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  • Topic: Cheap/portable DCC/deadrail system

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    • April 13, 2018 4:56 PM EDT
      • Carlsbad, CA
         
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      Cheap/portable DCC/deadrail system

      This thread has come about due to some conversations Craig Townsend and I have been having, and also around the attraction of a new wireless throttle that is a very realistic interpretation of a modern diesel control system.

       

      I've had a somewhat portable DCC system for a while, based on NCE.  Over time, I have been working to make it smaller to be more portable, and also to minimize the cost just for fun.

       

      Initially we used a laptop, JMRI, an old wireless router and a serial cable to an NCE 5 or 10 amp system.

       

      Now with the USB interface to the NCE PowerCab system ($160), this can be made smaller and cheaper, and have wired, and wireless throttles. (NCE has their own wireless throttle setup on 900 MHz, and the same throttle configuration in wireless as wired.)

       

      But it seemed that to be portable and keep costs down, the idea was to use JMRI software, and support Apple IOS and Android phones/tablets for throttles. I know there are a lot of people who are all excited in using Arduino micro computers running linux, but heck, I bought a full blown Windows 10 laptop running a quad core processor with a 10" color touchscreen for $76 (normally about $99)

       

      So I also needed a small wireless router that basically acted as a DHCP server, would be happy with no Internet connection, and allow me to connect the laptop on the LAN side. I found one for $22.
      https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01N1QCMKN/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o02_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1

       

      Now a cheap usb to Ethernet dongle ($10) and I have my JMRI host and WiFi access.  https://www.amazon.com/UGREEN-Ethernet-Adapter-Nintendo-Chromebook/dp/B00MYT481C/ref=sr_1_1_sspa?s=electronics&ie=UTF8&qid=1523656461&sr=1-1-spons&keywords=ethernet+to+usb&psc=1

       

      Add the NCE USB interface($30)

       

      to my NCE PowerCab system ($160)

      At this point, I now have:

      • a full featured wired throttle
      • top of the line DCC system with all the capabilities
      • can use a number of cell phones/tablets for throttles.
      • A windows 10 laptop
      • a wireless router that can also be used when travelling

       

       

      Now all you have to do if you want to go deadrail is add someting like this from Tam Valley:

       

      Now my interest is not deadrail but a portable DCC system, and also support for this super cool throttle:

       

      Which will come in a wireless version to work with JMRI or can also connect to a NCE cab bus.

       

       

       

      This post was edited by Greg Elmassian at April 13, 2018 8:10 PM EDT
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    • April 13, 2018 5:15 PM EDT
      • Port Orchard, Washington
         
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      To add to this discussion about the ProtoThrottle, a few folks that understand computer language and programming are taking advantage of the fact that the Protothrottle is completely open source development. The ProtoThrottle is going to be released with a few different ways of the PT communicating with DCC command stations.

      I'll try to list these here.

      1. PT adapter board plugs directly into a NCE (or supported) command station. The PT transmits to the adapter board, no wires needed. 

      2. PT adapter board talks with JMRI for DCC companies that aren't willing to work with Iowa Scaled Engineering. PT adapter communicates via wifi.

      https://www.iascaled.com/store/ModelRailroad/ProtoThrottle/Receivers

       

      Now here's where it gets interesting and I get lost in the tech. The PT communicates with the PT adapter board via Xbee and Arduino boards (programmable boards). Now some modelers are developing a system that the PT communicates directly with a DC motor, no DCC required.

       

      The simplest way that this PT could work (with track power) is the following. 

      1. NCE Power Cab

      2. PT/NCE adapter board

      3. Protothrottle

      See this thread

      http://model-railroad-hobbyist.com/node/32683 

       

      Now what I am trying to figure out (with Greg's help) is a merging of the two ideas. This is what it would look like:

      Protothrottle & Deadrail Locomotive. Nothing else. Everything is self contained inside the locomotive. Ideally this self contained locomotive would have a DCC decoder (to take advantage of the awesome sound systems), battery, adapter boards, speaker etc.

       

    • April 13, 2018 5:16 PM EDT
      • Port Orchard, Washington
         
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      And I think, it 'might' be possible to load a version of JMRI on an Arduino board?

    • April 13, 2018 5:43 PM EDT
      • Carlsbad, CA
         
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      Yes, JMRI on Arduino has been done already, but why? If you needed the smallest thing, I could see an Arduino, but when you can get the computer with a lot more power and response for about the same cost, and now you have a computer screen, keyboard, etc.

       

      Anyway, let's start with some basic facts.

       

      The proto throttle is a dumb throttle, it sends information about what buttons you pushed to a receiver somewhere. As far as I can tell, it does not generate DCC.

       

      Then you buy a receiver. They make a receiver for the NCE CAB bus. You could then control an NCE PowerCab or ProCab system... if you wanted deadrail, you add the Tam Valley gadget to the PowerCab track outputs.. done.. now you put a deadrail receiver in your loco... finished.

       

      If you want more, like I do, then interface the system to JMRI... they make a JMRI receiver board for the proto throttle... then you have to hook the JMRI system to a DCC system... you could do this a lot of ways... there are Arduino softwares available to do this and then you add the deadwire transmitter.

       

      In my case, I will use the NCE PowerCab system, so I get the Proto Throttle, the NCE handheld, and any number of cell phone/tablets for throttles.

       

      Does this clarify what you can do?

       

      Greg

      This post was edited by Greg Elmassian at April 13, 2018 5:45 PM EDT
      ____________________________________

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    • April 13, 2018 5:53 PM EDT
      • Kittery, ME
         
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      Just to clarify, an Arduino cannot run Linux.  It's a microcontroller, not a single board computer. 

       

      However there is an Arduino-based DCC controller called DCC++.  This accepts commands via the serial port (over USB, typically) and generates DCC packets.  The Arduino is connected to a motor shield, which is just a pair of H bridges, and that connects to the track.  DCC++ can be controlled with any software on a host computer that can generate ASCII commands, but most people use JMRI, as it has built-in support.  This still requires a computer running JMRI, of course.  But from there, you can use wifi throttles, etc.

       

      You can run JMRI on a Raspberry Pi, but you still need an interface to the track, such as DCC++.  

       

      The only throttles I know of (I haven't done a thorough search) that generates the actual DCC bitstream in the throttle itself are the CVP AirWire and EasyDCC throttles.  I haven't had any reason to do it, but it would be fairly trivial to receive that signal (using the library I wrote, discussed here previously) and route it to an H bridge and then to track.

      This post was edited by Eric Reuter at April 13, 2018 5:54 PM EDT
    • April 13, 2018 6:03 PM EDT
      • Carlsbad, CA
         
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      Oops, confused Arduino with Pi again...

      The NCE GWire throttle, now discontinued, did indeed generate DCC just like the CVP Throttles.

       

      Anyway, like I said, what I showed goes together easily, and you don't have to worry about an embedded linux machine without a keyboard or screen or mouse.

       

      Greg

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    • April 13, 2018 6:17 PM EDT
      • Kittery, ME
         
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      Craig Townsend said:

      Now what I am trying to figure out (with Greg's help) is a merging of the two ideas. This is what it would look like:

      Protothrottle & Deadrail Locomotive. Nothing else. Everything is self contained inside the locomotive. Ideally this self contained locomotive would have a DCC decoder (to take advantage of the awesome sound systems), battery, adapter boards, speaker etc.

       

      This wouldn't be too difficult, but would require a few pieces strung together.  There is a library version of DCC++, so that could run on an Arduino with an XBee attached to receive the commands from the throttle and generate DCC packets.  Then you'd need an H bridge to inject the power.  This could then be connected to an off-the-shelf DCC decoder.  The only real work here is translating the commands to DCC packets.  

    • April 13, 2018 6:26 PM EDT
      • Port Orchard, Washington
         
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      Using Greg's example for say a USAT 4 axle unit.

      1. Protothrottle $489

      2. Protothrottle NCE adapter board $99

      3. NCE Power cab $150

      4. DCC decoder (my example is a Loksound $200)

      5. TAM Valley DRS Reciever $89 (18 v, 5 amp max)

      6. TAM Valley DRS transmitter $89

      Total $1100. Not exactly low cost...

      Note, I'm not figuring in the cost of batteries.

    • April 13, 2018 7:00 PM EDT
      • Carlsbad, CA
         
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      I revised my original post with some more info... just FYI...

       

      Yeah my goal was not to find the cheapest system to run one loco with one controller.

       

      The price of the install in the loco is not going to vary, no matter what system you use, you will have some wireless add on to the $200 decoder. The only way you can go cheaper and wireless is to buy some system that has a decoder and receiver together, and you won't get the sound quality or realism or control, etc etc. of your mainstream DCC decoder.

       

      And you want the super cool throttle, so you have the throttle and their wireless receiver board.

       

      so the only "wiggle room" is item 3.. and that is only $150....

       

      So your cost is driven by the expensive throttle (over half the cost of the system) and quality sound decoder.

       

      Notice other than a cheaper decoder, there's not cost savings going to HO!

       

      By the way, the preorder price for the Proto Throttle is $449 vs. $482, and no discount on the $100 receiver... for that small difference in price, I'll wait until they make them and they are proven. I sent them an email today to better the deal.

       

      So, you want a very cool throttle and very cool sound system... that costs in any scale unfortunately.

       

      Regards, Greg

      This post was edited by Greg Elmassian at April 13, 2018 7:01 PM EDT
      ____________________________________

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      ­Click HERE for Greg­'s web sit­e
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    • April 13, 2018 8:57 PM EDT
      • Port Orchard, Washington
         
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      Yes the half the cost is the Protothrottle. I look at it as 2 locomotives...

       

    • April 13, 2018 9:01 PM EDT
      • Carlsbad, CA
         
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      Yep, I noticed that phrase on their site. It's a good way to look at it, as long as you have more than 2 locos!!

       

      Greg

      ____________________________________

      Be sure­ to visit ­my site, l­ots of tec­hnical tip­s and modi­fications,­ and you c­an search ­for topics­ and key w­ords.


      ­Click HERE for Greg­'s web sit­e
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    • April 13, 2018 9:22 PM EDT
      • Port Orchard, Washington
         
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      Or you only "need" 2 locomotives...

    • April 13, 2018 9:53 PM EDT
      • Marysville, Kansas
         
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      The Power Cab is what I plan to use on my small HO layout.   And hope to add the Proto Throttle later on.

    • April 13, 2018 11:10 PM EDT
      • Port Orchard, Washington
         
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      The thing I like about the NCE adapter is that its a plug and play. If I had both a HO layout and G, I could use the same NCE power cab and adapter. I played around with the Protothrottle at the Portland RPM for just a few minutes and I think its got a high play value. As I was thinking about this, if you program the decoders right and add ball bearings to the trucks, you really could have fun switching cars!

    • April 14, 2018 12:58 AM EDT

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      I've got my laptop running JMRI connected to a Sprog Nano which feeds the Tam Valley transmitter. If I don't need deadrail, the Sprog connects to a Tam Valley booster to feed the track. Either way, I can use WiThrottle to run things. I've been anxious to see the Proto Throttle come to market. Good to see a receiver which will tie into my laptop/JMRI set-up. Don't know how soon I'm going to fork over $500+ to have a go running it, mind you, but it's cool tech none-the-less. 

       

      Later,

       

      K

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    • April 14, 2018 5:13 PM EDT
      • Port Orchard, Washington
         
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      So I was just trolling eBay sold listings to see if my NP A\B F unit sets could be sold to raise funds for a Protothrottle and associated equipment... Man, I didn't realize how much locomotive prices have shot up! I could probably fund 1/2 to 3/4 of this conversion just with those two units.

       

      Bigger question is do I really want to sell off the F units. Maybe the "B"....

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