Lowa

Full Train Layout Control with Tablet

37 posts in this topic

We have been working on expanding our train automation system.  The video below provides a glimpse of the (near) future.  In this video we control everything from a tablet: switches, traffic lights, train head lights and the train itself...

The layout automation system is connected to a PC that runs nControl, the tablet interfaces with the PC using a remote desktop app like TeamViewer.  The train uses a prototype of our WiFi based train controller.  The train communicates with nControl using nControl's internal MQTT server.  The track switch motors and controllers are available; the traffic lights should become available the first weeks of April.  The train controller is in development: the goal is to be able to control the direction, speed, head lights, check the battery power, and use a position sensor so nControl can track the position of the train on the layout.

Let us know what you think!

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You've really got my attention with this. If you can manage to make the entire system run from a tablet only, then we'll talk. I'd love to be able to take this on the road for shows. Being able to control everything from one tablet is great and would make life so much easier. If you add in double crossovers and remote control capabilities for them... the sky's the limit.

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Well done!!! Looks awesome. Getting closer and closer to what I want/need for my layout.

Keep up the great work!!!

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54 minutes ago, Feuer Zug said:

You've really got my attention with this. If you can manage to make the entire system run from a tablet only, then we'll talk. I'd love to be able to take this on the road for shows. Being able to control everything from one tablet is great and would make life so much easier. If you add in double crossovers and remote control capabilities for them... the sky's the limit.

Take a Lenovo Yoga, then. Or any other Windows-based Tablet-PC :classic:

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11 hours ago, Lowa said:

"The train controller is in development: the goal is to be able to control the direction, speed, head lights, check the battery power, and use a position sensor so nControl can track the position of the train on the layout..."

So you mean like having PTC for Lego trains!? Oh. My. Now that is really freakin' COOL!!! Even though I like steamers where everything is manual or mechanical being able to run all your trains on PTC would be awesome!

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10 hours ago, Feuer Zug said:

You've really got my attention with this. If you can manage to make the entire system run from a tablet only, then we'll talk. I'd love to be able to take this on the road for shows. Being able to control everything from one tablet is great and would make life so much easier. If you add in double crossovers and remote control capabilities for them... the sky's the limit.

We're working on a Raspberry Pi based layout controller that can run nControl and manage the system; and then use a tablet/phone to interface with that controller.  That will allow you to take the traditional computer out of the loop.  What do you think?

About the double crossovers, we're working on a 'modular switch system' that will allow you to make a variety of different switches with a limited number of track pieces; double crossovers being one of them.  The main difference with the 7996 will be that ours has 4 fully independent switches, so you can run the trains parallel at the same time...  We're making good progress and if all goes well we'll I should be able show the first 'final' prototypes beginning next week.

9 hours ago, Younge said:

Well done!!! Looks awesome. Getting closer and closer to what I want/need for my layout.

Keep up the great work!!!

Thanks!  What is still missing for you ?

9 hours ago, Capparezza said:

Take a Lenovo Yoga, then. Or any other Windows-based Tablet-PC :classic:

Indeed, we have customers that are using our track switch motors like that!

2 hours ago, ALCO said:

So you mean like having PTC for Lego trains!? Oh. My. Now that is really freakin' COOL!!! Even though I like steamers where everything is manual or mechanical being able to run all your trains on PTC would be awesome!

Yes, that's what we're working on!  

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9 hours ago, zephyr1934 said:

That is awesome.

Thank you!  To everyone who's following what we're doing: this is just the beginning; we want to automate every aspect of LEGO train layouts.  For example, we just finalized a design for a PF track compatible decoupler: it allows you to remotely decouple railcars of LEGO trains; it's a PF version of 7862 for the old 12V system. 

If you like what we're doing help us spread the word by sharing posts...  or place and order and share your experience :wink:

4dbrix-lego-train-decoupler-open.jpg4dbrix-lego-train-decoupler-closed.jpg

 

 

 

 

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Now this is interesting. I really enjoy shunting on my OO scale railway, and I have experimented with building locomotives with retracting magnets and so on, but this looks a much easier way of building a decent, working shunting yard without raising up the tracks. Have you any idea how much these would cost? 

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2 hours ago, ColletArrow said:

Now this is interesting. I really enjoy shunting on my OO scale railway, and I have experimented with building locomotives with retracting magnets and so on, but this looks a much easier way of building a decent, working shunting yard without raising up the tracks. Have you any idea how much these would cost? 

I'm glad you like it!

I still need to do the final price calculation but the decoupler track you see on the pictures would be around $10-$12.  You also need a servo motor to actuate it, the motor will be the same price as our track switch motors: $15.  To control the motor you need one slot of a quad switch controller ($39.95); that's the same controller as for our track switches, so you can use the three remaining slots of the controller to motorize track switches... or connect additional decouplers.  As an alternative to the controller you can also use your own Arduino board.

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13 hours ago, Lowa said:

We're working on a Raspberry Pi based layout controller that can run nControl and manage the system; and then use a tablet/phone to interface with that controller.  That will allow you to take the traditional computer out of the loop.  What do you think?

About the double crossovers, we're working on a 'modular switch system' that will allow you to make a variety of different switches with a limited number of track pieces; double crossovers being one of them.  The main difference with the 7996 will be that ours has 4 fully independent switches, so you can run the trains parallel at the same time...  We're making good progress and if all goes well we'll I should be able show the first 'final' prototypes beginning next week.

 

Yes, that will work perfectly. Once you get some switches out on the market, then I'll make an order. That's the big thing I'm holding out for. After that, I'd be willing to try some of the electronics. Oh, and the decoupler.

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13 hours ago, Lowa said:

Thanks!  What is still missing for you ?

In one of your videos I seem to remember seeing some sensors being used. Are they still on the cards?

Where I want to go with my layout you sort of alluded to in the following post:

13 hours ago, Lowa said:

Thank you!  To everyone who's following what we're doing: this is just the beginning; we want to automate every aspect of LEGO train layouts.  For example, we just finalized a design for a PF track compatible decoupler: it allows you to remotely decouple railcars of LEGO trains; it's a PF version of 7862 for the old 12V system. 

If you like what we're doing help us spread the word by sharing posts...  or place and order and share your experience :wink:

12 volt-era equivalent parts is what I have been hoping/wishing for. I have started getting all the bits and pieces together to build up a 12-volt layout, but I soon found the cost of some of the parts to be prohibitive - and general life expenses getting in the way of a Lego train project (that's the wife talking!). There's also the risk of parts becoming more and more scarce and therefore even more expensive in the future.

Your system has the potential of being better than the 12-volt system as we won't be as locked down as that system was by the fact that we can use controllers like Arduino. Also, nothing is stopping you from inventing various add-ons down the track (such as proximity sensors). We also get the added benefit of mobility with a tablet device (if wanted).

De-couplers, switches, lights, motor controls - this is all going in a fantastic direction, and one appreciated by those of us that aren't as technically-minded as some of the other people on this forum.

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On 3/9/2017 at 0:38 PM, Lowa said:

For example, we just finalized a design for a PF track compatible decoupler: it allows you to remotely decouple railcars of LEGO trains; it's a PF version of 7862 for the old 12V system.

Is that unit only 7 studs long? If so, I'd suggest lengthening it to be 8 studs or 1/2 half of a standard track length. Also, you should test the side clearance to make sure that a steam driver with at least a full technic beam can clear (there are some steam designs like the EN that actually require two technic beams beyond the wheel). Another thing to keep in mind is that many builders do 8 wide pilots. Sure, tricky or impossible to make something work for all possible builds that folks make, but possibly contemplate a second version if demand arises (no sense in doing so until someone actually asks for it though... and I am NOT asking with this note, just giving a few observations).

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On 3/10/2017 at 1:52 AM, Younge said:

In one of your videos I seem to remember seeing some sensors being used. Are they still on the cards?

Absolutely!  We're waiting for the cables; we had to custom order them.  They are currently being manufactured by a supplier, once we have them we can start making the sensors and lights.

On 3/10/2017 at 1:52 AM, Younge said:

Your system has the potential of being better than the 12-volt system as we won't be as locked down as that system was by the fact that we can use controllers like Arduino. Also, nothing is stopping you from inventing various add-ons down the track (such as proximity sensors). We also get the added benefit of mobility with a tablet device (if wanted).

De-couplers, switches, lights, motor controls - this is all going in a fantastic direction, and one appreciated by those of us that aren't as technically-minded as some of the other people on this forum.

The goal is indeed to have a system that is on one hand easy to set-up and does not require an in depth knowledge of electronics or programming; but on the other hand is open to be used by with a DIY control system.  We try to make it easy to use for beginners but fully customizable for advanced users.  This is the beginning, if it takes off there's indeed nothing that stops us from making a whole range a gadgets to automate the layouts including proximity sensors, LCD displays, etc. 

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On 3/11/2017 at 9:56 AM, zephyr1934 said:

Is that unit only 7 studs long? If so, I'd suggest lengthening it to be 8 studs or 1/2 half of a standard track length. Also, you should test the side clearance to make sure that a steam driver with at least a full technic beam can clear (there are some steam designs like the EN that actually require two technic beams beyond the wheel). Another thing to keep in mind is that many builders do 8 wide pilots. Sure, tricky or impossible to make something work for all possible builds that folks make, but possibly contemplate a second version if demand arises (no sense in doing so until someone actually asks for it though... and I am NOT asking with this note, just giving a few observations).

The decoupler is 8 studs long, so it easy to integrate it into a layout; the picture might be deceptive because the part that blocks the wheels is in the middle of two studs.  

The clearance is about 3mm on both sides.  It's not straightforward to increase that because of the range of the servo motor.  With this design only 6 stud wide objects will pass; 8 stud wide objects will only pass unless they are at least 2 plates (6.4mm) above the top of the track.  The decoupler now extends 6 studs out of the track, the motor extends it with another 2 studs.  With the current design you can fit the decoupler into a set of parallel tracks that are 8 studs apart.  If the decoupler needs a larger clearance this would no longer be possible.  A decoupler with a wider clearance is most likely possible, but as you pointed out every design will have limitations and nothing will work very every possible build.  But if there is a clear demand, we can certainly look into that.

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Really cool idea! Just wondering if you can do something that would rise up between the rails so the inexperienced eye could not tell a decoupler even exists. Especially if the track were ballasted. I cannot remember where I saw it but someone had made something that was just a 2x4 piece of ballast and sleeper that would come up and hold the bogie in place. Just a thought....

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On 3/9/2017 at 1:35 AM, Feuer Zug said:

You've really got my attention with this. If you can manage to make the entire system run from a tablet only, then we'll talk. I'd love to be able to take this on the road for shows. Being able to control everything from one tablet is great and would make life so much easier. If you add in double crossovers and remote control capabilities for them... the sky's the limit.

FYI: We got a big one step closer to having a portable automation system for shows: we had to pull a few tricks but we finally managed to compile nControl for the Raspberry Pi!  You won't even need a screen on it; you can connect the controller boxes to the Raspberry Pi and either log in with a mobile device using a remote desktop or use a custom webpage (that nControl will be able to generate from your project) to interface with your layout.  The Raspberry Pi is powered with a micro USB jack so it should be possible to power it with a standard phone battery power bank.  We still need to test this but this could also make you independent of the grid if that would be a concern for a show...

The Raspberry Pi version can be downloaded for free from our website: https://www.4dbrix.com/downloads  

4dbrix-ncontrol-raspberry-pi.png

 

For those who are not familiar with the Raspberry Pi, it's a $40 Linux computer that roughly measures 10 x 6 x 2 cm / 3.5 x 2.5 x 3/4 ". It has 4 USB ports and on board WiFi. The Linux version of nControl is fully compatible with the Windows and macOS version. We're look into making an off-the-shelf solution with this by embedding the Raspberry Pi in a 3D printed housing.

Raspberry-Pi-3-Flat-Top.jpg

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Wow nice work! I design my own electronics for my automation projects but this is really great stuff! This gives everyone the ability to automate their layouts, very nice!

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2 hours ago, AlmightyArjen said:

Wow nice work! I design my own electronics for my automation projects but this is really great stuff! This gives everyone the ability to automate their layouts, very nice!

Thank you!

Making automation accessible to people who don't want to make their own electronics is indeed one of our goals.  In addition, our components are designed to be easily integrated into Do-It-Yourself automation systems.  We provide all the information you need to do so; if we forgot something we're happy to add it.  We're also working on an add-on to connect our nControl software to DIY automation systems.  Track switches are already supported, the other components (lights, sensors, etc.) will follow, it's ongoing work...  If anyone wants to give it a try, don't hesitate to ask a free trial license!

 

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Posted (edited)

My only concern is the price for automating my layout. If I wanted to ONLY automate 2 switches I would have to pay $70 for the quad controller and the two swtich boxes (that isn't even including the price for the official tack), I can purchase a left and right 12v automatic switch track for $50-$60 instead and I personally think that it is more fun and enjoyable to switch the tracks whenever I want with a physical button or switch. Possibly if you guys reduce your price I would be interested. I am not saying that I think your product isn't worth that much because it has a lot of potential, I am saying it is not a price I am willing to pay for a 3D printed (not injected molded) part that is more expensive than a discontinued 30-35 year old official Lego part.

Just my input, I really like the work you've done though it is very promising!

-RailCo

Edited by Rail Co

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15 hours ago, Lowa said:

...if we forgot something we're happy to add it...

 

The only thing I can see as missing is a way to control the motors in my trains from the nControl software. Or am I missing something?

I'd be happy to invest in your products at this stage, but, I just can't work out that missing piece of the puzzle.

Keep up the great work though!

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9 hours ago, Rail Co said:

My only concern is the price for automating my layout. If I wanted to ONLY automate 2 switches I would have to pay $70 for the quad controller and the two swtich boxes (that isn't even including the price for the official tack), I can purchase a left and right 12v automatic switch track for $50-$60 instead and I personally think that it is more fun and enjoyable to switch the tracks whenever I want with a physical button or switch. Possibly if you guys reduce your price I would be interested. I am not saying that I think your product isn't worth that much because it has a lot of potential, I am saying it is not a price I am willing to pay for a 3D printed (not injected molded) part that is more expensive than a discontinued 30-35 year old official Lego part.

Just my input, I really like the work you've done though it is very promising!

-RailCo

Thank you!  I agree, button controls would be awesome!  We're looking into that and would like to make 12V style button that can easily be integrated in a control panel made out of LEGO bricks.  We have made some fully functional prototypes, see below.  The 'box' is 6x8x1 LEGO base units.  For the buttons you can use 3D printed tile or you can use 4x6 genuine LEGO plates, both options are possible with the same base.  

4dbrix-button-control-1.jpg    4dbrix-button-control-2.jpg

I'm sorry about how you feel about the price of the automation system, we're doing our best to keep the system as affordable as possible...

 

 

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7 hours ago, Younge said:

The only thing I can see as missing is a way to control the motors in my trains from the nControl software. Or am I missing something?

I'd be happy to invest in your products at this stage, but, I just can't work out that missing piece of the puzzle.

Keep up the great work though!

It's funny you mention that because that's exactly what we're working on right now!  We just finalized our first WiFi train controller.  It has a PF style connector on top to connect the train motor and it has a cable with a PF style connector to connect it to a LEGO battery box.  The controller measures 5x4x2 base units. We were planning to make a video to show case it one of the coming days...

4dbrix-train-controller-1.jpg       4dbrix-train-controller-2.jpg

 

We added a new train control tile in nControl to pilot the train.  You can change the speed with the + and - button or if you have a device with a touch screen you can change the speed by sliding your finger over the power indicator, i.e. the arc in the middle.  The controller also measures the voltage of the battery and sends that to nControl so you have real time info on how your battery is doing.  This tile will allow you to remote control the train or to automate with scripts from nControl.

4dbrix-train-control-tile.png

The hardware design is done, it's just a matter of fine tuning the software and firmware.  The target retail price for the controller is $25, and we hope to have it available this summer!

 

 

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That is such great news!!!

From that photo that you posted, is that a genuine Lego train motor attached to the bogie?

And is your "control unit" running via bluetooth? I'm just trying to work out how multiple trains could work if it's wifi or another protocol.

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