McWaffel

DCC (and other digital tech) for LEGO trains

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This https://circuitcubes.com/collections/cubes seems more affordable and available then those fabled FxBricks.

Some caveats thou.

- 3 outputs seems a bit sparse if you want to operate lights and sounds and stuff. It seems 1 channel can do fine PWM motor control, the others have a few preset values.

- Can you somehow access the controls on low level? If they made the commands, the brick accepts and sends available, you could construct your own code to control. 

- Assume they do and you can create a controller on code level then you may have a problem with battery capacity. You would need to remove the battery from the brick and replaced that by a voltage converter. And in general make a cable conversion because those cables are not compatible with Lego. 

- Assume you did that (the battery box should have plenty of space to house such circuit), now you need sensors. It is not clear to me if the BT cube can take input data and transmit that back to the controller. If not, then it is a big issue because the train will not be able to sense Signals or other trains for that matter. I'm pretty sure the chip itself inside the brick is capable of doing that. Also I'm pretty sure the outputs can be used as inputs. The question is if the firmware inside is doing any of that. If not, the firmware has to be updated. Say connector C is input from now on which is transmitted to the controller every once in a while. 

- If that works, you would need to place an RFID reader into the train as an input. Also some RFID readers to parallel tracks entry points to sense when the entire train cleared the switch. Using that input the controller would control the Signals.

With all that, you would have something very similar to a DCC system.  

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11 hours ago, McWaffel said:

I keep hearing this „trains is a niche market“ thing, but have yet to see any actual proof of it. When I was a kid, everyone and their moms had a LEGO train. Like, literally 5/6 of my closest childhood friends had a 9V train set. 

But I digress, this is tech talk after all. DCC isn’t really difficult to set up either. Most model train starter packs that come with DCC are super kid-friendly. You essentially start off with a central controller, and an app and that’s really it. Couple of cables and you’re good to go. You can buy trains equipped with decoders off the shelf. 
I don’t necessarily think we need that level of convince in the LEGO world for DCC (although it would be very nice), but I would already be happy with having a motor with split power pickup and drive train. If I can also buy a cable for it so I don’t need to solder anything to metal parts that rest on plastic housings, I‘m golden.

i ment more that it is a niche market for the lego group not that it is a nice market in general. but yes a split power (or any sort of 9v train motor with metal wheels for power pickup) should do the job nicely.

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11 hours ago, McWaffel said:

DCC isn’t really difficult to set up either. Most model train starter packs that come with DCC are super kid-friendly.

I own several DCC controlled trains in H0 and N gauge, so I have some experience with DCC. When you go into details, e.g. configure lights that depend on the moving direction, speed ramps and so on you have to mess with registers. DCC is a technology of the 80ies with lots of features added later on in a not-so-clean way. The user experience is imho horrible. If designed nowadays, it would work completely different.

I also belief that Lego trains are mostly operated in a way that differs from classic model railroads. Lego means less realism and more play fun. Invite friends, give them a remote control and let's go. No schedule, no realistic train compositions, no realistic speed, no complex control software, no need to worry that anything gets damaged, multiple players, frequent crashes. This is what I enjoy and why I gave up H0 and N. A H0 and N layout is something you build on your own (unless you have very talented friends or you are in a club), Lego is a social event for everyone.

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19 minutes ago, legotownlinz said:

DCC is a technology of the 80ies with lots of features added later on in a not-so-clean way.

Hey, that's the whole fun of it! I have no clue about DCC, but some hands-on experience about the 80's way of thinking :pir-laugh:

I love registers! And ULAs - or typing DJNZ into the assembler 7bit text editor :pir-wink:. Maybe I should try DCC!

Just kidding, I am happy with my ZX Spectrum. Wonder if that one is capable of talking DCC ... they seems to be of same age!

All the best,
Thorsten

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@legotownlinz yes but also as I said you can buy off-the-shelf trains. No need to configure or program them. They work out-of-the-box.

I too have some DCC experience, mostly on G-scale layouts. But even if you need to program them, there’s GUIs for everything, and with a bit of basic IT knowledge you should be able to do it no problem.

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1 hour ago, Toastie said:

Hey, that's the whole fun of it! I have no clue about DCC, but some hands-on experience about the 80's way of thinking :pir-laugh:

I love registers! And ULAs - or typing DJNZ into the assembler 7bit text editor :pir-wink:. Maybe I should try DCC!

Just kidding, I am happy with my ZX Spectrum. Wonder if that one is capable of talking DCC ... they seems to be of same age!

All the best,
Thorsten

The source code is available for DCC+EX project.  It's for Arduino with ESP8266 but it could be fun to translate it to Z80. 

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Fair warning: The content below contains permanently modifying retired LEGO pieces and thus is not suited for purists or the faint of heart.

I have just completed phase 1 of 3 of my conversion to DCC, with the proof-of-concept for power pickup via 9V motor.

I bought an old, broken 9V motor and gutted the electronics, cleaned it up and reassembled everything:

yr6PqIO.jpg

Then I snipped a 9V extension cable in half added connectors to it and put it on backward onto the exposed leads of the 9V motor:

0gH9MVD.jpg

Thus I had a power-pickup with connectors, nice and clean and no modifications to the connectors or housing required.

Next, I had to modify the tender of my holiday train engine, because I intended to put the tender atop of the power pickup, as it has enough space to house cables and hide them later on. I extended the walls by two studs and reused some decoration pieces from the original bogie that it was sitting on, as those were no longer required:

2rTXboR.jpg

And finally it was time to put it all together. I also snipped off a PF cable end and added the same type of connectors to it, so I could connect it up to the PF motor without having to modify the PF motor. And finally, a test run:

Link to the video of the running train

The reason why I went with a split cable instead of 8886 is that this allows me to run a DCC decoder in between the 9V pickup and the PF motor. This will be phase 2 of 3. For this I need to buy all the DCC equipment, so it will take a few months from here on.

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I've chosen to go with a wireless DCC solution, first offered by MRC as the Loco Genie and now sold by an individual in New Jersey, USA under the brand XL Systems: http://xlsystemsdcc.com/product/xl-wireless-diesel-sound-module/  Although it is described as a sound decoder, it has full sound, lighting, and motor control including light effects such as Gyralight and Mars light. Two limitations are the rating for motor current of 1.5 amps and the remote can only control one locomotive, so each loco has it's own remote. The linked one is for diesel sounds, he also has a steam sounds version. For my steam locomotives, I've found an PF L-motor in the loco and two PF train motors in the tender stay within the current limit and provide plenty of tractive effort for the trains I run on my layout which has 4% grades. For diesels, I use either 2 train motors or two L-motors. I power the trains with 3x 18650 Li-ion batteries which produce 11.1 nominal volts but have a switcher with 2x 18350 batteries which works fine, just not as fast. My Flickr albums show many of my locos with some videos: 

https://www.flickr.com/photos/167589084@N07/albums/with/72157714385899323

I've also put a number of videos on YouTube such as: 

 

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2 hours ago, bogieman said:

I've chosen to go with a wireless DCC solution

2 hours ago, bogieman said:

the remote can only control one locomotive, so each loco has it's own remote.

So it’s not DCC at all then?

What’s the runtime on your engines before the batteries are empty?

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52 minutes ago, McWaffel said:

So it’s not DCC at all then?

What’s the runtime on your engines before the batteries are empty?

This decoder will work with any DCC controller, if there is track power, and can be programmed with a full set of CV codes but it also works from the remote with more limited programmability. I think the batteries will last about 2 hours on a full charge running continuously, they charge in about 2 hours. I never run continuously that long, I don't do shows, just my home layout, so that is plenty of capacity for me. I have several sets of batteries so not a problem. I did the first one primarily to get the sound effects and liked it so much I have done every new project with this.  IMHO, it is really a cheap solution, much better than Lego Powered UP where I started, but it takes custom wiring to implement. Here's a link to the instructions for the diesel and steam versions if you're interested:

https://www.modelrectifier.com/v/vspfiles/resources/dcc/021700 Loco Genie-Diesel.pdf

https://www.modelrectifier.com/v/vspfiles/resources/dcc/021500 Loco Genie-Steam.pdf

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