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This one is coming about from a discussion in another thread about how to activate an accessory only every 20 times a train passes it, linked HERE.

I'm looking for some feedback of what folks would want form what I'll call a 'Multi-function track presence detector'  The idea is to provide an easy to install and use device that allows for many functions to activate accessories when a train enters an insulated rail section, or some other detector device.

Heres the ideas I have so far, but I'm open to any ideas people have.  I'd like to get a list together of such ideas however trivial or complex they may be to implement, then prune the list later if needed if something becomes impractical to accomplish.  

I'm also looking to try and make this relatively inexpensive perhaps as a kit that could be assembled for those on a budget.  I think a finished product could sell for around $30 but will not know for sure until all the features have been added up.  

Anyway these are the ideas I have so far:

JGL Multi-function Track presence detector

Accessory = whatever device you wish to turn on and off.  Can be set to apply power when a train is present, or to remove power when the train is present.  

Triggered = train is present on an insulated rail section, or other deception method.  

Activation options:

These are options about how long to turn on accessory when triggered. 

Standard operation:  Accessory ON when Triggered, OFF when not Triggered.  

Delayed turn-off:  Turns Accessory on when Triggered.  Accessory remains on for adjustable amount of time after Trigger is ended.  

Set run time (one shot):  Accessory turns on when triggered and remains turned on for an adjustable amount of time.  Accessory turns off after set time even if trigger is still active.  

Set run time (Loop):  Accessory turns on when triggered and remains on while trigger is on.  When trigger is removed, accessory will remain on to complete an adjustable loop time.  Ex.  If a ferris wheel accessory takes 30 seconds to make a full turn and you want it to always turn off in the same position, you could set the time to 30 seconds, and the accessory will always run in increments of 30 seconds.  

Two-way Grade-crossing mode:  May need two modules depending on final design.  Accessory turns on when first trigger is activated and remains on for adjustable time after trigger is deactivated.  Locks out second trigger for adjustable time afterwards.  This allows crossing signal to be activated some time before the train reaches the crossing, then turn off shortly after train passes for prototypical operation.  

 

Frequency Options:  

These are options about how often to activate an accessory.  

Every Time:  This is normal track presence function.  Every time the unit is triggered it turns on the accessory.  

Every X Laps:  Accessory is only turned on after an adjustable number of 'Laps' has been reached.  Starts counting from zero again once the lap count has been reached.  

Random number of Laps:  Accessory only turns on after a random number of laps.  Minimum and maximum number of laps to turn on Accessory are adjustable.  

 

Other options/features:

Manual activation button/switch:  Accessory turns on as if triggered while button is pressed.  For control panel/control system operation.  

Trolly stop mode:  Accessory(track power) is turned off when triggered for adjustable amount of time, then Accessory(track power) is turned on. until trigger is deactivated and activated again.  

Sensitivity adjustment:  Adjusts sensitivity to quick changes in trigger state. ex, how long must pass between activating the trigger to be counted as a new event and not just "flicker" from dirty/plastic wheels or others causes of intermittent activation of the trigger.  

Supply power:  can run off of track power, accessory power or DC accessory power.  6-20VAC, 8-24VDC

 

I welcome any ideas people have here.  

JGL

 

Last edited by OGR CEO-PUBLISHER
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Flyboy62 posted:

I would like to see a trigger when a train passes from one isolated track to the next isolated track in a specific direction.  

Dick

That is certainly a doable option.  I'll add it to the list.  Would this be intended to detect when a train is moving one way, but ignore trains moving in the other direction?

Looks like the powers that be decided to move this to the electrical forum so I doubt I'll get the responses from the larger audience I was hoping for.  It seems most folks on the forum tend to only come to the electrical with specific questions, or are the sort that already know how to solve various detection ideas on their own.  We'll see.  

JGL

JohnGaltLine posted:
Flyboy62 posted:

I would like to see a trigger when a train passes from one isolated track to the next isolated track in a specific direction.  

Dick

That is certainly a doable option.  I'll add it to the list.  Would this be intended to detect when a train is moving one way, but ignore trains moving in the other direction?

How about adding detection of train direction both ways in addition to the above suggestions.

Also, I think a lot of folks read from the recent posts lists on the right of the screen, so I think you might get more readers over here in Electrical than you might think?

I don't remember if you were in the thread that GRJ has about the train detection device with dual relays he is about ready to release, but adding to that is something that might be an idea? I think he even mentioned the possibility of adding to it later on if there was a demand. His device could be the first building block so to speak. If you haven't seen GRJ's thread, I will find a link for you if you are interested. Unless you find it first, of course. Personally, I am pretty excited about trying GRJ's new device.

My other thoughts are that this might be (or sound) a bit complicated for a lot of folks? Or maybe it just sounds a bit complex on my first read through?

I am just thinking out loud here and have no idea how (or if) this could all work though? Anyway I will be following along here.

JohnGaltLine posted:

This one is coming about from a discussion in another thread about how to activate an accessory only every 20 times a train passes it, linked HERE.

I'm looking for some feedback of what folks would want form what I'll call a 'Multi-function track presence detector'  The idea is to provide an easy to install and use device that allows for many functions to activate accessories when a train enters an insulated rail section, or some other detector device.

 

Without knowing what you have up your sleeve-

I would like a detector system that works in pairs, so it can detect a short train in a long block without insulated rails. One sensor at each end of the block.

Last edited by PLCProf

It looks like you've got all the timing options covered pretty well. What are you thinking in terms of getting values into the microprocessor? Pots? Digital display? Programming mode?

Your ferris wheel example got me thinking about the accessory feedback to your circuit. Maybe a switch input or two from the accessory for limit switches or a reed switch. I realize that this may be beyond the scope of what you are trying to do with the general nature of this device. But timing alone can be a tricky business for certain applications. Generally I would say that most accessories should handle their own special circumstances on their own and not rely on external circuits for their operation. Just brainstrorming here.

It's good to get microprocessors involved in this hobby. You can do a lot without dedicated circuitry using these great little devices. I just ordered some Arduino Nano's from China for $2.40 apiece. They're just too powerful and inexpensive to ignore.

I recall a thread where the idea was to have a turnout alternate direction each time a train triggered the insulated section ahead of the turnout.  So train goes straight on loop 1, turns out on loop 2, goes straight on loop 3, etc.

In a recent thread a guy wanted a brief relay pulse (1 second or so) to drive a semaphore when the train entered an insulated section, and then another brief relay pulse to drive the semaphore when the train left the section.

Another source of ideas will be the existing signaling manufacturers and their smart boards.  AFAIK the semaphore application above ended using an off-the-shelf Azatrax detector/signaling board.

While brainstorming is useful, I think the sky's-the-limit, kitchen-sink approach can bog down.   So while I am a proponent of clearly identifying the what before choosing the how, if the what is so open-ended as to be ill-defined then maybe the hammer-nail approach deserves a look.  To that end, in GRJ's thread about his insulated-rail based relay he alludes to some day putting in some smarts.  Take a look at so-called DCC-ready engines.  To add smarts to such an engine you simply pull out what amounts to a "shorting plug" and install the DCC-electronics which now adds command-control of motor, lights, etc.

So suppose GRJ's relay board...or something similar had a "shorting plug".  With the plug in place it behaves as originally intended with the occupancy detection directly driving the relay.  Now pull out the shorting plug and install a short cable to your Arduino module.  Now the occupancy detection is routed to the $2 Arduino and you can add smarts to the relay control such as firing the relay on every 20th trigger.  So the Arduino is intercepting the occupancy detector, doing its thing, and then sending back the relay control.  I believe you can imagine a situation where that cable even carries power to the Arduino (it being a low-power digital device). 

So how about a more complicated situation with 2 detector sections driving 1 relay (aforementioned bi-directional idea)...or 1 detector driving 2 relays (aforementioned semaphore idea)?  Seems the same single Arduino can handle those situations with 2 identical cables (one from each detector/relay module).

I'd think programming or re-programming the Arduino should be something akin to downloading MP3 files or the like.  Someone else writes the sketch, you download it from OGR or wherever, you plug the Arduino into USB to get it, plug the cable(s) into the detector/relay module(s) and off you go...

Downloading Arduino binaries is included as part of their Integrated Development Environment (IDE). But as long as you are going to hook your processor to the computer anyway, you can do it without using the compiled code and just pass around the original "sketch". Then parameters such as timing values can be edited directly by the end users. I know this all sounds scary to the uninitiated, but it's time to climb aboard.

The one thing that I find annoying about the Arduino is that I have to bring it back to the computer to change its program. Then I take it to my test area, where the tracks are, and rewire it back into my test circuit. It would probably be easier to use a laptop; I don't have one. Or maybe WiFi is a possibility; I don't know.

This may be a drawback to downloading new programs and modifying sketches. Otherwise, I was going to suggest that this project should take that direction. I don't know about loading new MP3 files to sound systems. How is that accomplished? It's all the connecting and disconnecting that is the hassle here.

MP3 was meant as an example of how the Arduino code would be shared/applied.  In other words, like MP3 where you have accomplished music talents creating the songs, in this case we'd have accomplished Arduino code writers creating the applications.  End users just download MP3 files right into their MP3 players, smartphones, laptops, iPods, or whatever plays the MP3 songs.  Drag and drop or something similar - No fuss, no muss.

Likewise I'm imagining an scenario where end-user don't have to think about "Arduino binaries" or "Arduino IDEs" or even a "sketch".  You simply read about some Arduino signaling application that makes a detector/relay module fire on every 20th trigger, download it to your PC/laptop/smartphone, plug in the $2 Arduino via the included mini-USB to load the application, then you're done.

Sure, learning to write your own sketches and learning about IDE's can be a rewarding and interesting life experience but it's not for everyone. 

I get ya, Stan. In other words the MP3 format transports easily from one platform to another. So the Arduino code might transport how? I can't say that I know of anything other than the IDE to do it right now. But I've only scratched the surface of what's available for the Arduino. So I'm sure there are other ways to load it up.

John's MP3 player module is an example of something that might help with this situation; how to load up the Arduino without all the scary stuff about programming and the unknowns of the environment (drivers, downloads, IDE, blah, blah). Something simple like an SD card reader might be just the thing.

I have not had a lot of trouble setting up the Arduino IDE on my Windows computer but I've been around computer science since 1971 and started programming in C in 1980. The Arduino uses a version of C++ which is an object oriented variant. In my opinion, this stuff should be scary; there's a lot to it. But the Arduino community has done a great job in making it available for mass consumption.

My interest in this hobby is more about the electronics than the trains. My ideal layout would skip all the scenery and instead expose all the electronics behind it's operation. Oh sure, I like trains too!

Let me do some research on the SD card readers and see what that's all about. Maybe timing data as well as new programming could be transferred to the JGL project through this small familiar device.

So I stopped by the bay and SD card modules just about slapped me across the face; under a dollar per unit. The SPI interface is an essential part of most Arduino models. I think these are smaller than the regular SD cards that we're used to from cameras and desktop computers. Hell I've even got an SD card in my CPAP machine. I want to be able to stick a card in the computer and allow both data and programs to be transferred to an Arduino under the benchwork. I'll know more about what it takes soon.

stan2004 posted:

 

While brainstorming is useful, I think the sky's-the-limit, kitchen-sink approach can bog down.   So while I am a proponent of clearly identifying the what before choosing the how, if the what is so open-ended as to be ill-defined then maybe the hammer-nail approach deserves a look. 

Agreed. 

Not only the "what" but also the "who."

If you are serious about making this a product, exactly who is the market? A person who understands fiddling with Arduino hardware and sketches is going to build his own because it is so easy. If it is intended to be a product for most model railroaders any necessary "fiddling" is going to be an issue.

Based on long experience in industrial control systems I suspect you will find the programming the easy part, the nuts and bolts of the I/O and the documentation will be the big choke point.

I've been on the road for the last 8 hours, but have kept up through email notifications throughout the day  and gotten several good ideas.  I'll try and run through all the comments and respond to each now.  There seem to be 3 camps of things to cover; functions such a device should have(software), the form it should take(hardware), and how to select or upload different functions and adjust them(programing).

I'll start with the miscellaneous ones that don't fit neatly anywhere else.  RTR12, I've been following along with GRJ's insulated rail module but just haven't had anything useful to add to the conversation up through now.  It's likely to be a useful device for many folks.  The discussion has also served to really drive home a point to me, though.  Nothing against the thing because it is some good solid engineering that fills a need, but it serves to show that folks are willing to spend some dollars to avoid working with even the most basic electronics.  That has set the tone for my project here, as I think one of the most important aspects will be making it dead simple for people to use, with no learning curve whatsoever.  It needs to be available ready to use out of the box, and easy to set up for folks with no inclination to learn any new skills.  

As a side note, as of right now I've been unable to find a way to duplicate the functionality of pre-built relay modules from china for the same or lower cost than those modules.  I agree with the problem of insuring a consistent design to the modules over time that was pointed out in GRJ's thread, and need to consider that further for a design here. 

 

Functions:  

PLCPROF, "I would like a detector system that works in pairs, so it can detect a short train in a long block without insulated rails. One sensor at each end of the block."

Do you mean, if using something like an IR sensor of some sort on each end of a block, the output would activate when a sensor on either end is triggered, then would remain on until the second sensor is triggered and 'un-triggered'?  This is, of course, possible but may require some fiddling to get it to work smoothly, if the input sensors give intermittent feedback, such as from gaps between cars and such.  I think I can make it work in any case.  I'm mostly basing things on using insulated rails at the moment, but other sensors could be incorporated.  

John Graser,  Do you mean having TMCC Commands injected into the base when the device is triggered by a passing train?   This is possible, but substantially more complex to accomplish than what the scope of this device would cover.  I do have another project in the works that might handle that, however.  

I lost track of where it was mentioned, but the idea for toggling a switch each time a train passes is certainly feasible.  

Hardware:

Consolidated Leo,  I tend to agree that special circumstances are best handled on a case by case basis.  However I think that simple timers will work well for most cases.  I don't think I want to get into modifying accessories at this point.  I think that is beyond what the average person would want to do.  I'm not opposed to allowing for limit switches to be connected to the device, but will have to see how much I/O room is left when all is said and done.  I have to put a lot of thought into anything that will add board space, as I need to keep the real estate down to make a cost effective PCB.  On the last point, I'm in a toss up right now between using a ProMini board or just going with a straight ATmel328 chip on the board.  I like the nano for general tinkering, but the ProMini offers the same functionality for an embedded device at a lower cost and in a smaller package.  The nano would only be better if a user-accessible USB is needed…and I have other ideas on how to allow users to adjust the program.  I'm also kicking around with using an entirely different uP. 

Stan,  At this point I really am looking for the kitchen sink, since I don't have any idea what folks would find useful.  I'm sure that I'll have to trash some ideas out eventually.  On the idea of a modular design, that's feasible, but I think it would drive up the cost in the long run.  You would need three modules instead of one in anything that existing products can't do already.  I like the idea of piggybacking on GRJ's module, but it would require a complete redesign to be useful here.  and would needlessly drive up the cost of that product to add support for features that wouldn't be utilized by most people.  On the other hand a 99 cent relay module from china and 20 cents of components would provide an optically isolated input and output for a uP.  

Programing:  

I've tossed around everyone's comments on this all day.  At this point I'm down to three options I like.  The first is the SD card.  In theory a user could pop the card into their computer and have some simple piece of software to click a check box for which function they want and set any simple parameters for that function.  The second is currently beyond my ability to do,  but I think I know a couple folks that could get me started.  That would be to drop the arduino, and instead use a BLE module as the brains.  Here a smart device App would be used to program the thing.  I think this would actually provide the best, easiest to use, functionality, but it would require my learning to program the BLE module, and likely finding someone to write the app.  I really like this option, but it is presently not something I know how to accomplish.    The third option to have a 'programer device'  This would be a separate unit that a module would plug in to to be programed.  The programer would have easy to use controls, perhaps using an LCD display of some sort to show the various settings.  While writing another option occurred to me of using a Wifi connection for programing.  A simple 'webpage' could be hosted on each device allowing settings to be adjusted from any wifi enabled device.  This is something I do know how to do, even if it wouldn't be very pretty.  

Mostly, I think it is important here to make things easy to use.  I feel that most people would be turned off by any complex loading process, and some even by having to do anything on a computer at all.   To that end I think that having all of the 'simple' functions pre-programed into the device would be useful, only requiring outside setup for more complex things.  I think folks would be more willing to have a slightly more complex install if they are getting a function that either doesn't exist from another product, or that is prohibitively expensive in other options on the market.  

 

So, after the feedback thus far, I think I'm looking at hardware that is capable of detecting at least two inputs and triggering at least two outputs, and having various options of what to do with those.  I'm thinking that jumpers or dip switches for selecting various simple functions could work and one of the options there would be to set the unit to 'advanced' mode for outside programing.  I'd likely also like to have some multi-turn potentiometers for timer adjustments on the board.  

JGL

John Graser posted:

JOHNGATLINE,

Yes, I would like TMCC commands injected into the base or PC or (TMCC stream) for CTC,  signals or other device control.

Do you know if there are any LCS / TMCC commands for for detection.

I would be interested in hearing about your other project?

John 

As far as I'm aware there are no commands in tmcc/Legacy intended to report detection.  Only commands intended to send information out to various devices.  One would need to use a computer or uP device to read and process incoming detection signals and issue various commands based on them.  You can find documentation on both the original TMCC command set (starting on page 4) and the Legacy command set (starting on page 7) of the LCS Legacy protocol spec found here: http://www.lionel.com/lcs/reso...tocol-Spec-v1.22.pdf

Legacy does have some method built in that allows a series of commands to be issued when some input is given, that is used with the sensor track units, but I'm not familiar with how this works.  I'm unsure if the information is processed within the legacy base or the sensor track unit.  

As far as I'm aware there is no documentation available on communicating directly with LCS, only translating the legacy spec to it through a SER2 module.  

As for the other project, the plan is a bridge device that would allow various outside devices to talk to legacy and legacy to talk to them.  (There's really not much to this, just a processor, a RS232 serial port, and a RS485 port) The basic idea is to allow devices operating on a different protocol to interface with Legacy/TMCC.  I'd like to use this to work with several projects and ideas I've had, including my LionChief to TMCC bridge, A switch machine controller, and a 2.4GHz radio replacement for TMCC's R2LC boards, removing the need for a track signal to control engines.  

Anyway, it's a project for another time.  

JGL

 

I've been doing a little homework and wondering what you all think about a device that uses wifi to be programed.  An iOS or Android app could be written to make it look nice, but any wifi enabled computer could also work to adjust settings through an internet browser.  

 My thought would be to have a basic activation device that allows several of the easy to adjust functions built into the main module, a couple pots to adjust timing and such, then to have a socket on the board for the wifi module.  If folks want access to the more advanced features they could plug in the wifi module and access those options with their computer/smart device.  

I think a board with two inputs and two outputs would cover most of the options discussed above, so I'm going to putz around with that for a while.  

JGL

JohnGaltLine posted:
John Graser posted:

JOHNGATLINE,

Yes, I would like TMCC commands injected into the base or PC or (TMCC stream) for CTC,  signals or other device control.

Do you know if there are any LCS / TMCC commands for for detection.

I would be interested in hearing about your other project?

John 

As far as I'm aware there are no commands in tmcc/Legacy intended to report detection.  Only commands intended to send information out to various devices.  One would need to use a computer or uP device to read and process incoming detection signals and issue various commands based on them.  You can find documentation on both the original TMCC command set (starting on page 4) and the Legacy command set (starting on page 7) of the LCS Legacy protocol spec found here: http://www.lionel.com/lcs/reso...tocol-Spec-v1.22.pdf

Legacy does have some method built in that allows a series of commands to be issued when some input is given, that is used with the sensor track units, but I'm not familiar with how this works.  I'm unsure if the information is processed within the legacy base or the sensor track unit.  

As far as I'm aware there is no documentation available on communicating directly with LCS, only translating the legacy spec to it through a SER2 module.  

As for the other project, the plan is a bridge device that would allow various outside devices to talk to legacy and legacy to talk to them.  (There's really not much to this, just a processor, a RS232 serial port, and a RS485 port) The basic idea is to allow devices operating on a different protocol to interface with Legacy/TMCC.  I'd like to use this to work with several projects and ideas I've had, including my LionChief to TMCC bridge, A switch machine controller, and a 2.4GHz radio replacement for TMCC's R2LC boards, removing the need for a track signal to control engines.  

Anyway, it's a project for another time.  

JGL

 

Thanks for the information.

John Graser posted:

JOHNGATLINE,

Yes, I would like TMCC commands injected into the base or PC or (TMCC stream) for CTC,  signals or other device control.

Do you know if there are any LCS / TMCC commands for for detection.

I would be interested in hearing about your other project?

John 

Assuming you can add some code... since this is using an Arduino, it would be trivial to add a FTDI breakout board and hook up to RS232 on your TMCC or Legacy base.  Plop in the code to do what you want to do when the detector is activated and you have what you want.  I've sent TMCC commands to the CAB2 base through a remedial app to drive the trains.  You can do anything TMCC does. The TMCC protocol is public. Legacy commands do not work.  I am not certain if Legacy can be sent when you have the Ser2 or if they can not be sent to the base via the RS232 at all. 

JohnGaltLine posted:

I've been doing a little homework and wondering what you all think about a device that uses wifi to be programed.  An iOS or Android app could be written to make it look nice, but any wifi enabled computer could also work to adjust settings through an internet browser.  

 My thought would be to have a basic activation device that allows several of the easy to adjust functions built into the main module, a couple pots to adjust timing and such, then to have a socket on the board for the wifi module.  If folks want access to the more advanced features they could plug in the wifi module and access those options with their computer/smart device.  

I think a board with two inputs and two outputs would cover most of the options discussed above, so I'm going to putz around with that for a while.  

JGL

You would have one wifi board that the user plugs in to each of the devices one at a time to set them up?   I'm just trying to think through how you pull up each unit. Set it up as an access point? Scan all the ips on the network? 

Consolidated Leo posted:

I get ya, Stan. In other words the MP3 format transports easily from one platform to another. So the Arduino code might transport how? I can't say that I know of anything other than the IDE to do it right now. But I've only scratched the surface of what's available for the Arduino. So I'm sure there are other ways to load it up.

John's MP3 player module is an example of something that might help with this situation; how to load up the Arduino without all the scary stuff about programming and the unknowns of the environment (drivers, downloads, IDE, blah, blah). Something simple like an SD card reader might be just the thing.

I have not had a lot of trouble setting up the Arduino IDE on my Windows computer but I've been around computer science since 1971 and started programming in C in 1980. The Arduino uses a version of C++ which is an object oriented variant. In my opinion, this stuff should be scary; there's a lot to it. But the Arduino community has done a great job in making it available for mass consumption.

Right, it's that blah, blah (aka fine-print, devil's in the details, etc.) that is the gotcha.  For about $1 on eBay you can get an MP3 player (with built-in speaker, headphone output, rechargeable battery).  It has both a mini-USB and a microSD card slot.  MP3 song(s) are stored on the microSD card.

mp3 transfer method

You can "transport" MP3 song(s) from a PC/laptop/tablet/whatever to the MP3 player via the mini-USB cable.  For example, the MP3 player pops up as a folder/drive on host and you drag and drop the MP3 song(s), disconnect the mini-USB cable and the MP3 player is ready for use.  OR, you can store the MP3 song(s) onto a microSD card by writing to it on the PC/laptop/tablet/whatever that has a SD reader slot.  Then physically move the memory card over to the player. 

To your point, it's too bad you can't drag-and-drop an Arduino "finished product" using a similar transport mechanism (no IDE) considering the mini-USB connector available on $2 Arduinos.  I'd be curious to hear if you discover an economical way to use an SD card as a transport mechanism...without requiring the end-user to install/fuss with an IDE.

If you haven't already stumbled across the Pricom Dream Player take a look at how it uses an SD card to store train layout sounds. 

dreamplayer sd

What's interesting is in addition to the sound files, you have what amounts to a Configuration file which the user creates to instruct the player how the sounds get triggered or how the sounds interact with each other.  What's clever is you don't need an IDE or whatever to create this configuration file...just a text editor or word processor that is "native" to any PC/laptop/whatever.

My interest in this hobby is more about the electronics than the trains. My ideal layout would skip all the scenery and instead expose all the electronics behind it's operation. Oh sure, I like trains too!

Then as a kid you must have built the Revell transparent see-thru Mustang...one of my favorite models.

transparent mustang

 

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I have a suggestion that isn't as exotic as MP3, TMCC, smartphone connections, etc.

How about creating a circuit that, when activated by a train entering an insulated rail section, causes two separate leads to be energized alternately, for a duration that would follow the other timing settings you've proposed above?  The application I have in mind is causing the lights on an Lionel Postwar 154 Highway Signal to flash alternately.

If you can provide a device which eliminates the use of the wretched 154C contactor, and replaces it with a simple insulated rail trigger, I and a lot of other Postwar guys would beat a path to your door.

Thanks for listening.

Steven J. Serenska

JohnGaltLine posted:

I'll start with the miscellaneous ones that don't fit neatly anywhere else.  RTR12, I've been following along with GRJ's insulated rail module but just haven't had anything useful to add to the conversation up through now.  It's likely to be a useful device for many folks.  The discussion has also served to really drive home a point to me, though.  Nothing against the thing because it is some good solid engineering that fills a need, but it serves to show that folks are willing to spend some dollars to avoid working with even the most basic electronics.  That has set the tone for my project here, as I think one of the most important aspects will be making it dead simple for people to use, with no learning curve whatsoever.  It needs to be available ready to use out of the box, and easy to set up for folks with no inclination to learn any new skills.  

As a side note, as of right now I've been unable to find a way to duplicate the functionality of pre-built relay modules from china for the same or lower cost than those modules.  I agree with the problem of insuring a consistent design to the modules over time that was pointed out in GRJ's thread, and need to consider that further for a design here. 

 

JGL

I like tinkering and don't mind making my own stuff, but my knowledge is much more limited than many folks here. The appeal of GRJ's insulated rail device to me is the fact that GRJ made it, it's on custom PCB, Others like Stan, PLCProf, you, etc always have input to things like this that are created here on the forum so there are a lot of neat features. Also I like following along with the development and want to support you folks doing more of this. I agree that others (probably the majority of O gaugers) just want something that is easy to hook up and get working like they want. I think you are on the right track in making something that way as far as ease of use and appealing to the majority of the O gaugers around here. You are on the right track here with ready to go right out of the box, IMO.

What I was talking about in adding to GRJ's device was what Stan described in much better detail. He thought of a lot more than I did, but that is sort of what I was thinking and provided much more. I think the shorting plug was a very good suggestion for adding on to GRJ's device and I think GRJ liked it too. Also the ease of loading programs, configuring, etc.

I also agree with the Far East products and counting on getting the same devices later on. I have quite a few of those things right now that I can no longer find or I would order more. Probably not a good source unless it's a chip or arduino or something like that. With these things I don't think they can change them too much.

Looks like you are off to a good start and have some of the great talent here offering suggestions. Can't beat that!! I will now go back to following along and trying to keep up as things develop.

Serenska posted:

How about creating a circuit that, when activated by a train entering an insulated rail section, causes two separate leads to be energized alternately, for a duration that would follow the other timing settings you've proposed above?  The application I have in mind is causing the lights on an Lionel Postwar 154 Highway Signal to flash alternately.

If you can provide a device which eliminates the use of the wretched 154C contactor, and replaces it with a simple insulated rail trigger, I and a lot of other Postwar guys would beat a path to your door.

I like it and will put it on the list.  Not hard at all to add in.  I think I'd set it up so that one of the relays toggles back and forth which light is on, and the other remains on while triggered, rather than having one relay for each light.  This way, if one wanted to also trigger a sound function, like a bell, it could be done easily.  

As a side note, I'm going to take some time now to consolidate the list of functions, and figure out which ones are simple, and which are more difficult.  What parts are needed as a minimum and so on.  I'll report back later.  

JGL

I don't mean to sound harsh, but I think that some of what has been said here tends to underestimate the gumption that a lot of the folks in this hobby possess. Perhaps I don't know the "market" as well as some of you. But from what I've seen and read on this forum, these people are driven to achieve their own made-up goals and you'd better not stand in their way to get there.

While it is true that certain aspects of the technologies involved are over our collective heads, that just points out an explanation discrepancy where expertise fails to put things in a more practical, step-by-step approach to assist those with even a modest level of understanding.

On the other hand, I've read and seen some excellent material and witnessed gallant efforts made by folks with nothing to gain from their work but satisfaction in knowing that they've helped out someone with a passion similar to their own. Sorry John Galt, but selflessness is it's own reward and is offered as an act of will. (Oh right! No politics!) And so I salute the people who offer their advice and their concern in the quest to make model trains do what we want them to.

Yikes! Where did that come from? Oh yeah. So, in my own opinion, I think that given the proper instruction, most of the people who work on model railroads can achieve more than we give them credit for. Programming is not for everyone. But just look around at what people do now that they never thought they could do just a few short years ago. It's truly amazing!

The Arduino project has made computer electronics as easy as it's ever going to be. The people involved in model railroading have the kind of spirit that lends itself to test the boundaries of their skills and knowledge. I don't do much in the way of glue and ballasting track but I've been a programmer all of my adult life and am willing to take on the task of helping out where I can. It can be made simple. Computer electronics are a part of the model railroad game and should not be kept out of the hands of those willing to try. It's time to climb aboard.

Oh Stan, I always wanted the see-through V8 engine.

Off topic mini-rant follows:

Consolidated Leo, I'm not disparaging anyone, and if you take stock of what I've posted on this forum over the last several years you will find dozens of post explaining exactly how to accomplish various tasks with Arduino and similar devices.  To the best of my knowledge, to date, there has been exactly one case where such suggestions have been fully embraced by another user with a specific problem to solve and who then put in the effort to purchase the parts and learn how to use them.  There have been several cases of people tinkering with various electronic ideas here and there, but I doubt any have so prolifically pushed folks to consider the micro-controller option as I have, routinely suggesting the use of one to solve a problem.  What I've found is that no one wants to learn to use them.  Not everyone, and certainly not the folks that regularly contribute to the technical discussions here, but the vast majority of users of this forum do not want to learn these things.  For many the idea of installing something as simple as a voltage regulator in a passenger car is a scary thought and well beyond what they are willing to do.  

On the other end of it, there is no need for any product or service to be made for the folks that know how to use a uP.  We all already know how to order cheap modules from Asia.  We know how to write a sketch or program a PIC.  We know what a transistor does and and how to power an LED.  There is no need to purchase a product that by the very nature of it being a product offered for sale must have some mark-up over just buying the parts and putting it together one's self.   I Don't expect you or Stan, or GRJ, or RTR or a handful of others here to ever buy something they can make them self for the same or lower cost.  At some point a super chuffer  or 3 are in my future.  On the other hand one of the new insulated rail modules GRJ has going is not likely to ever be something I buy.  If you want a crash course in the willingness of folks to pay money rather than learn the simplest of electronic concepts, have a look at the thread on that project.  Now I don't want this to sound like I'm bashing on that project, I think it's fantastic in that it's filling a need for many people at a reasonable price, but essentially what you have is the very first thing anyone into electronics ever built, a voltage regulator power supply.  It is ridiculously simple and if you look through that thread you would think someone just invented sliced bread for the first time.  

Over all My opinion is that the large majority of O gauge railroaders would rather spend money than learn basic skills.  That doesn't mean I don't want to teach them.  It doesn't mean I'll ever stop writing code for people or posting schematics for circuits.  It just means that for the folks that don't want to learn, I think there might be an opportunity to make something that will fill a need they may have, and I think I can do it at a price point that actually makes sense, not the $70 the major manufacturers ask for a single detection device that offers much less functionality.  

This project is intended to fill a need, hopefully generate a useful conversation among the folks that like tinkering, and show off some of what can be done these days with cheap parts.  Maybe just, maybe get some new folks interested in the details of what goes on behind the curtain.  Whatever the final design here becomes, you can be sure you'll find one crucial component on the board, This one:oshw-logo-800-px

JGL

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JohnGaltLine posted:
Serenska posted:

How about creating a circuit that, when activated by a train entering an insulated rail section, causes two separate leads to be energized alternately, for a duration that would follow the other timing settings you've proposed above?  The application I have in mind is causing the lights on an Lionel Postwar 154 Highway Signal to flash alternately.

If you can provide a device which eliminates the use of the wretched 154C contactor, and replaces it with a simple insulated rail trigger, I and a lot of other Postwar guys would beat a path to your door.

I like it and will put it on the list.  Not hard at all to add in.  I think I'd set it up so that one of the relays toggles back and forth which light is on, and the other remains on while triggered, rather than having one relay for each light.  This way, if one wanted to also trigger a sound function, like a bell, it could be done easily.  

As a side note, I'm going to take some time now to consolidate the list of functions, and figure out which ones are simple, and which are more difficult.  What parts are needed as a minimum and so on.  I'll report back later.  

JGL

JGL:

Thanks for considering this.  Please note that, while part of my living comes from the thoughtful application of software I design, I no longer program and I know NOTHING about designing a circuit (other than what I remember from assembling Heathkits when I was a teenager).  When you say "if one wanted to also trigger a sound function, like a bell, it could be done easily", I don't doubt you, but such a thing wouldn't be easy for me ... at all.  I (and I'm guessing a few others) are interested in a nice product with decent user instructions at price that makes all parties happy.

For me, the biggest challenge would be looking at some YouTube videos of flashing crossbuck signals to make sure I had the duration of each bulb's flash reasonably close to a prototype signal (e.g., I'd start 500 milliseconds and go up or down from there).  Whether the final result is achieved via two relays, one relay, or programming an Arduino device, is beyond my implementation skills.

I'm suppose I'm saying some of these things in response to some of the comments above:

  • If you create this item and say "Hey, I've got a nifty device that solve problems X, Y, and Z, is accompanied by instructions that anyone can follow, requires no additional programming on the part of the purchaser and costs $N" you'll maximize the adoption rate among your user base.  

  • If you say "It's also flexible so you can program it to do whatever you want, such as ring a bell or play an MP3 file", you'll attract that many more people.

  • However, if you say, "it would be trivial [for the user] to add a FTDI breakout board and hook up to RS232 on a TMCC or Legacy base", you'll lose many, including me.  This is anything but trivial.  I have no idea what "FTDI" even stands for.

I'm not trying to pick on anyone in my comments above, but I think the best suggestion you've received so far is "decide who your market is".

If you do decide that your market is "your basic train guy", your instructions and feature set should be no more difficult to follow than the instructions that accompanied most Lionel Postwar accessories.  At the end of the day, your device will accomplish tasks that are analogous to what a 132 Stop Station does.  Your device will just use different technology.  The instructions that accompany your technology should be equally follow-able by an average Joe or Jane as the instructions for a 132 station.  If you need help proofreading/testing your instructions, I'm happy to help.

If you decide that your market is "electronics guys who happen to like trains", the instructions are less important, but your feature set will need to be customized by those who have that ability.

I hope I haven't muddied your waters.  Your comments above about gathering ideas, refining lists, and thinking about your approach all tell me you're on the right track.  I'm interested to see how it develops.

SJS

Last edited by Serenska

JGL:

Sorry, one other point I forgot to mention.  You said above:

Looks like the powers that be decided to move this to the electrical forum so I doubt I'll get the responses from the larger audience I was hoping for.

I say, "Exactly."  I should have used your words to provide a frame of reference for mine.  I should have begun my post above by showing the above quote, and then transitioning into what I wrote by saying, "If you were hoping for a larger audience.....".

Again,  I think you're thinking about all the right things, including and especially polling members of all forums for ideas.

Now I'll be quiet.

SJS

 

Serenska posted:

I have a suggestion that isn't as exotic as MP3, TMCC, smartphone connections, etc.

How about creating a circuit that, when activated by a train entering an insulated rail section, causes two separate leads to be energized alternately, for a duration that would follow the other timing settings you've proposed above?  The application I have in mind is causing the lights on an Lionel Postwar 154 Highway Signal to flash alternately.

If you can provide a device which eliminates the use of the wretched 154C contactor, and replaces it with a simple insulated rail trigger, I and a lot of other Postwar guys would beat a path to your door.

Thanks for listening.

Steven J. Serenska

Custom Signals had a nice circuit board to do that function. It could be triggered from either direction. It had the slow on/off blink function for either LEDs or the 154 crossing signal. It also did doubletrack crossings and for the really demanding customers like club layouts had a 3 block operation for each track.

After all that in the last post I forgot to ask the question I logged on to ask in the first place...

For the simple function of a timer, ex: when the accessory is triggered it stays turned for some amount of time afterward, what is the time range that needs to be covered?  It will be adjustable in any case, but what's the maximum amount of time one would want an accessory to remain on?  Does anyone know what sort of times products like the ITAD or 153IR give?  

 

Serenska, I think I agree with everything you said there.  My target audience at this point is going to be the non-technically inclined folks looking for an easy to hook up, ready to go, solution.  I think the instructions may end up more complex than some people would like, but I think as long as the specific instructions on setting up any one  function are clear and easy to follow I'll be ok.  My goal would be to have a product that requires no special skills from the user, even to use the more complex functions, but I'll add a disclaimer that some functions may be more difficult to implement than others.  As I wrote down the list of options we have so far it looks like almost everything can be done with no more than 8 wires connecting to the board, usually less, and adjustments should be possible with a row of DIP switches and a couple multi-turn potentiometers on the board.  I'm still kicking around several details on that.  

On the crossing flashers I'm curious about prototypical operation.  I can't recall ever noticing one way or the other here.  on real signals do the lights flip-flop without delay, ex: right on, left off one moment, and the next moment right off, left on?  Or is there a delay between where both lights are off before the opposite light turns on?  It doesn't effect the hardware needed but changes the programing behind it.  

On the duration, my plan at this point is to allow the user to adjust them to whatever speed they like.  

GaryE, I'm curious what is different in a double track crossing than a single?  When it comes to real railroads I'm pretty clueless.  Also, what so you mean by "slow on/off blink"?  

 There are lots of folks offering many very speciffic products and I'm not looking replace them either.  Mostly I'm hoping to offer an option for some functions that don't exist elsewhere, but some of the functions that do are too east to incorporate not to do so, since all the parts are already there.  

Touching on a couple things I forgot to respond to above,

RTR, I'm glad you enjoy following along with the various projects.  For me the tinkering has always been the fun part.  I can watch a train do laps for a while, but sooner or later I want to take something apart or put something together.  

Andy b, My thought was that you would need a wifi module for each device that you wanted access to the extra features on.  This way one of those features could be allowing several modules talk to each other if you wanted.  That said, there is no reason things couldn't be set up where the module would continue to work properly if the wifi module was removed after set-up if continuing communication isn't needed.  As for the actual method of connection I would probably go with the simple route here, with the module acting as a access point.  You would choose the wireless network from those available  that corresponds to that device.  I think this may be overly complex for what is needed, but seems the best way so far to import fine tuning data.  As a side note, bluetooth is off the table at this point, for a couple reasons, first BLE modules cost twice as much as wifi modules at the moment, and second, as this is intended to end up as a product offered for sale some day, I'm not looking to have to license the rights to use the name BlueTooth.  

Anyway, That's all I can think of for now.  

JGL

JGL,

I can only suspect that you have read the book by Ayn Rand known as "Atlas Shrugged" since your user name alludes to one of its main characters. My previous comment about John Galt was just a wild swipe at the philosophy projected in that book; mainly that selflessness is not an admirable virtue at all and entirely evil. I was not targeting anything at you and your efforts here or anywhere else in this forum. In fact, what you're doing here is open and collaborative. You are looking for suggestions and that's very admirable. Please accept my apology for stomping on your post.

My only real point is that we as a group with some knowledge and experience tend to downplay the ambitious nature of the average train guy to be involved in the electronics end of the spectrum. We know that they want to learn about new things, just as I do, or they wouldn't be here reading this crazy stuff.

These people are builders. Microprocessors can help them in their building efforts. Trains are very expensive. They're looking for a way to buy more railroad equipment and don't want to put their money down under the benchwork where no one can see it. We can help them do that.

What I want to see is for those in the know to encourage experimentation and some risk taking on the part of the nominal amateur. To say that if you make it too hard no one will pay attention is to suggest that they are not interested in bettering their situation. It's not for us to say what someone else may be able to accomplish from what we provide in this forum or for that matter from a circuit made available from the people who participate here.

Again I should emphasize that what I have seen, in the Electrical Forum at least, is most impressive. Never have I seen anyone put down or called to task for asking questions. That's the way it should be. Man, have you seen some of the other electronics forums? Wow! Is it young people? They are brutal! "Don't you know about ohm's law?"; "You can't use a voltage divider to do that!" It's less than civil.

</sorry="yes">

JGL, I also like the wifi idea you had above. Forgot to add that to my post above.

To add to your mini rant above and also to Consolidated Leo, there are also a lot of folks here that won't go near a soldering iron either. I don't think it is because they are not capable of learning, but more that they just don't want to learn to solder, don't want to solder anything and just don't want to mess with it. IMO, it's just different strokes for different folks.

And yes, there are a few here that are very knowledgeable, would tackle almost anything and their project would be quite successful when finished. These are also the folks that provide the help to others in need. I think I may fall somewhere in between the two, I know just enough to be dangerous! But, I have learned an awful lot from the folks here on this forum.

Quick update yet again, as I've finished jotting down my list of features.  At this point everything looks like it is possible with the exception of directly interfacing with TMCC. That's also possible, but beyond the scope of what I'm looking for right now.  I may add a connection point that would allow such an interface down the road.  

I've come to the conclusion that at this point there is actually no real need for an external programer to access any of the functions, but plan on allowing for one anyway so that it's in the framework in case I decide to add something that does need one.  

Consolidated Leo,  I think RTR above hit the nail on the head pretty well.  some folks are interested in picking up new skills, others are not.  I'm not looking to force anyone to learn something they don't want to, and over all my target here is the folks that don't want to do it them selves.  I can't think of the name right now, but I've even seen a recurring post from one user that they work with computers all day, and when they play with their trains they don't want to have anything to do with them.  There are a large number of similar folks in this hobby.  It's not that they don't have the skills or can't learn them, it is that they do not want to use or learn those skills.  

As for Mr. Galt, I think the quote found in my signature sums up my view.  Selflessness is an evil when done for it's own sake.  No person should be forced to help others if they don't want to.  If, on the other hand, they want to help others, they can do so of their own free will, and for whatever reason they have to do so.  In my case I just enjoy tinkering with electronics and solving problems.  Over all I tend to think Mrs. Rand got most of it right, as far as the meat and potatoes. 

This is the only forum I regularly participate in that has anything to do with trains or electronics, and that is mostly to do with the generally strict moderation here.  Things tend to stay polite most of the time, though there are occasional exceptions.  As far as I can tell I'm one of the younger folks here, so I don't think age has much to do with it, perhaps just a different set of priorities.  The internet in chat and forums also has a culture all its own that this forum does not partake in.   

JGL

"What is the moral code of altruism? The basic principle of altruism is that man has no right to exist for his own sake, that service to others is the only justification of his existence, and that self-sacrifice is his highest moral duty, virtue and value.

Do not confuse altruism with kindness, good will or respect for the rights of others. These are not primaries, but consequences, which, in fact, altruism makes impossible. The irreducible primary of altruism, the basic absolute, is self-sacrifice—which means; self-immolation, self-abnegation, self-denial, self-destruction—which means: the self as a standard of evil, the selfless as a standard of the good.

Do not hide behind such superficialities as whether you should or should not give a dime to a beggar. That is not the issue. The issue is whether you do or do not have the right to exist without giving him that dime. The issue is whether you must keep buying your life, dime by dime, from any beggar who might choose to approach you. The issue is whether the need of others is the first mortgage on your life and the moral purpose of your existence. The issue is whether man is to be regarded as a sacrificial animal. Any man of self-esteem will answer: “No.” Altruism says: “Yes "

- Philosophy: Who needs it - AR

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