Garden Railways and the Internet of Things (IOT)

Greg Elmassian

Greg Elmassian

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"Pointless replying, it would just become a slanging match. Thanks for ruining the thread for everyone. "

??? seems like you are more upset that I did not agree, rather that address the issues I brought up.

"I was wondering when manufacturers were going to wake up and start using IOT type technology for controlling Garden Railway trains. "

Well, I think a number of them would take affront at that statement, but maybe your definition of IOT type technology is a cheap wireless networking board.

You sort of imply that all we need is a cheap control board with wireless.

I can assure you (and I stated), that content needed is far beyond just basic communications and motor control. The decoders I use have very sophisticated DSP processing of sounds, where the pitch can be varied for doppler effect, an have 32 channels of sound.

The point is adding communication for a network (whether it is Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Z-Wave or Zigbee) is not the challenge, and really not of a lot of benefit, it's the sophisticated and UNIQUE features required to make our models perform and sound like the real thing.

Sure, if all manufacturers used a common communication protocol, and a common command set, it might make things more "universal"... for track power, we already have a widely accepted standard.

"deadrail" is becoming a "wireless standard" of sorts transmitting raw DCC commands, but not all the protocols and data sets are the same.

Greg
 
dunnyrail

dunnyrail

DOGS, Garden Railways, Steam Trains, Jive Dancing,
25 Oct 2009
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I was wondering when manufacturers were going to wake up and start using IOT type technology for controlling Garden Railway trains. The concept is simple, each device (loco, station, points controller etc.) has a microcomputer module (like ESP8266/ESP32) that connects to a network. It then uses a standard protocol for receiving and sending commands.

Something like this that is designed for indoor scale layouts:

LocoFi | The Future of Model Railroading

Just requires adapting for large scale railways, add battery support, a handheld controller (with potentiometer) rather than using a smartphone and develop a new open-source protocol. Simple :)

What are your thoughts and ideas?
All sounds very nice, may be ok inside a house or with a Garden Line that is sufficiently close to the Router to work. For me with my Router in the Centre of a longish House most places in the House get a fairly satisfactory WiFi Signal. But 10 foot out in the Garden except by the Router forget it. Yes I know you can get WiFi range extenders, but something else to fail and spoil the enjoyment of running Trains.
 
idlemarvel

idlemarvel

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Pointless replying, it would just become a slanging match. Thanks for ruining the thread for everyone.
That's a bit harsh. You asked for thoughts and ideas, Greg gave you his which are valid and reasoned. It hasn't stifled the debate as far as I can tell.
 
M

Michael

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26 Jan 2010
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That's a bit harsh. You asked for thoughts and ideas, Greg gave you his which are valid and reasoned. It hasn't stifled the debate as far as I can tell.
Probably, have never been any good on forums, have always found it difficult to put my point across. Here's a response then.

I said the component cost of my system in my locos was less than £20. This contains the ESP8266 chip, motor drive and 7 outputs. I could easily add an SD card based sound chip (DFPlayer mini, $1) so yes I could probably supply such a system for a component cost of £20. Please send tickets now :)

I hadn't realised that 12 light outputs and 32 bit stereo sound where typical requirements for the average Garden Railway modeller!

No I'm not talking about Arduino boards. Arduino is the Fiat 500 and the ESP8266/ESP32s are the Mercedes S class to use your references.

Without innovation, we would still be listening to music on cassettes and watching videos on VHS tapes but technology gives us better options. Remote control has moved from 27Mhz to 2.4Ghz but still predominately involves only a transmitter talking to one or more receivers. The use of IOT technology and by that I mean ESP8266 and ESP32 type processors means that all components connect to a local network and can send messages which all devices can receive if required. For instance a train could be approaching some points, it sends a message and the points controller will adjust the points as required.

As above, the ESP8266 and its successor the ESP32 is not an Arduino. They contain a much more powerful processor than an Arduino and have built in 2.4Ghz wi-fi. They are the main components of many home automation products like the SONOFF range. It was using these for my own home automation that started me on their use in my own Garden Railway locos.

I only started this thread when I spotted the Loco-fi website (link in first post) which is doing something similar for indoor railway. It shows what can be done and amazingly fits into an OO loco.
 
JimmyB

JimmyB

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Without innovation, we would still be listening to music on cassettes and watching videos on VHS tapes b
Are you saying we have moved on cassettes and VHS, next you will be saying 5 1/4 in floppies are out of date ;)
 
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Rhinochugger

Rhinochugger

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Are you saying we have moved on cassettes and VHS, next you will be saying 5 1/4 in floppies are out of date ;)
Now the Tornados are retired, there's probably not much call for casettes :devil::devil:
 
Greg Elmassian

Greg Elmassian

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an mp3 player is not even close to the sound systems in our decoders, not even the inexpensive ones like mylocosound...

Anyway, there are all different levels of control, and in my mind, there's really no reason people don't either use wi-fi or some type of mesh system for communication.

But the few players in the hobby move slowly, and many of them depend on the proprietary nature of their products.

But again, there's really very little profit for the manufacturers if they are trying to re-sell components that you buy in million piece pricing. There's more to the situation than pure component capabilities.

I tried to get this across, but I guess I need to be more verbose. A manufacturer needs to make a profit, so they need to buy something they can charge you about 5 times the component cost, if they are manufacturing, and about double if they are just passing the hardware along.

What you are missing is the perturbation in our economy where you buy stuff from China at million piece pricing, where they accumulate an order and then make a large quantity, and sell direct to the end user.

What happens is that you get a great price, the same as the small (low volume) train component manufacturer does.

Now their only way to make money, is basically add software to make it more valuable. But wait! Everyone is now sharing software for simple functions, like motor control and lighting outputs, and chuff inputs.

Now these small guys cannot make money at all with this hardware... so what do you do? Use proprietary means to make it either cheaper or unique (and can charge more).

So you go really simple (and there goes your IOT), or you put in a lot of features that need software and specialized hardware (the $200 decoders from ESU/Massoth/Zimo)

So, there is your answer to your first question. Sure you can indeed build a simple decoder with wi-fi easily, cheaply and get free software for it. No manufacturer can compete on price, so this is WHY they don't do it.

Greg
 
M

Michael

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I guess that's a no from Greg :)

There is an interesting article by Dagnall Clutterbuck in the August issue of Garden Rail (page 35) detailing his use of the ESP8266 in his DCC system using the same network principle.

Perhaps it's just for the diy hobbyist.
 
Rhinochugger

Rhinochugger

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I guess that's a no from Greg :)

There is an interesting article by Dagnall Clutterbuck in the August issue of Garden Rail (page 35) detailing his use of the ESP8266 in his DCC system using the same network principle.

Perhaps it's just for the diy hobbyist.
:nod::nod:
I think there probably is a real issue about manufacturers' development costs for a fairly small hobby. Although having said that, there is an interesting article towards the back of March RM that suggests that Model Railways are second to fishing as Britain's most popular pastime.

Certainly garden railways are too small a niche market. But equally, think how long DCC has been pushed, and again there's an article in the RM where a club had to sit down and talk hard about changing to DCC for just one layout.

It's not just the cost of techie stuff, but it's the understanding of how to make it work. Look at the modellers on the Great Railway Challenge who struggled with installing DCC on their layout.

So, the slow uptake reduces the market - I doubt that anyone would say for example, in 10 years 90% of layouts will be DCC. But I bet at some point, someone said in 10 years 90% of people will have a mobile phone.

I guess what I'm saying is that for some, wide use of technology will never supplant simple analogue control, and that reduces the potential market.

So you may be right in that it's probably for the DIYer. There may be a small producer who takes it up, a bit like the Radio Control gear that we see.
 
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PhilP

PhilP

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There may be a small producer who takes it up, a bit like the Radio Control gear that we see.
The problem is, you are one dodgy-driver update from disaster.. Over which you have absolutely no control!
:(
 
M

Michael

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What? A bit like building your own Arduino (sp?)-based Central Station??
No, you would use something like Rocrail and interface to that, as the author (I'm sure he is a member here) of the article I mentioned above. His system is very clever in that he can continue to use his existing DCC locos but has a network connected to ESP8266s at Stations (for points) and within a loco. This is connected to Rocrail via an MQTT server. He only has to program the ESP8266 software on the loco and Stations.

I can't upload the article it for copyright reasons.
 
Rhinochugger

Rhinochugger

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The problem is, you are one dodgy-driver update from disaster.. Over which you have absolutely no control!
:(
I had a little bit of experience with similar stuff in the commercial world - open protocol for BMS (Building Management Systems). The theory was fine, until some manufacturers indulged in 'almost' open protocol to try and protect their own intellectual property.

Once again, until it was widely accepted, the few were paying all the development costs.
 
PhilP

PhilP

G Scale, 7/8th's, Electronics
5 Jun 2013
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He only has to program the ESP8266 software on the loco
So the ESP8266 (and software) is effectively a Central station in the loco.
It will have to switch power to create an internal (to the loco) equivalent to track-DCC to feed the decoder.

Notionally, there is a DCC-CS in every loco..
The kit at a station (if controlling DCC devices) is emulating a DCC Accessory Decoder. - Though in this case, it can also provide the 'drive' (output) to whatever the final device is. Light, point-motor, what-have-you.
 
M

Michael

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So the ESP8266 (and software) is effectively a Central station in the loco.
It will have to switch power to create an internal (to the loco) equivalent to track-DCC to feed the decoder.

Notionally, there is a DCC-CS in every loco..
The kit at a station (if controlling DCC devices) is emulating a DCC Accessory Decoder. - Though in this case, it can also provide the 'drive' (output) to whatever the final device is. Light, point-motor, what-have-you.
Station confusion I think, sorry. In the article Station refers to a location. For example one is at a kiosk which has an ESP8266 controlling some hall effect train sensors, servo driven points and lights. Within the loco an ESP8266 is connected to a small motor drive pcb, amplifier and speaker.

Both of these are controlled via the network and MQTT messages. They are not powered from the track and have nothing to do with DCC but the Rocrail system (which I know nothing about) appears to be able to control both his existing DCC locos and the ESP8266s. A nice solution. His source code is also available on Github.
 
chris m01

chris m01

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So long as the sun is shining and trains are running the method of control doesn’t matter too much to me . It is interesting to know there are so many possibilities though.