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About Lowa

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    automation, train, monorail, robots, software, Arduino


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  1. Lowa

    Decoupler - Upgraded version

    Thank you. We did take our time to get to this design... We had the same concern when we started developing the decoupler but it doesn't appear to be an big issue, the train does seem the split at the decoupler. I just tried again with the 60198 that was on the demo layout and it splits at the decoupler. I even changed the order of the cars and it still worked. I'll try to make a video ASAP so you can see it. The only exception we have are two coupling that are clearly weaker than all the other couplings (they are from a 60051 set). When I use those it doesn't split at the decoupler but at those couplings. I only have 2 that are weaker and give me issues, I'm not sure how common that is. I case the strength of your coupling varies significantly you have to arrange them from strong (front) to weak (back) in your train. If you do that the train will still split at the decoupler... Thanks!
  2. Lowa

    Decoupler - Upgraded version

    I got a few private questions that might interest some of you: 1) Do you need to raise the track to install the decoupler? No, the base of the decoupler is flush with the base of the tracks. This is a side view of the decoupler 2) Can you ballast it, i.e. does it have anti studs ? Like all our other tracks (we remodeled all of them) it has the maximal amount of anti studs possible. Some areas don’t have anti studs because the internal mechanism doesn’t allow it. We preferred that over increasing the height of the decoupler. The image below shows the anti studs, all anti studs are fully functional.
  3. Lowa

    Decoupler - Upgraded version

    Thanks! I think the redesign was worth it... I don't have any additional movies at this point. I have to make a close up of the mechanism when we actuate it. The images below show the decoupler in the 'open' and 'closed' state. It holds the cars in place by blocking the wheels. We felt was the most universal solution that should work for all standard and custom cars.
  4. For those who were wondering, yes, I’m still alive! I apologize for disappearing, things have been / still are pretty hectic with 4DBrix. However, I would like to try spending more time again keeping in touch with the community again. I haven’t had that much time to work on new products but I did manage to finalize the decoupler. We made a video to show the new decoupler in action! We redesigned it because the initial decoupler had a few shortcomings: when the train wheels are in front of the ‘claw’ of the decoupler, it cannot be closed. From a distance, it’s hard to see whether the train is positioned correctly or not. Therefore, we added a 'magnetic sensor' to the decoupler. That sensor can detect the magnets of the LEGO train couplings. As such it’s easy to verify the positioning of the train. the initial design had a detachable motor comparable to our track switch motors. That was a straightforward solution but it was 8 studs wide. That meant that, when integrating the decouplers in a rail yard, the motors were touching the neighboring tracks. To avoid that, we integrated the motor into the decoupler giving it a much smaller foot print; that also allowed us to reduce the height. Some additional remarks: For the video, we replaced the PoweredUp controller and motor of the 60198 train by a PF motor and our WiFi train controller. Controlling the PoweredUp trains is work in progress... Positioning the train on the decoupler is not that easy. Therefore we implemented a small script in a generic tile that positions the train automatically based on sensor feedback. In the video, we ‘manually’ parked the train with the first car on the decoupler and then activated the auto positioning: it slowly moves the train backwards until we get a +90% reading on the magnetic sensor. That turns out to work very well. It’s also intriguing to watch because it’s the automation system driving the train autonomously... The hardware is ready and we hope to be able to make a first batch of decouplers the coming weeks and the release it… From the software side we might have to make a few extensions to the train control panel to improve the control of the train at low speeds, but the basics are there. As usual, let us know what you think!
  5. This is a control panel made with our button controls. It controls a decoupler, two boom barriers, a track switch and a traffic light. The buttons interconnect and each button is powered by the previous button, the first button is powered by a power brick. The goal is to be able to automate all aspects of your LEGO train layout. It's inspired by the vintage 12V system but designed for PF and 9V track. We're planning on launching a campaign for these button controls on Kickstarter later this month. Decoupler is 3D printed and PF track compatible. It decouples the train by blocking the wheels of the cars that have to be decoupled. It's powered by a servo motor. The boom barriers are made with a small servo motors, they measure 2 x 4 x 3+1/3. Let us know what you think!
  6. Thank you! The first phase is to make buttons for track switches, traffic lights, boom barriers and our decoupler track. We're essentially there and we're planning to launch a kickstarter for that soon. If it's a success we'll start working on a number of additional button controls; that would indeed include a solution to control trains. I was thinking more in terms of a console rather than the single power lever of the 12V system. The goal would be to really give you the feeling you're in a cockpit. I found this console, it seems to be intended to play video games; it gave me some inspiration... If possible the system would be modular so you can choose to use a simple or more advanced system; and give it a LEGO look and feel. I'm thinking of a forward-neutral-reverse lever, a power lever and a train selection lever (so you can control multiple train with one console); there could be additional buttons for the lights in the train and a horn. It is something that has to be thought through. If you have any other ideas for functionalities, please let me know! Thanks! The decoupler and boom barrier buttons are pretty sweet too. I still need to make a short video of that...
  7. We just finalized our button control for train traffic lights. It’s part of a range of buttons we're developing to control your LEGO train layout with a physical control panel. The outside is identical to the track switch motor button control we presented a while ago but inside it has a driver for traffic lights. It’s more than a simple light switch, this button control also supports a number of blinking effects. The two indicator LEDs on the button control mimic the behavior of the traffic light so you can see the current state of your layout on your control panel. The button control can also be reconfigured to be used as crossing barrier light controller: right button = lights off, left button = both LEDs blinking. The next step are button controls for boom barrier and the decoupler track. Let us know what you think!
  8. We have been making good progress with the development of the 12V style control buttons to automate LEGO train layouts. We redesigned the buttons using the great suggestions of @CaL: we lowered the back part, moved the LEDs and added additional studs so you can customize the back with tiles to indicate what the buttons do. The first button control is powered by a power brick; the buttons are interconnected and can power each other so you only need one power brick. The power brick connects to a wall socket with a standard 9V power supply. Besides powering the automation button controls it also has 2 PF power outlets that can power PF motors and IR receivers. So you can power a ferris wheel or carousel from a wall outlet instead of using battery power.... Let us know what you think!
  9. Well, we use the MQTT protocol and it's pretty straightforward to avoid a messy situation. Each message has a topic and devices can subscribe to the topic(s) they want to receive. So it's pretty simple to send a message to one particular train only. I'm very interested in your experience with the color sensors, please keep us posted!
  10. You can use this brick to control a train, but we're also working WiFi based train controller. You can find some pictures in this Eurobricks discussion: The motor control brick would be around $15, the WiFi train controller around $25. Tracking trains on a track is indeed a challenge. We have been thinking about a sensor in the train that can identify markers on the track (e.g. reflective sticker on a tile). When the train detects a marker, it would inform the control software that would use that to track the position of the trains. As it's the train that sends the information, distinguishing the trains is easy. Tracking the position of the train would be harder but should, in theory, be possible with this system. If you know where the train started and you know the position of the marker on the track the software should be able to figure out where the train is. This would be a cost effective approach as you only need one sensor in the train and multiple cheap markers.
  11. Our switch motors are designed for the PF / 9V LEGO switches, so as long as you don't change the actual switch mechanism this system will work fine. So it should work on those custom switches... Thanks! I'm using standard tactile push buttons. So you hear and feel a solid click when you push the buttons.
  12. Thank you! I'm still planning to rework it with the suggestions of @CaL
  13. Thank you! This is very useful feedback. We started working on this to provide a solution that didn't require a computer. And also out of nostalgia for the 12V system, it just seems like a lot of fun to have a control panel made out of bricks. But as you mentioned it might indeed bring you 'closer' to your layout. For the trains we would use WiFi as this is compatible with out other systems.