zephyr1934

A review of circuit cubes without mentioning the elephant in the room

Recommended Posts


Almost two weeks ago I saw this post. What really caught my attention was the tiny motor used to power the monorail. The video shows that it is circuitcubes, and it sounds like they sent out samples to several high profile builders. At any rate, the gerbil in my head quickly woke up and started franticly running on his wheel. I knew I needed one, so I pounced. Circuitcubes have two $40 sets, one with a dumb rechargeable battery box, motor block, and LED block, all 4x4x2. The other has a Bluetooth rechargeable battery box 4x4x2, and two small motors 2x4x2 ea. I wound up buying the latter.

m0.jpg


The set arrived, with all of the motor parts and a handful of clone bricks. I set about building the robot on the cover, it was fun zipping around using the app controller. Meanwhile, the gerbil was torn: hi-rail truck or steam elephant?

WP_Steam_Elephant_Painting.jpg

I rode behind the 2002 reproduction of this 200 year old locomotive at Beamish while I was visiting North East England. If you like history, it is an amazing place and I highly recommend a visit if you are anywhere in the neighborhood.

At any rate, the elephant has some amazing motion to it, if you google "stream elephant" you can find many videos of the real locomotive (and foreshadowing, the video of my MOC in this post gives a rough idea). I've been wanting to build a MOC of this locomotive for some time, but never had a good way to drive it, so it sat on the back burner for a few years now. So I decided to go with the steam elephant.

I tore apart the little tank robot and the clone bits went into the hazardous waste disposal, then I started into the elephant.

Ordinarily I would not post pictures of such a rough work in progress, but this post is about the circuitcubes rather than the model. You've got to promise me that you will pretend you never read this review of the circuitcubes when you see my actual release of the steam elephant.

This review is really based on the disassembly of the 3rd prototype to scavenge parts for the 5th prototype. But more on that in a moment. Let's meet the components. You can get a gist for the parts on the box or the circuitcubes web page. I want to show the functionality (and slight disfunctionality) here.

Two motors and the battery/controller fits in 1/2 the space of a PUP Hub, costs $10 less than the PUP hub alone, and this has an integrated rechargeable battery

m1.jpg

In addition to normal studs on the top and receivers on the bottom the motors have holes around the side and back that take a stud for more mounting options.

m2.jpg

Each motor has three different sockets for plugging it in (in practice pick only one)

m3.jpg

The plugs require one extra stud space, but given the three directions it shouldn't be too hard to find one direction to squeeze it in

m4.jpg

The axle socket in the motor is one stud deep and is a little tight. I have to pull harder than normal to pull out an axle. It makes me a little nervous that I might break the motor, but so far no problems and I've pulled axles out at least a dozen times.

There are two minor problems with the components. First, the axle socket is not a perfect stud deep. Instead of 8 mm, you can probably stick an axle in only 6 or 7 mm. That can be a problem if you have to perfectly fit a construction on the other side. I've been able to work around it, but if you REALLY couldn't live with it you could cut /file down the axle by a few mm.

p1.jpg

The second problem is that the original blocks appear to be designed to power on contact, without wires. The contacts on the battery box stick out enough to prevent putting a brick right next to it (note the gap from the yellow bricks being pushed away).

p2.jpg

Reversing the disassembly, here's the model rising from the ashes to show how I integrated the motors,

e4.jpg

e3.jpg

e2.jpg

e1.jpg


Okay, you've put up with my rambling this far, now for a treat, here's a video showing the motion of the pistons,

 

I have not attempted to push the motors to their limit. I suspect this MOC would spin its wheels before the motors ran out of power. I have not timed the life of the batteries, but I suspect it would be between 30 and 60 min of run time.

The set has a free companion app for control. It seems to be bug free and works as expected. The features suggest it is still in its youth. None of the active controls allow you explicitly pair two motor outputs together. There are four control panels, on each one you can choose which single output  (A, B or C) goes to which slider or joystick axis. The controller steps from -250 to +250. There is no software option to flip directions, but it is easy enough to do by rotating a wire 180°. Here are the active control options:

n1.png

n2.png

There is only limited customization options: swapping which column is where on the GUI and changing which output is controlled. The real hint that this controller is in its youth is the programming environment. It consists of exactly three different control blocks, as shown in this program,

n3.png

However, the programming environment proved to be the most useful option for my MOC. It will power two outputs at the same speed for the specified amount of time. So I can use this control option to set the model to run for N seconds and just choose a large number for N. The only problem is that the train will stop when my phone goes to sleep. Ultimately the Bluetooth proved very handy for debugging my builds using the programming environment (as did the overload protection when you get the wires wrong), but it seems inconvenient for running the train at a show if you already have a separate app for your SBrick, FxBrick, PUP and/or what not. Fortunately, the battery can also be switched to dumb mode. In which case it behaves like a PF AAA battery box without an IR receiver. I think it runs at full speed, but if you design for that speed it won't be a problem. Once I'm done debugging, I plan to run this train in "catch and release" mode using the dumb battery option.

Not that the smart battery is inferior to the dumb battery. The dumb battery looks like it is incompatible with the smaller motors and it seems like the cost is comparable, with both starter sets at the same price. The smart battery also has studs across the top where the dumb battery does not.

 

Here are the kits:

Dumb battery
Smart battery

 

There are a few other sets with the dumb battery, but the prices are similar to buying the extra power blocks independently. The only extra thing you get is more clone bricks.

 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

wow. I was going to buy this when I saw JK brickwork video, but this makes me want to buy it EVEN MORE! from what I've seen, there are mostly good things, and I plan to use the motors in my roaring camp 2-truck shay gear loco. good job on the steam elephant, btw!

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Would love to buy these - incredible potential for train AFOLs, I already stumbled across them a few weeks ago. Unfortunately, I can't order since their shops only support credit card purchases and so far the company has not reacted to my mail if a different way of purchasing would be possible. Possible game changer!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks for the review, I didn't even know it exists and I am quite interested in small motors for use with lego!

10 minutes ago, Amoreternum said:

Unfortunately, I can't order since their shops only support credit card purchases

They're on the Amazon as well though I don't know if it helps you.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 minute ago, Bartosz said:

They're on the Amazon as well though I don't know if it helps you.

US Amazon only, and the problem prevails. I even bought a gift card, but as it seems, the ones I can buy in Germany are not valid for purchases in the US shop. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Well well well.

Nice. Really nice. Never heard of these. I like this. A lot. Maybe more than a lot.

Best
Thorsten

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Posted (edited)

Check out the webpage circuitcubes.com. There are many products available.

Edited by 1963maniac

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Glad the review was helpful, I tried to share what I've learned so far. As long as you know about the clearance issues you can work around them, but it would totally suck to build to size and then discover it wont fit (which actually happened to me while prototyping, but since it was a prototype I shifted and worked around).

There is another, even smaller system that is a little less plug and play by lifelites, and they probably do international shipping. I have only seen the web page but here's the all-in-one set, and full line. Neat thing with these is that it is PF controlled.

ST-MOTORCOMBO-500x500.jpg

On 3/11/2021 at 1:51 PM, thic_trains said:

good job on the steam elephant, btw!

I said don't mention the elephant in the room (grin) but seriously though, thank you. I'm still wrestling to get the height down a bit, but it is turning out to be a fun unanticipated project.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
18 hours ago, TuffTuffTuff said:

Interesting triple axis truck construction, by the way. Does it work with R40s?

Yes, perfectly fine... but it does so because I put larger O-rings on the two outer axles. So the middle wheels are lifted off the track by 1-2 mm, just enough so that the flanges do not bind on the curves. I first used this technique in this build (gasp... 11 years ago).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thank you for the review. I also ordered a set after seeing the suspended monorail of JKBrickworks. There is nothing to add to your review. It would be great to drive two motors with one slider of the app.

I plan to built a narrow gauge engine without the need to pull the battery (and IR receiver) in a separate coach. This is what I got so far:

CircuitCubesPrototype.JPG

(The bogie design is from "Space2310" - I do not know if he es still active on eurobricks.)

The motors are quite strong:

 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
21 hours ago, Asper said:

Thank you for the review. I also ordered a set after seeing the suspended monorail of JKBrickworks. There is nothing to add to your review. It would be great to drive two motors with one slider of the app.

I plan to built a narrow gauge engine without the need to pull the battery (and IR receiver) in a separate coach. This is what I got so far:

CircuitCubesPrototype.JPG

That's an excellent build, can't wait to see what you turn it into.

On my end I've dropped the elephant down to one motor and was able to lower the height by one brick. It seems to run fine.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Posted (edited)

John Schuster of Tenka Inc. replied to my E-Mail this morning, the webshop now features the option to order and pay via PayPal, if anyone had the same problem as I did. Great customer service, I have to say. Already looking forward to build withe the cubes!

Edited by Amoreternum

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

What a great review and a great product. This is exactly the thing that I was looking for a project of mine that got stalled. Now I have something to fit into a little diesel shunter. 

Also really liking the way your elephant is looking so far, such a cool prototype.

It`s too bad you don`t have some type of affiliate link since I already have a kit on order!

cheers,

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
12 hours ago, Supplement_Creatif said:

What a great review and a great product. This is exactly the thing that I was looking for a project of mine that got stalled. Now I have something to fit into a little diesel shunter. 

Also really liking the way your elephant is looking so far, such a cool prototype.

It`s too bad you don`t have some type of affiliate link since I already have a kit on order!

cheers,

 

Excellent, and exactly what I was thinking- there are times when you need a tiny motor. Also thanks for the kind words about the elephant. Meanwhile, my review was strictly unsolicited, the more folks we have filling the cracks between lego offerings the better off we all are.

 

2 hours ago, bricks n bolts said:

Great find and build, thanks fpr sharing!

It was my pleasure, it is fun playing with the tiny motor system.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

  I have a related general question to anyone who can answer - What is roughly the maximum angle of bogie pivot you can see needing in a narrow-gauge MOC?  Obviously this depends on the frame length and center-to-center distance on a given build.  I like playing around with mechanism designs, and I'm trying to come up with additional practical ways to mount the bogies without necessarily relying on the vertical drive axle, while still giving enough freedom of movement.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Just bought the Bluetooth kit - it seems really interesting, and I think it will be a pleasant alternative for small locomotives and narrow gauge ones!

I honestly was trying something "home made" with 130SH motors which are the perfect size for Lego, being 15mm high (or wide, it depends) and having the possibility to have a double-shaft.  Two millimeters shaft to Lego Technic axle adapters are not difficult to find or 3D print (even modifying a Technic axle pin).  

But this "Cubes" solution is obviously cleaner, and the two buildings by @zephyr1934 and @Asper are really a good demonstration of the compactness and possibilities this third-party product can offer. :thumbup::wub:

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

With the DB 7760 thread recently popping out it got me thinking..wouldn't that be great candidate for turning this little shunter to be remote controlled?

The bogie from the Elephant seems bit longer than of the 7760, but maybe that's not big deal. The vertically placed motors should fit in the 3 bricks + 1 plate height..and the battery should fit in the compartment...

One problem I see would be the cables coming from side of the motors...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, Bartosz said:

With the DB 7760 thread recently popping out it got me thinking..wouldn't that be great candidate for turning this little shunter to be remote controlled?

The bogie from the Elephant seems bit longer than of the 7760, but maybe that's not big deal. The vertically placed motors should fit in the 3 bricks + 1 plate height..and the battery should fit in the compartment...

One problem I see would be the cables coming from side of the motors...

Definitively YES , the 7760 would be the perfect choice. I was just thinking about a revamped version of its "sister" from the Blue Era ,the 723!

Having a good power output, the Battery cube could move also some old 4,5v motors. I do not know how fast or far, but it's something to be tried! :wink:  There's also a basic version (without bluetooth) of the battery cube, which could be very very interesting for these old glories and new compact models.

After all, these locomotives could get their power from a third rail or from a battery box - so fitting a big battery like PF or PuP inside those bodies is not so simple. This little battery really can do the job. On "Cubes" site there's a new "40 Years" 7810 with an high speed motor cube. Nice! :thumbup:

Ciao!

Davide

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
22 hours ago, Paperinik77pk said:

On "Cubes" site there's a new "40 Years" 7810 with an high speed motor cube. Nice! :thumbup:

That train is here. They have a another sample model that might be of interest, a small tram. While there's nothing special about the styling, it shows how little space you need to mount the motor,

circuit-cubes-lego-train-tram-bluetooth-

There's also a clunky motor unit for running on roller coaster track.

circuit-cubes-lego-moc-christmas-coaster

I'm sure either of those designs could be cleaned up to look slick and pretty.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I ordered two bluetooth+ kits ... cannot wait to use these.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Just got my bluetooth kit earlier this week.

Wow what an easy thing to use!. Just plug and play and you`re off the races. Prototyping is such a breeze!

I am really excited to see what people come up with with this line of products.

cheers,

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.