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  1. 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!
  2. Hey all, I'm working on a big automation project and I needed some automated rail crossings for that. This was already a project on itself which I like to share with you. I work with the 9V system and make trains stop by disabling isolated segments in the rails. That princicple is also used in the automated rail crossing. The crossing is controlled by a printed circuit board which I have designed myself. The PCB is multifunctional and can control two single crossings or one double crossing. This means that the board has two connections for sensors, two connections for signals and two connections for isolated track segments. Printed Circuit Board The heart of the system is stand alone Arduino chip. When the sensor is triggered by a train that is passing by, the non-priority track is disabled and the concerning signal is put to red. As long as the train triggers the sensor, the non-priority track remains disabled. When the train has cleared the sensor, a timer is started to make sure the train has left the crossing before the non-priority track is enabled again. This timer is adjustable by means of an adjustable resistor. Since the PCB can control two crossings, it contains also two adjustable resistors. The value of the delays is displayed on a 4-digit display. This way the system is flexible and can cope with slower or faster trains. Sensor Ofcourse you want to see the thing in action, so I also made a video. In this layout a double crossing is controlled by the PCB.
  3. Hey guys! As some of you know, I recently got back to Lego trains after 15 years of neglect. A close friend of mine thought it was a good idea to document my progress, thoughts and plans on a personal blog, so others would be able to one day build their own big layouts and see what I struggled with and how they can do it better. I'd like you guys to check it out and use this forum to comment on my posts and maybe give me suggestions (I love ideas) on things you would want to hear about or see of. This blog is entirely dedicated to my Lego trains project. So far there are 4 blog entries (The latest one is being uploaded right this moment). If you wish to comment on something, let me know which post you're referring to, so I know what the topic is. Thanks for checking it out! //Edit: By the way, I try to post once a week, every Monday.
  4. Sioux.NET on Track presents the Ticket Dispenser Unit (TDU) Two articles about the Lego Dispenser Unit can be found at our blog: In this article you can read how tickets are read using a four-color based number system. This article was written before the dispenser part was created, so it is only about the reader part. In this article you can read about the upgraded version that will be used at Lego World 2017. Click on the following picture to see more pictures: A video of the working TDU 2017 can be found here:
  5. To all LEGO train automation enthusiasts, This is a short clip of the final version of our LEGO compatible track switch motor. It has a digital servo embedded in a 3D printed housing. This is a 'plug & play' solution: the motor is strong enough that it doesn't require any modification of the switch (you don't need to open the switch and remove the notch to reduce the force needed to flip it). I also added a picture of the back side so you can see how it can fit onto a LEGO® switch. The housing is made in a custom dark bluish gray ABS filament that matches the LEGO® tracks. The motor has a 6 by 6 stud footprint and it's 2 bricks + 2 plates high. We'll be making controllers for these motors as well, so you can connect them to your PC. However, the motors are fully Arduino compatible, so you can integrate them in you own DIY control system. What do you think ? We're working on a full range of automation gadgets for LEGO trains. What other automation challenges would you like to see solved ?
  6. Can someone point me to topic or software, that can generate cute PDF when LDD finished generating HTML building guide activated by shortcut CTRL+H.
  7. In case you have missed my earlier posts: the article below is part of the large, fully automated train layout called "Sioux.NET on Track". You can watch a video of our presentation of our layout at Lego World Utrecht 2016 at our Youtube channel: Replacement of a slow candy crane As you can see in the video, the loading of the four wagons is done by the so-called candy crane. A nice and eye-catching structure, but is is slow. Really slow. When the visiting parents asked me at Lego World what the layout was about, my answer was usually “for children it is a candy delivery machine but for the parents it is a Zen machine” ;-). The delivery of four candies took in total about 13 minutes; most of the time the candy crane was fetching the containers with candies and loading them into the train. When we walked around Lego World, we noticed the following robot arms at the Mindstorms stand. We all had the same idea: that robot arm would be our next building and the replacement of our crane. The robot arm would be responsible for moving the containers from the pickup position to the wagons. The robot arm on the photo is originally designed by Mike Dobson and a LDD file is available. But I don’t find it a challenge to build these things from a building instruction (although, rebuilding these large objects from an LDD file is quite a challenge in itself ;-). So I started to build a robot arm from scratch. Of course, you will see some parts that look similar and yes: I have stolen these ideas from the master ;-) Robot arm, six axis DOF (some background info) The robot arm that we are designing, is a so called six-axis DOF robot (DOF is an abbreviation for Degrees of Freedom). The six axis that it can move are shown on the following picture: This axis, located at the robot base, allows the robot to rotate from left to right. This axis allows the lower arm of the robot to extend forward and backward. The axis extends the robot's vertical reach. It allows the upper arm to raise and lower. Working in conjunction with the axis 5, this axis aids in the positioning of the end effector and manipulation of the part. Known as the wrist roll, it rotates the upper arm in a circular motion moving parts between horizontal to vertical orientations. This axis allows the wrist of the robot arm to tilt up and down. This axis is responsible for the pitch and yaw motion. The pitch, or bend, motion is up and down, much like opening and closing a box lid. Yaw moves left and right, like a door on hinges. This is the wrist of the robot arm. It is responsible for a twisting motion, allowing it to rotate freely in a circular motion, both to position end effectors and to manipulate parts. It is usually capable of more than a 360 degree rotation in either a clockwise or counterclockwise direction. The gripper to pick-up the parts, candy containers in our case. Since this is not a movement, it is not seen as a separate axis. So, let's start building! Building of the robot arm, work in progress (first prototype) We started with the upper arm of the robot arm. For the first prototype, we used a a copy of the crane grabber for the gripper part. Three motors were placed in the upper arm (for movement 5, 6 and 7). The result can be seen below: And all worked fine, apart from one major disadvantage: to make the movement "axis 4" possible, the upper arm needed to be connected using a turntable (art. 4624645). But the weight of the upper arm was too high for the turntable. It started to bent a bit, making the rotation (axis 4) almost impossible. So, we needed a new upper arm but much more light-weight. Building of the robot arm, work in progress (second prototype) We discussed in the team what could be improved. And if the weight of the arm is too much, it needed to go on a diet. So, we looked for a way to put the motors in the upper part of the arm and to get three axles through the turntable. That would save lots of weight: 1) because three motors are not needed in this part of the arm, and 2) because the arm could be much shorter. But is it possible to get three axles through one turntable? Yes, you can. I found a video that does the trick, you can find it here: Another solution uses non-Lego parts: Quite a nice solution but we have a restriction that we don't use non-Lego elements. If three axles is not really possible, let's step back to a two-axle solution. And so we did: we created an upper part of the robot arm with only one motor and a simple fix to get two axles through the turntable: The result of the second prototype can be seen here. We said goodbye to the grabber and made a two-finger gripper. And indeed, the second prototype was better than the first time. Take a look at a (kind of) complete upper arm: But another major disadvantage: if the arm made a movement around axis 5 or axis 6, the gripper opens or closes as well. The reason is that the gears that control the movement of the opening/closing of the gripper, are also rotating when the gripper is rotated (axis 6) or when the wrist rotates (axis 5). You can power the motor that controls the gripper to compensate, but it is not accurate enough. So... goodbye to prototype 2. Building of the robot arm, work in progress (third prototype) How can you prevent gears to turn when you don't want them to....? Remove the gears! So the next (and hopefully final) prototype uses pneumatics to control the gripper. We added two touch sensors to the upper arm to detect the position of movement 5. In the photo above, the read L shaped peaces are pressed against the touch sensor when it reaches the end position. At the other side, the same principle is used to detect the other end position. Next to build: a sensor to detect the rotation position of the gripper. And the motor(s) to control the movements 5 (wrist) and 6 (gripper rotation). If that is finished, the upper arm is ready and we can continue with the part that holds the upper arm. That's all for now, I'll keep you posted. Please let me know what you think of it. Enjoy, Hans
  8. We have been working on a software to design and automate LEGO train and monorail layouts. The first BETA version of nControl is out and can be downloaded for free from the 4DBrix site. It has a track planner for train and monorail layouts and has the first elements of the automation simulation: track switches, traffic lights and sound effects. We also have 2 YouTube videos to get you started. Download link: Getting started videos: Let us know what you think; any feedback, suggestions or ideas for additional features are welcome! Lowa
  9. Hi all, Just made a LDD file of my design of a M-motor track switch. Some inspiration from around the net, but for people looking, here is a solution. LDD File. M Motor switch track design Switch track goes between the red tiles and the rest. This is for a left-side switch track, mirror for right side. Have fun.
  10. Sioux.NET on Track is a group of enthusiastic colleagues who come together after working hours to get experience with Microsoft.NET. To make learning fun, we develop an application in C# for making a full automated Lego train, using Lego Mindstorms and Lego Power functions. The layout is always shown at Lego World in the Netherlands. Our plans for 2016 have been published at our blog: as well as an article about the new updated crane positioning. You can also view a video at our Youtube channel about the power chain systems: Enjoy, Hans