they offer a simple IR remote, that controls the track power supply. When I spoke to a Maerklin german employee, he did not understand the point of eliminating track power in garden railways. And I find it odd, that a new entrant to the garden railway market - PIKO - has not seized the competitive oportunity versus LGB.

Since the big manufacturers seem to be completely daft, I'm thrilled that the model railroading community might solv the problem on it's own, given the new cheap of-the-shelf hardware available. The best thing would be to agree on a project structure, a communications standard / protocol, and then different lego style blocks of software could be developed by many different railroaders. That's why I think beeing able to include HO scale people would benefit the project, as the number of contributing people would be far greater.

The Raspberry pi zero is 35x65mm aparently. Slightly big for HO
 

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Pauli, I indicated I was replying to dave in my post. I believe he is in errror about "only offered with a phone application".

Yes, all MTH is track power, DC, DCS and DCC.

Yes, I know what deadrail is, in fact set up a meeting with the "inventor" of the term today, he lives close by.

Actually, wi-fi is getting more low power hardware available, and with a G scale loco drawing one or 2 amps, in my opinion it is silly to use bluetooth with it's limitations when you could use the much more robust wi-fi. I'm an engineer and my company makes wireless products and I'm pretty familiar with these technologies.

Depending on what kind of system you want, direct from a throttle to the loco may or may not make sense... I surely do not want to start this here on this thread, and there's too many people on the forum who are positive their way is the only way for everyone so it's nothing I want to debate.

Even these statements will get people hot... sort of The Emperors Clothes situation.

There's pro's and con's for all the different methods, but bluetooth was not designed for anything over a PAN, and many layouts are really bigger than the protocol was designed for.

Of course now people will chime in about long distance bluetooth, and high power bluetooth, and again I am not going to debate this.

Greg - 621

p.s. before replying be sure to read carefully what I typed, I said "many" not all, etc.
 

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Greg;

I was using the information from the 2017 train set catalog, which we have at the hobby shop. I had looked at every set, and no conventional throttle. I will reread page 4 at work today, but to me the catalog indicated that a traditional controller would be an extra expense for the buyer.

I know the discussion is for live steam, but my concern is that folks are being forced into using a phone by some manufacturers. I personally do not have nor want a smart phone, The flip model does enough for me, without "owning" me. I see so many people, even folks older than me, who cannot take their eyes off those phones. Makes me want to say, "Hang up and live life!"

I'm still quite happy running my locomotives manually. Makes me feel more like an engineer. If I can ever afford the Roundhouse Beyer-Garrett, then I will have to take the radio control. Until then, I prefer my own hand on the throttle, even if it is tiny.

I'll check page 4 today. Again, I brought up the concern because I think MTH is trying to force customers down a certain path. But those same customers can vote with their wallets. We will see.

10-4,
David Meashey
 

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Discussion Starter #19
No offense taken, and no debate on the merits of the various protocols.

Actually, I've tried most of them, wifi, bluetooth, xbee, synapse mesh, etc. However, the ease of use, simplicity of phone app development and minimal hardware and cost have brought me to this design.

It's solid, cheap and easy to use. it's easy to upgrade as well, the comm module can be replaced with any of the above protocols and the board has a fully functional programmer interface, easy to upgrade or you can completely re-write the firmware if you choose to get frisky.

Anyhow, I'm polishing off the phone apps now and the hardware is on it's final test pass. I'll prepare some documentation and put up a wiki soon.

Dave, I just want to add I completely understand your views on smartphones. I'm an old crusty software engineer and I never liked the things for many of the same reasons you mentioned. I still have a flip phone that I use as my main phone and do a 'pay as you go' plan! I'm a dinosaur in that regard.

However, they are the future. A whole generation is growing up with them and they have an incredible amount of power packed in a tiny, cheap package. They are also very easy to program (well, depending on your skill set) and that screen can then be anything you want it to be. So, it's hard to stay on the sidelines, at least for me. I don't have service on mine, they are 'control surfaces' to me only.

Quick story- I fly for fun. I have a Cessna. I've done paper maps and charts for years and recently flew with a younger pilot- he pulled out his phone and dialed up a flight plan, airport info, weather and all that on a moving sectional map. Amazing. Man, did I feel old and backwards! A big pile of unwieldy paper turned into a small compact package. I still carry the paper charts for back up but I never use them anymore.

Embrace the future <grin>
 

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OK, finally got the chance to check the MTH 2017 Ready-to-Run catalog. Don't think I ever typed that MTH was abandoning DCS or DCC, but if I did, that is indeed a misnomer. The phone application is designed to work with all MTH systems, if I understood the literature correctly. I reread both the fourth page and page 4 (They are different).

The fourth page states: "If you don't have a smart phone or tablet, you can still run your RailKing train set remotely with the separately sold DCS Remote Commander, DCS Commander, or our top-of-the line DCS Digital Command System, shown on pager 86-89. If you prefer a traditional hard-wired power controller, pick any separately sold M.T.H. transformer on pages 84-85."

The lower-end systems with enough wattage cost $59.95, which I rounded up to $60.00.

Personally, I think a system to allow a little steamer to run off the smart phone Is a great idea. Just not my own cup of tea. My concern was for manufacturers who seem to want to leave the customer only expensive alternatives.

Had a customer at the hobby store a while back, who wanted to buy a Bachmann smartphone controlled HO F7. He just liked the locomotive's looks - had no idea of the control requirements. When I explained the required system to him, the locomotive went back on the shelf.

OK, time to quit.

Everybody have fun with your trains (I just love to demo the Lionel O gauge Polar Express),
David Meashey
 
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