Announcing the DCS PC and mobile device interface

 

Hi all,

 

As many of you saw last week on the forum, my team and I at Hikel Layouts & Trains have introduced the first PC interface for DCS, which includes the capability to run trains or control your layout from mobile devices such as iPads and smartphones.  There has been a fair amount of speculation and some partial explanations shared on the forum already, so I wanted to take the time and start a new thread that explains our system.  Please post any questions or suggestions here.

 

Over the last few years we have been constructing a 3200 sq. ft. 3-rail Scale layout known as the NorthWest Trunk Lines.  The layouts owner, Peter Hambling, insisted on having the option of running the layout from a computer.  Peter wanted to be able to put on a good display for visitors even when he’s the only one operating the trains.  As you’ll see, the computer interface has the ability to put on a pretty good show.

 

We approached the problem of layout automation as a third party with no specific loyalty to one brand or even scale of trains.  We wanted to integrate the best products we could find for each task.  Full layout automation requires three elements.  First, you must have a system to control the trains, switches and accessories.  Peter already owned numerous locomotives with Protosound 2, TMCC, and Legacy.  That made the first element simple.  The NorthWest Trunk Lines uses both DCS and Legacy to operate the locomotives.  Switches and Accessories are routed through DCS.  The second element for automation is detection.  No automation system can reliably operate a layout unless it knows where the trains are located.  Neither DCS nor Legacy currently offers any form of detection that can translate the position of a train into a digital command.  However, this capability does exist in several DCC control systems.  After researching and testing our options we selected NCE’s detection hardware to generate occupancy data.  The third element of layout automation is the software that translates the detection data into a meaningful representation of your layout and issues appropriate commands to the train control system.  There are many software programs on the market that offer widely varying degrees of automation.  The Java Model Railroad Interface (JMRI) is one such program that is free and open source, but has limited automation capabilities.  RocRail is also free and open source with more automation capabilities, but is not easily integrated with TMCC.  The most capable program, and the one we ultimately chose for the NorthWest Trunk Lines, is RR&Co. Train Controller.  Our task was to link all three elements.  Each manufacturer uses its own unique codes that must be translated to a form the other can understand.  We created out own custom software that performs the translation in real time, which we call ProtoNet.   ProtoNet intercepts the communications from each system while they are on your homes local area network (LAN).  With ProtoNet, elements of all major command control systems can be used together for the first time.

 

All the technical jargon doesn't matter unless the combination of systems offers improved operations and features beyond the excellent capabilities of each system when used independently.  Folks are generally aware of the capabilities of DCS and Legacy, so I want to share with you a bit about the new features that go beyond normal command control.

 

RR&Co. Train Controller allows you to create a schematic graphic of your layout with very simple drawing tools.  In a matter of minutes you can represent even the most complex track plans, including less common features such as 3-way switches, turntables, transfer tables, and over/under crossings.  The top software package even allows you to create multiple control panels that cover portions of your layout.  This is especially useful if you have a multi level layout where overlapping tracks could get confusing.  In the case of the NorthWest Trunk Lines we've spread the track plan across four control panels.  You don't need a monitor for each panel, but it works well for us when we have a large operating session.

 

 DCS Control Panel

 

 DSC_2759

 

Clicking on a turnout toggles it's position back and forth.  You can also place buttons anywhere on the control panel to turn on track power, active an accessory, throw all the switches in a route, or even a combination of functions.  In this photo you can see I used a round push button for track power and a diamond shaped push button for a route that throws all the switches between the yard track and the mainline.

 

DCS yard buttons

 

Once you've drawn the basic lines of your layout, you can add occupancy blocks.  Most of the time, a block is defined as the track between turnouts.  Each block is associated with one or more (3 for best control) detectors.  For 3-rail, each detector can be a simple section of insulated outside rail.  If you prefer, you can use IR or other detectors in lieu of insulated sections.

 

Adding detection opens a whole new world of possibilities for you layout.  It enables the computer to know which tracks are occupied and which are open for running trains.

 

The next step is to add your locomotives to the roster.  You can enter any Protosound 2, Protosound 3, or TMCC equipped locomotive into the roster.  You can give each locomotive the name you like, select the softkey and function features from a library of available buttons, and even enter helpful tips to remind you of each function.  Ever wonder which idle sound sequence to use when pulling up to a water tank?  Enter a tip for desired softkeys and they'll get a pop up reminder when the mouse floats over each button.  You can even enter a photo for each engine that will appear in the roster next to the name.

 

DCS engine window

 

With your layout and roster created the real fun begins.  You can drag and drop the image of your engines from the roster to their location on the layout.  Now the computer knows not only that a block is occupied, it also knows what is occupying the block.  As you drive the trains around the layout the image of the locomotive will move as successive blocks become occupied.  You can even click on a locomotive in one block, drag it to another block, and the computer will take care of all routing and speed commands to safely get the train from point A to point B.  Here you can see the software reserving a route in yellow.

 

DCS route reserved

 

You can even create a schedule for a train to run making one or more stops along the way.  At recent operating sessions and displays on the NorthWest Trunk Lines we have has a couple passenger trains running pre defined routes and making stations stops.  Unlike the record/playback systems in DCS and Legacy today, these schedules are base on the train arriving at an actual location, not just time and speed commands.  Maybe something goes wrong with a coupler and your train running on a schedule breaks in two.  You intercede with your remote and stop the engine, recouple the cars, and get the train moving again.  With the current systems you would have drive the train back to it's starting point and star over.  With this new system the computer will pickup right where you left off and proceed to the next station.

 

Another great feature is the ability to trigger an event when a train passes a particular location.  On the NWTL we have set up several locations where any passing locomotive will blow it's horn or whistle just as would be required on a real railroad.  Have an early PS2 engine without the SXS grade crossing sequence softkey?  That's OK.  You can add it as a macro that operates the standard horn or whistle button pressing the correct sequence.

 

DCS macro editor

 

Have you ever wished you could have a steam engine enter labored chuff as it starts climbing a hill and have it stay in labored chuff without holding down the button on the remote?  You can do that too.  On the NWTL any steam engine climbing the Kicking Horse Loop will engage labored chuff when it starts climbing the hill and return to normal chuff when it reaches the top.  Conversely, steamers running down hill will automatically engage and disengage drifting chuff.  Diesels passing the same points will rev up or down appropriately.  Like blowing the whistle or horn, these are simply events that can be triggered wherever you like on the layout.

 

DCS action marker

 

Most people want be able to get up away from the dispatcher's desk and follow the trains as the computer runs them.  Or better yet, run another train manually at the same time.  You can still use your DCS, TMCC, or Legacy remotes at the same time.  However, you now have another option.  A software extension for RR&Co. Train Controller, called SmartHand+, supports any mobile device that has wi-fi and a web browser.  Up to 32 devices can connect to a built in web server.  The server sends a locomotive control window or control panel view as an interactive web page.  Simply enter the URL for the server into the address bar of your web browser and the panel appears.  You can access lists of your control panels or locomotive roster and quickly swap back and forth between different views.

 

DSC_3609

 

On the NWTL we use iPads around the layout as our local control panels.  We didn't have to make hard wired panels for each section of the layout.  Different devices work well for different purposes.  My own phone is an HTC Thunderbolt running Android.  It works very well for locomotive control, but is a bit small to use as a control panel.  Tablets or a laptop  are more user friendly as control panels.  However, if all I have in my hand is the phone it will still throw the switches just fine.

 

DSC_3442

 

DSC_3621

 

DSC_3611

 

This was the interface that we demonstrated at the MTH booth at York.  I brought along a wi-fi router and my laptop from home and set it up so anyone could use their own phone to connect and run an engine on the layout.  We also set up detection so people could watch the images of the locomotives moving around the layout.  The layout MTH had on display not their normal York layout.  Sadly, that layout had been stolen while in route home from the I-Hobby show in Cleveland.  If we had had the normal layout you would have been able to throw the switches as well as run the trains.

 

I first demoed our layout control package to Mike Wolf at the April, 2011, York.  After a while it became obvious to all of us that this system was too cool to not let other folks have a chance to put it on their own layouts.  However, Mike Wolf wanted to give people a chance to use at least parts of what we developed without committing to full layout automation.  So, we have begun the work to offer locomotive and DCS system control capabilities that can run as a stand-alone app on iOS and Android devices.

 

Our goal is to offer the first iOS app this spring.  This will be a free app that gives basic locomotive control similar to the DCS Remote Commander.  In the months that follow we will release a paid version of the iOS app that duplicates all the current capabilities of the current DCS remote as well as free and paid versions for Android.  Here's a look at our preliminary artwork for the iOS app.

 

iDCS_free

 

We received a lot of useful feedback from folks coming up and using the system at York.  I hope all of you who are interested in the apps and our full automation package will post your ideas here.  We've come a long way already but I know we can make the system better with your help.

 

You can look for more on the apps and our full automation package in upcoming MTH catalogs, in the pages of OGR, and here on the forum.  MTH will be handling the distribution of the apps through iTunes and Google Play.  The full automation package is tailored for each layout depending on the number of detectors required and the software package you prefer.  While the apps are a little ways off, we're ready to start putting together automation packages right now.  For those interested, you can send us your track plans and we can quote you a price for your layout.  

 

On a personal note, I want to thank Mike Wolf and the folks at MTH for allowing us be the first to bring computer and mobile interfaces for DCS to the hobby.  We hope these efforts will draw new people to the world's greatest hobby.

 

 

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Original Post

I like what I see so far. Are you using the NCE BD20 two-channel current-sense detectors? Reason I ask is I have been looking at those for occupancy detection because they detect current flowing through a wire without interrupting the circuit, which protects a digital signal running on the wire. The old diode-based detectors corrupt digital signals. The only catch is that you need "resistor cars" within the train to make sure the block stays occupied when the locomotive clears the end of the block.

Matt Jackson
"The best service you can provide for the hobby is to pass on what you have learned."

 Angels Gate Hi-Railers San Pedro, California

"Celebrating 20 years of moving freight and passengers from Point A to Point A!"
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 Wow Dave, looks like it's better than the DCS remote. Like what you did to some of the features. This kind of stuff will keep this hobby strong in the future. Maybe I could have my desk control station soon! Thank you! Joe

" on Sour mash and cheap wine " ??

Why go back to DCC when I have DCS!

Dave,

 

We look forward to set you up.  Whenever you're ready just send us your track plans.

 

Joe,

 

We've tried to add the most flexibility we can using the existing codes.  There subtle things we can do that make the user experience even better.  For one thing, neither DCS nor Legacy displays the direction of the locomotive even though they both send specific "forward" and "reverse" commands.  The RR&Co. engine control window gives you several specific indications of the direction of travel.  Here's a comparison showing an engine in forward vs. reverse.

 

 

 

When moving forward the direction arrow on the right of the speed slider, the bar graph behind the slide maker, and the target speed indicator on the speedometer are all green.  In reverse, each changes to orange.

Dear Dave:

 

I am interested in using your system to replace local control pannels, so that I can place an Ipad at each town (5 locations) for local switch and uncoupler control. i would continue to use the DCS controller to run the engines. Alternatively, I would have 1 ipad per user (for a total of 3 users), who would be able to select the town they are at, and get the control screen for that town to display on the ipad, if this is possible. They would then use the ipad to control the switches and uncouplers (and accessories if possible), and use the DCS remote to run their engine.

 

Would it be possible to start with track control, without adding train location detection?

 

Your system looks fantastic and is changing my thinking about redoing all my control pannels to a "map type pannel with pushbuttons" for switches and uncoupling tracks.

 

Thanks: Joe K

Joe K

Dave,

 

Thanks for the detailed info.  You said,

 

"As many of you saw last week on the forum, my team and I at Hikel Layouts & Trains have introduced the first PC interface for DCS, which includes the capability to run trains or control your layout from mobile devices such as iPads and smartphones."


To me, the key word is "first".  The question is, once the hardware is available, will MTH provide the codes that the software sends to the hardware?  If so, that would allow for second, third, and more third-party developers.  I'm hoping this is the case.  I'm not so much interested in train control, but would like to create a layout control program for my own layout.  


I have a 42" LCD tv on the back wall of my layout.  I have long envisioned an image of my layout on the screen, with mouse clicks changing turnouts and controlling blocks as you describe.  As a programmer, I'd like to design the software myself.


I'm hoping that this news will lead to an opening of the MTH "secret codes" for more than 1 developer.   Your thoughts?

 

thanks,

ed

Home of the Union Eastern, Thomaston & Williamstown Railroad

Dave,

You guys have hit a "home run" with this new app.  I think that you will be busy for quite a while installing this on people's layouts.  Hey, New Jersey Hi-Railers - are you guys seeing this?

Chuck, MSG, US Army Ret, TCA, MTHRRC, Atlas GSC (Charter Member), Member B&O RR Museum, MD O Gaugers.

Originally Posted by Joe K:

Dear Dave:

 

I am interested in using your system to replace local control pannels, so that I can place an Ipad at each town (5 locations) for local switch and uncoupler control. i would continue to use the DCS controller to run the engines. Alternatively, I would have 1 ipad per user (for a total of 3 users), who would be able to select the town they are at, and get the control screen for that town to display on the ipad, if this is possible. They would then use the ipad to control the switches and uncouplers (and accessories if possible), and use the DCS remote to run their engine.

 

Would it be possible to start with track control, without adding train location detection?

 

Your system looks fantastic and is changing my thinking about redoing all my control pannels to a "map type pannel with pushbuttons" for switches and uncoupling tracks.

 

Thanks: Joe K

Hi Joe,

 

Yes, our system can support either concept of 5 mounted iPads or 3 walk around iPads.  You can have both switches and accessories on the same panel.  Yes, you can get started without implementing all the detection.  You can create all your control panels for each location on the layout and even put in the occupancy blocks, you just won't see any color change or moving locomotive graphics.  Each panel can control all the switches and uncoupling tracks in a given area of your layout.  If you'd like to get started you can contact me at hikelogauge@gmail.com.  Here's some more detail...

 

The system will support up to 32 mobile devices (not just iOS) at once.  On the NWTL during an operating session we use 8 to 12 iPads as local control panels depending on how many people bring an iPad.  Some people then use the DCS or Legacy remotes to run trains.  Others have taken to using an iPad or phone to run the trains.  Any mix of inputs you like is possible.

 

You can control switches that are connected to DCS with AIU's, TMCC/Legacy with SC2's, ASC's, or DZ-2500's, or even connected to the NCE DCC system.  Switches and accessories from all three systems can be seamlessly mixed together on the same control panel.  Here's a look at how a switch or accessory is setup.

 

DCS switch editing

 

Just above the editing window you can see a black square around a switch on the track diagram.  That's the switch I'm editing.  You can see at the top of the editing window that I've already given this switch a name, "West Field."  This is part of our Canadian section modeling Field, B.C.  Setting up the switch is very simple.  Select the control system that will run the switch.  In this case, #1 is the NCE system handling detection, #2 also says NCE but is really DCS, and #3 is TMCC.  You select the system, enter the switch's address, and hit OK.  If the switch throws backwards from the way it should you simply click on the section labeled "Output Configuration."  That will swap which way the switch throws when you touch the switch on the panel.

 

Accessories are set up the same way.  Any device that can be wired up to an AIU or TMCC ASC, etc., can be controlled with virtual push buttons and toggle switches that you can place anywhere on the control panel.  On the NWTL we have a Crestron lighting system that can duplicate time of day.  Again, we took a systems integration approach.  We connected accessory outputs from AIU's to the inputs for the Crestron lighting system.  That allows us to trigger lighting changes from either a DCS remote or from the virtual push buttons seen in the above photo.  I created a section on the control panel called "LIGHTING CONTROL."  The first button under lighting control is labeled "CYCLE."  Each press of that button advances the time of day by 30 minutes.   Once an accessory is on the panel it can also be triggered by the movement of the trains.  In one of our passenger schedules the lighting advances 1/2 an hour as the train enters each new block.  With this system the City of New Orleans really can go 500 scale miles before the day is done!

 

We realize that to some folks all this seams really complicated and we don't want you to feel left out.  As model railroad builders we're accustom to hiring out our time to help people get their railroads up and running.  That's the approach we are taking with the layout automation system as well.  If you're comfortable with crating and editing the control panels yourself that's great.  For those who need some help, we can create your control panels for you based on your track plan and how your layout is wired.

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Originally Posted by eddiem:

Dave,

 

Thanks for the detailed info.  You said,

 

"As many of you saw last week on the forum, my team and I at Hikel Layouts & Trains have introduced the first PC interface for DCS, which includes the capability to run trains or control your layout from mobile devices such as iPads and smartphones."


To me, the key word is "first".  The question is, once the hardware is available, will MTH provide the codes that the software sends to the hardware?  If so, that would allow for second, third, and more third-party developers.  I'm hoping this is the case.  I'm not so much interested in train control, but would like to create a layout control program for my own layout.  


I have a 42" LCD tv on the back wall of my layout.  I have long envisioned an image of my layout on the screen, with mouse clicks changing turnouts and controlling blocks as you describe.  As a programmer, I'd like to design the software myself.


I'm hoping that this news will lead to an opening of the MTH "secret codes" for more than 1 developer.   Your thoughts?

 

thanks,

ed

Hi Ed,

 

It's up to MTH to decide if others will have access to the DCS codes.  As far as I know they do not plan to release the codes to the general public.  Our software comes with a user agreement similar to the DCS Loader software which does not allow its use for other than authorized purposes.  I'm sure that's a disappointment for a programmer like yourself, but it's not up to me.  MTH wanted to bring a control package to the hobby that is highly capable from day one and we're pleased that they saw our system as worthy.

 

I'm sure for some folks writing their own software would be fun project in and of itself.  However, I think you will find our software package is capable of doing what you envision with your 42" TV as a monitor.

Dave:

 

Thanks for your prompt reply. It looks like I need to wire all my switches, uncouplers and some accessories to my AIU's, prior to getting your new system working.

 

I will be responding to your email address directly, after I update my layout drawing to show all the block separations, and add an ID number to each of my switches and uncouplers. I hope to have this done by early next week.

 

Looking forward to having an electronic control pannel in my train room.

 

Joe K

Joe K

Dave, you asked for input and ideas. I think this one would be simple to create. How about some type of on screen comunication between operators, so that we can do away with the walkie talkies. Several operators would be able to communicate (text on their screen) with the dispatcher, without ever speaking a single word. Also an area on the screen where full quotes could be stored, (that the user can create and save for the operating session), that way there is less one finger on screen typing. If possible transparent type lettering over the screen that your on, so that you don't have to change to a text screen, would be great. I would hope this could be done without sending an actual text, cause not all basements have good cell signal (unless the person would buy an extender, and using e-mail would be too slow) that way we also would not have to pay $100.00 more for an ipad with phone capability. Think about it. With a mini camera in each engine, and a window on the screen diplay, from the camera, every operator would be inside their own virtual loco without ever over hearing dispatch communications to other operators.We would then have to pay closer attention to our track signals, cause we would not know whats going on on the rest of the layout. Yes, the future of operators will be wearing those virtual cyber helmet things.

Dave

Marty,

 

Thanks for stopping by and checking out the system.  I'm sorry you didn't get to spend more time with it.  We had a lot of people stop by the booth and it was difficult to give everyone adequate attention.

 

I want to say thank you to everyone who took the plunge and ran trains with us at York.  For those familiar with York, we were able to reliably run the layout from the Ross and OGR booths about 100 feet away.  I think a few people took advantage of the range to "take over" and blow the horn when we weren't looking.

 

Originally Posted by Dave Zucal:

Dave, you asked for input and ideas. I think this one would be simple to create. How about some type of on screen comunication between operators, so that we can do away with the walkie talkies. Several operators would be able to communicate (text on their screen) with the dispatcher, without ever speaking a single word. Also an area on the screen where full quotes could be stored, (that the user can create and save for the operating session), that way there is less one finger on screen typing. If possible transparent type lettering over the screen that your on, so that you don't have to change to a text screen, would be great. I would hope this could be done without sending an actual text, cause not all basements have good cell signal (unless the person would buy an extender, and using e-mail would be too slow) that way we also would not have to pay $100.00 more for an ipad with phone capability. Think about it. With a mini camera in each engine, and a window on the screen diplay, from the camera, every operator would be inside their own virtual loco without ever over hearing dispatch communications to other operators.We would then have to pay closer attention to our track signals, cause we would not know whats going on on the rest of the layout. Yes, the future of operators will be wearing those virtual cyber helmet things.

That's an excellent idea Dave.  Thank you.

 

RR&Co. Train Controller already has a limited message capability designed to send messages from the dispatcher to the mobile devices.  Here's how that looks...

 

DCS smarthand manager messages

 

The SmartHand Manager (the web server for the mobile devices) allows you to select a mobile device, type a short message, and select from four support replies.  When you send the message the selected device pops up this screen...

 

DCS smarthand message screenshot

 

Once you press a response (yes or no) the reply is sent back to the dispatcher and the screen on the device returns to normal.

 

I think we can probably do something better with the app versions by piggybacking onto the text messaging.  You don't have to be connected to a phone network to send texts to a device on the same wi-fi network, so it might not be that difficult.

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This is exactly what my 4x10 garage layout needs!

 

Just kidding.  Obviously I don't need it, but I think using computers to control the layout is a fine idea.  When it comes to controlling the trains though, I prefer to have my hand upon an actual throttle rather than a tv remote or an ithang.

 

Pete

 

"Once politics becomes your ethnic and moral identity it becomes impossible to compromise, because compromise becomes dishonor."

 

- David Brooks -

Hi Dave,

 

I was one of the first guys to try out your app on Thursday at York and probably wouldn't have known about it if I hadn't gone to the DCS User Group the night before. Having used an ipod touch for many years, I was still amazed how easy it was to get used to the train control on the ipad and your android phone (thanks). The potential of this software is incredible and will add a new level of operational interest to many of us train veterans not to mention the younger generation. I mentioned it to my app wizard 20 yr old son and he can hardly wait to try it out. I was struggling with the idea of a hard wired control panel for my new layout, now that problem has been solved with an ipad control panel and train control, the app should arrive by the time I'm ready to  go operational. Pretty exciting stuff for a 68 yr old........

 

Anyway thanks to Hikel & Co., your sponsor and Mike Wolf for moving this forward. Your explanations and diagrams here are very helpful in understanding the potential applications for our layouts.

 

Mike

Hi Mike,

 

Thanks for the kind words.  I think you'll enjoy using the touch screens for layout control.  Just for clarity, the control panel feature will not be part of the stand alone apps.  For that, you will want to contact me about an automation package.  You don't have to put in all the detection just to control switches and accessories, but you will still need a computer running RR&Co. Train Controller to generate the control panel graphics and serve them to the iPads.

The next few years could be very interesting for layout control.  I use TMCC/Legacy and DCS almost equally so I really have no brand loyality.  Anyting I like I run.

 

Dave, I assume that to use RR&Co for layout control using an MTH AIU you will sell an addin or interface to make it work with MTH's proprietary commands system.

 

This leads to the question, what hardware do I intall now for command switch control, Lionel's SC-2/ASC or MTH's AIU?  If I install Lionel's hardware I can try anyones application and use the one that fits my needs the best.  Or use MTH's AIU and the only app available will be Hikel's (Dave your app looks very good, I just like choices).  That leads to the obvious answer, I will install Lionel's hardware, I can even write my own app if I want.  If MTH wants to sell hardware they may need to open up a little more.

Just a thought.

Dan

As far as I know MTH is only putting DCC in their engines, not the TIU or AIUs.  Also, I like to be able to use my Lionel or MTH remote I already have to be able to run engines or  quickly flip a switch. Going full DCC for switch control would require that I use another remote/tablet for control.

The Hikel's may currently be using DCC instead of an AIU to control the NWTL switches. It would be easy to do with RR&Co. I would like to see some articles as to how the Hikel's have implemented their occupancy detection. 

I will be finishing my track work this winter so now is when I need to make decisions. Before I start my scenery all of my wiring needs to be done. Full automation is not necessary to run my layout.  There are significant blind areas so occupancy detection would be useful.  My layout has three independent loops, a point to point logging line, and a small yard.  Also there will be a small yard thru the wall into the back shop.

Following this subject with great interest.

Dan

Originally Posted by loco-dan:

Dave, I assume that to use RR&Co for layout control using an MTH AIU you will sell an addin or interface to make it work with MTH's proprietary commands system.

 

This leads to the question, what hardware do I intall now for command switch control, Lionel's SC-2/ASC or MTH's AIU?  If I install Lionel's hardware I can try anyones application and use the one that fits my needs the best.  Or use MTH's AIU and the only app available will be Hikel's (Dave your app looks very good, I just like choices).  That leads to the obvious answer, I will install Lionel's hardware, I can even write my own app if I want.

The Hikel's may currently be using DCC instead of an AIU to control the NWTL switches. It would be easy to do with RR&Co. I would like to see some articles as to how the Hikel's have implemented their occupancy detection. 

Hi Dan,

 

Our layout automation package includes hardware and software to link the TIU's and AIU's to the other systems.  You can operate the switch and accessories on any system and still control them from the PC and mobile devices.  The real decision maker ends up being which system(s) you want to have the option of controlling the switches from their respective remotes.  In the case of the NWTL the majority of the locomotive fleet (about %80) is MTH, so we definitely wanted to be able to operate switches from the DCS remote.  We used AIU's for all the switches and most of the accessories.  In your case, if you have a more even mix you might consider wiring both AIU's and ASC's in parallel for maximum flexibility.

 

Our software was written to be as flexible as possible.  RR&Co. is not your only option for interfacing with DCS.  JMRI and RocRail (both free open source projects) will interface with our software and thus DCS.  For folks who enjoy programming or want to save the cost of RR&Co. software you might find this a more enjoyable option.  JMRI Panel Pro is not nearly as capable as RR&Co., but you are free to make your own changes.

Originally Posted by CRH:

Sounds like MTH is leaning towards the DCC side of things...So why not cut out all the propietory hardware and go with open source? Eliminate the middle men and go with DCC!

Hi CRH,

 

No, MTH is not really leaning towards DCC.  Our system includes DCC mainly because DCS and TMCC don't currently offer digital inputs for occupancy and switch position detection.  In the future the DCC hardware may not be necessary if MTH and/or Lionel offer detection.  

 

There are several technological advantages to DCS over DCC.  DCS has about ten times the effective bandwidth and native 2-way communications.  However, the biggest challenge facing DCC right now is limited packet size for the command codes.  It's the same problem Lionel tackled when they created Legacy and went to a 16bit code set.  The current NMRA Standards & Conformance Department Manager is a gentleman named Didrik Voss.  Di and I happen to be members of the same NMRA division and have discussed in some detail the code issues facing DCC.  DCC the current options being considered range from ugly to horrendous.  Lenz has been working for nearly ten years to develop 2-way communications for DCC with a system called RailCom.  RailCom was finally adopted as a Recommended Practice, not a standard.  However, Lenz is petitioning for changes in the DCC packet size so that they can communicate enough data to offer a loading feature similar to DCS.  It may be years before they ever get acceptance from the NMRA.  Another option currently on the table is called NMRA net, which replaces the current DCC codes with TCP/IP network protocol.  In theory it would work great if every engine was a wi-fi enabled device.  Instead, NMRA net tries to cram network protocol onto the existing modulated power signal.  Ever try to use the internet with a 14.4K modem?  That's about 5 times faster than DCC.  Di is pretty well convinced that NMRA net is a dead end unless the price of wi-fi hardware comes down substantially and I tend to agree.  RailCom is more promising, but it too exacerbates the bandwidth problems with DCC and their proposed new packet format is incompatible with existing DCC decoders.

 

MTH faces none of these issues with DCS.  They have much more flexibility to expand their codes and adopt new features.  I suspect we will be using less DCC hardware in the future rather than more.  But, for now, DCC does have good detection hardware that lets us do some things we couldn't otherwise do.

Read up on the NCE block detector circuit. See no need for that,at least with 3 rail track. For 3 rail why not just use the outer rails,one insulated with a circuit made by wheels of any car or engine and a resistor to generate a 15 ma signal for each block the same way it is done with electrical meters and instruments? No power draw from the car would be needed that way. Or simple relays and just use binary logic?

 

Dale H

Another fine product of the Cleveland Public School system.

A nice site to visit is J&C Studios.

Originally Posted by Steamfan77:

Will this work with an iPad 1? Or does this require the newer hardware?

Hi Andy,

 

The full automation package definitely works with with the iPad1.  We use three iPad1's as local control panels on the NWTL.

 

On the development of the stand alone apps I can't be quite so clear.  The iPad 1 stopped updating at iOS version 5.1.1.  So far we haven't run into any features that will require iOS 6, but we have a ways to go.  There's a very good chance the apps will work on iPad 1 and we will certainly try to make the apps compatible with as many devices as possible.  Unfortunately, at this point I can't guarantee compatibility with hardware Apple has quit supporting.

Originally Posted by Dale H:

Read up on the NCE block detector circuit. See no need for that,at least with 3 rail track.

Hi Dale,

 

I assume you're referring to the NCE BD20 current detector that Matt asked about early in this thread.  You are correct, they are not needed in 3-rail.  We used insulated outside rails throughout the NWTL with excellent results.

 

However, Matt is now moving into 2-rail where some form of additional detection hardware is required.  My reply was quite specific in making that distinction.  The BD20 is an excellent choice for anyone working with DCS in 2-rail for several reasons.  First, it works well with a star wiring pattern.  Second, it doesn't cause any interference with the DCS signal.  Third, it functions without any external power supply.  There are many choices for detection in 2-rail and the BD20 isn't perfect in all scenarios, but it is a very good choice in most cases.

Dave

Will you be doing a DEMO at the end of Jan at the BIG-E train show

in Springfield, Mass?.......drooooooolllll......

 

If not, will there be other show demo's before TCA Spring York?

 

Is/are "BETA" versions available now?

Is/are there a detailed list of equiptment/software required to make this

"DREAM" happen?

 

the_Other_Ray

Frozen near Boston, Ma.

Dave,

 

Your work defining the requirements for the system and the coders who executed it are definitely going to have a great impact on our hobby!  I'm really looking forward to trying it out for myself and am glad to see that Mike Wolf and the other tallented folks at MTH see the value in it.

 

I've been putting together a video system that allows me to monitor trains while backing into/pulling out of my storage sidings that are hidden under the upper level of my layout.  My goal originally was very basic, display the video on a small screen (like a portable car DVD player), but then I decided to make use of my Thrive Android tablet and stream the video over my home wireless network using an iCam DVR to collect the camera feeds.

 

Being able to also control the rest of the layout and trains using your app on the tablet as well is really going to be cool!  I'm sure this will pique the interest of many young hobbyists too.

 

A couple questions though:

1) What's the hardware interface to the command control system?  I run DCS on my layout with an older (serial) TIU and AIUs.  Is there a physical connection between the server and the TIU(s) or is there an RF transceiver that connects to the server?

 

2) Dave Zucal mentioned the text interface and you have a nice but limited solution for it.  What about the possibility of video integration?  I can see a neat interface that would allow cameras like the ones on my layout that could be selected for viewing from one of the app control panels.  I wouldn't want to try to use the cameras as optical detection devices, but I'm sure there could be additional uses for a video interface.

 

3) I'm still using my cheap Atlas turntable controlled by your DCS AIU rectifier diode.  It still works great using my Mark 1 Mod 1 optical sensor (eyeball) for indexing.  Do you think the turntable could be accurately controlled using the app?

 

Thanks so much for all the help over the years and for making the next several years equally exciting, challenging and costly!

 

Bob

Hi Bob,

 

1 - The TIU's are connected to your LAN with a network adapter that plugs into the DB-9 serial port.  That allows any TIU ever made to link to the system.  On the NWTL, Barry B's layout, and others, the adapters we are using are hard wired to the network with ethernet  cables.  MTH will be coming out with a wireless adapter which will do the same job.  Each TIU requires one adapter.

 

2 - There are MANY existing options for streaming video to mobile devices and PCs via you LAN.  I don't have any plans at this time to embed video into any of our interfaces, but never say never.

 

3 - Yes, you can control an Atlas, Ross, Millhouse River, or any other turntable with our interface and RR&Co. Train controller.  You have several options on how to do this, and the Atlass TT is one of the easiest.  The Atlass TT runs at a predictable speed with an equal amount of time between each track.  RR&Co. allows you to govern the operation of a turntable off of timing and/or position detection.  With an Atlas you can reliably index the TT with timing alone.



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