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Want to explore NMRAnet? Announcing Railstars Io


CaptOblivious

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CaptOblivious

Railstars, in collaboration with the OpenLCB development group, TCH Technology, and the NMRA are proud to announce the impending availability of the OpenLCB / NMRAnet Experimenter's Kit, a set of low-cost tools for getting started with NMRAnet on your layout.

 

Huh?

 

OpenLCB / NMRAnet is a new initiative to create a Layout Control Bus (LCB) that is open, freely available, and forward-looking, in contrast with the commercial buses currently available. For example, LocoNet is closed, requires a fee (and product approval from Digitrax), and gets bogged down under load; XpressNet is (somewhat) open and free, but relies on last century's technology (even Lenz is struggling with the limitations this imposes).

 

(The name derives from the fact that the technology is a collaboration between the OpenLCB group, which got the ball rolling with their OpenLCB networking technology; the NMRA in turn licenses this technology, rebranding the effort as NMRAnet as the certify the various specifications.)

 

On the other hand, NMRAnet is open and freely available: The specifications are on the internet for free download, and free to use without licensing fees. NMRAnet is based on CAN—the same technology use by auto makers for the networks in your car. CAN is designed for maximum reliability in harsh environments, and high through-put: It does not bog down under heavy loads, for example. More to the point, NMRAnet is designed to anticipate tomorrow's technology: It works with any current layout control system, and will continue to work with systems not yet invented.

 

 

We are currently looking for people who are interested in trying out NMRAnet on their layouts. The NMRA and two private individuals are subsidizing a limited quantity of Experimenter's Kits, which contain three NMRAnet nodes (called "Io", and designed by Railstars!), a USB PC interface, and assorted accessories: Everything you need to get started with NMRAnet.

 

The "Io" nodes can be used to interface with a variety of layout features: Fascia panel input switches or indicators, turnout decoders, signal heads (either directly or via a decoder), block occupancy detectors, layout lighting, etc. For example, you might use one "Io" board to control the fascia panel for your yard, and a second "Io" to handle controlling the turnouts in the yard. Only a single CAT5 cable is needed to connect them together. Then, add the USB interface, and you add computer control of the yard via JMRI.

 

For the technological dis-inclined, the "Io" nodes are designed to be easily configured without a PC.  For potential developers, the "Io" nodes are Arduino compatible, permitting programmers to create custom NMRAnet hardware quickly and easily.

 

Pricing hasn't been set yet, but we are aiming for a $50 price tag for the complete kit. This is a significant discount over the $200 retail price, thanks to a generous NMRA and private subsidy. Right now, we are seeking individuals who would be interested in giving NMRAnet a try. Of course, we offer full and personal tech support.

 

If you think you might be interested in being an NMRAnet early adopter, reply here, or drop me a personal message, and we'll make sure you get hooked up with a kit once they are available (should be about two weeks at the most before we start shipping). Or, if you want to know more about NMRAnet, ask away (…although if the discussion gets too long, Disturbman may evict us to a different board ;) )

 

Useful links:

http://openlcb.org/

http://www.openlcb.com/trunk/documents/OpenLCBGeneralDescription.pdf

http://railstars.com/hardware/io/

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Martijn Meerts

Wouldn't mind giving it a go, but I'm nowhere near close to having a layout (or part of a layout) to actually use the stuff on =)

 

I've worked with several digital systems now, and while each of them have their advantages, there doesn't seem to be an "ultimate" digital system. It's not easy to come up with one either though, because people have different wants and needs.

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CaptOblivious

Wouldn't mind giving it a go, but I'm nowhere near close to having a layout (or part of a layout) to actually use the stuff on =)

 

I've worked with several digital systems now, and while each of them have their advantages, there doesn't seem to be an "ultimate" digital system. It's not easy to come up with one either though, because people have different wants and needs.

 

I figured you might be interested :D Your experience with other systems and feedback would be particularly helpful to us, too.

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Martijn Meerts

Always interested in new digital systems.. There's a reason I currently have 4 different ones ;)

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CaptOblivious

Oooh! Here's a basic video demonstration of Railstars Io, by my colleague David Harris:

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CaptOblivious

Thanks, guys!

 

Nice .... I want one to turn my siding on and off ... how do I do that?

 

Cheers

 

The_Ghan

 

Right now, with this board, you would still need a turnout decoder; this board would put that turnout decoder onto an NMRAnet network. But watch this space, I'm working on a variant that can work turnouts directly, without need for a decoder.

 

Capt

 

Very cool! Been on the list to stare playing with Arduino, this looks really promising.

 

Jeff

 

And, of course, Io is fully Arduino compatible! I'm also thinking about doing up a shield with the necessary hardware to make a simple DIY command station, too.

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It wasn't clear to me how the green board connects to the blue board. 

 

I think I need a green board that is populated with 8 x bi-polar relays and has a terminal block.  That would turn my siding on and off quite nicely.

 

I also presume it can communicate through loconet and runs off its own DC power.

 

Right?

 

Cheers

 

The_Ghan

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CaptOblivious

It wasn't clear to me how the green board connects to the blue board. 

 

I think I need a green board that is populated with 8 x bi-polar relays and has a terminal block.  That would turn my siding on and off quite nicely.

 

I also presume it can communicate through loconet and runs off its own DC power.

 

Right?

 

Cheers

 

The_Ghan

 

The little green board is just for the demo. In reality you would wire the board directly to whatever source of inputs you have.

 

But the major draw of these boards is that they use NMRAnet as an open and freely available (and technologically superior) alternative to LocoNet. There are other folks working on NMRAnet to LocoNet bridges, though, so you can mix both systems together.

 

Tell me more about what you are trying to accomplish? You want to turn entire sections of track on and off entirely?

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Don,

 

It seems that we'd want to have a module to control the throttle output to separate blocks for people not using DCC.

This could be a single unit that is the PWM module and then a distribution board that is (as Ghan requests) a multiple-relay board (DPDT relays with center off?) to allow track sections on/off/and-potentially-reverse?

 

The next issue would be how to control the PWM module... you'd really simply need a matching 'throttle input board' with a directional switch (although that'd conflict with the directional ability on the relay board) and an analogue throttle that sent it's float value to the pwm.

 

Now that I think of it.. that's a damn neat way to do it. You could actually make it a rotary switch (and push-button directional control) with an LED voltage/direction/speed display so that you could have multiple throttle boards around the layout controlling the one block. Potentially controlling multiple PWM modules as well.

 

The only issue here would be that the current protocol mentions controlling train speed rather than block speed. There'd have to be a modification to that theory, or a new effort to allow block control over DCC train control. Nothing impossible.

 

My 2c... but this would really fit in well with the new layout I'm squeezing into a coffee table.

 

Don, count me in on a dev kit... I'd love to attempt this theory of a PWM module, throttle module and then an extended throttle distribution module :)

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...

Tell me more about what you are trying to accomplish? You want to turn entire sections of track on and off entirely?

 

Exactly.  My subway sidings (x8) are each long enough for a 10 car subway train.  These WILL be fitted with internal lights, LED.  I'm looking for a cheap way to turn off the lights when the consist is in the siding.  I currently own 6 subway trains with another 2 on order.  That will be nearly 80 cars.  Cheap decoders would still cost me around $1000 ... and sometimes a particular model might not even be on the tracks!

 

So, I was going to have a board designed with 8 x bi-stable relays and appropriate terminal blocks.  This would then be hooked up to a Digitrax SE8C.

 

Costs: the SE8C is around $110 and I was hoping to do the relay board for a similar price.

 

Cheers

 

The_Ghan

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CaptOblivious

Don,

 

It seems that we'd want to have a module to control the throttle output to separate blocks for people not using DCC.

This could be a single unit that is the PWM module and then a distribution board that is (as Ghan requests) a multiple-relay board (DPDT relays with center off?) to allow track sections on/off/and-potentially-reverse?

 

The next issue would be how to control the PWM module... you'd really simply need a matching 'throttle input board' with a directional switch (although that'd conflict with the directional ability on the relay board) and an analogue throttle that sent it's float value to the pwm.

 

Now that I think of it.. that's a damn neat way to do it. You could actually make it a rotary switch (and push-button directional control) with an LED voltage/direction/speed display so that you could have multiple throttle boards around the layout controlling the one block. Potentially controlling multiple PWM modules as well.

 

The only issue here would be that the current protocol mentions controlling train speed rather than block speed. There'd have to be a modification to that theory, or a new effort to allow block control over DCC train control. Nothing impossible.

 

My 2c... but this would really fit in well with the new layout I'm squeezing into a coffee table.

 

Don, count me in on a dev kit... I'd love to attempt this theory of a PWM module, throttle module and then an extended throttle distribution module :)

 

This sounds quite cool, actually. Although because OpenLCB requires communication with trains directly, you'd have to find a way to write a software proxy that could act in stead of the train on the OpenLCB network, and then issue commands to block controllers in response. Would require knowing which block a train is in, which is non-trivial, but not impossible either…sounds like a good project, actually, and a valuable one too.

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CaptOblivious

...

Tell me more about what you are trying to accomplish? You want to turn entire sections of track on and off entirely?

 

Exactly.  My subway sidings (x8) are each long enough for a 10 car subway train.  These WILL be fitted with internal lights, LED.  I'm looking for a cheap way to turn off the lights when the consist is in the siding.  I currently own 6 subway trains with another 2 on order.  That will be nearly 80 cars.  Cheap decoders would still cost me around $1000 ... and sometimes a particular model might not even be on the tracks!

 

So, I was going to have a board designed with 8 x bi-stable relays and appropriate terminal blocks.  This would then be hooked up to a Digitrax SE8C.

 

Costs: the SE8C is around $110 and I was hoping to do the relay board for a similar price.

 

Cheers

 

The_Ghan

 

Ghan, This sounds like an interesting and potentially viable product in its own right. Not sure what the costs would be, but I could get you an estimate later this week perhaps. Send me a PM; if you can, have you specced out the relays? A part number would help.

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ghan are you going to have each siding i.e. each line with the ability to turn on/off or just the whole block of sidings.

 

why am i asking??

 

Well if this was a subway it would not matter to me as if i were switching 1 consist out and putting one away all the trains would light up ?

 

this would not be good for me if it were a visible siding on the layout.

 

If it was set per line on a siding then you could only light up the trains coming in and out. which is what i would want to do for a siding on the ground level of the layout.

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Keitaro, I'd imagine that, since Ghan has asked for at least 8 relays, he'd want to control each siding/block individually.

 

This relay board would control both rails of each siding/block.

It would accept a feed, be that the output of a booster or the output of a PWM module.

 

Each relay would only need to be DPST with one side not connected, being 'off' to shutdown the associated block.

You would use the booster/pwm module to control the polarity.

 

You could create a variation of this board with a H-Bridge IC for DC control that could allow separate controls from the central PWM module.

 

There would then need to be reverse communication to declare the voltage output and speed per block to the throttle modules.

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ghan are you going to have each siding i.e. each line with the ability to turn on/off or just the whole block of sidings.  Each individual siding.  The control will be between a Digitrax BDL168 and the track.  Reason?  I might want siding 2 on with a train heading north, siding 5 on with a train heading south, and the other sidings off.

 

why am i asking??

 

Well if this was a subway it would not matter to me as if i were switching 1 consist out and putting one away all the trains would light up ?  Agreed.  But having thought this through I think it might work better individually.  That said, I might need to turn them all on to discover which siding has the particular consist I want to use..

 

this would not be good for me if it were a visible siding on the layout.

 

If it was set per line on a siding then you could only light up the trains coming in and out. which is what i would want to do for a siding on the ground level of the layout.  Agreed again, but there is still the issue of DCC knowing which siding to turn on.

 

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Keitaro, I'd imagine that, since Ghan has asked for at least 8 relays, he'd want to control each siding/block individually.

 

This relay board would control both rails of each siding/block.

It would accept a feed, be that the output of a booster or the output of a PWM module.

 

Each relay would only need to be DPST with one side not connected, being 'off' to shutdown the associated block.

You would use the booster/pwm module to control the polarity.

 

You could create a variation of this board with a H-Bridge IC for DC control that could allow separate controls from the central PWM module.

 

There would then need to be reverse communication to declare the voltage output and speed per block to the throttle modules.

 

Actually I though I might be able to control just the rail that goes through the BDL168.  I thought I could leave the common rail hard wired, no?

 

Cheers

 

The_Ghan

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Someone already did this.  The AUX-BOX is an 8-in-1 decoder that switches pass-thru contacts that can carry up to 3A, sufficient for even several N-scale trains:

 

http://www.aux-box.com/specifications

 

Good on you KenS,

 

That's even better than I was looking for.  I doubt I'll need the sensor inputs as I'll be using occupancy detection anyway.

 

Cheers

 

The_Ghan

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CaptOblivious

Someone already did this.  The AUX-BOX is an 8-in-1 decoder that switches pass-thru contacts that can carry up to 3A, sufficient for even several N-scale trains:

 

http://www.aux-box.com/specifications

 

This is a really interesting product. I need to learn more about the switches they are using. The Io board I have in my hands now uses n-channel MOSFETs to switch loads on and off by wiring or disconnecting them from ground. This technique doesn't work for DCC, but an H-Bridge might do the trick. Anyway, I clearly need to study it, and learn its ways.

 

The thing I don't like about the Aux-Box is that it is a stationary decoder, which means it gets its commands over DCC. This is fine, but it leaves no way to communicate feedback, like fault conditions, or successful switching, etc. It also means that you can't easily control it from a fascia, you can only send commands via your DCC throttle. Nor does it work on other control systems like DC, Motorola, etc.

 

The advantage of something like the Io platform that uses NMRAnet is that it permits control over the outputs from anywhere: Your hand-held throttle, a fascia panel, a second fascia panel, a web browser on a PC on another continent (well, not yet, but soon), etc.

 

(Also, I think I can beat that price.)

 

Aside: Ghan: Is your DCC layout wired with common-rail return? I would switch both rails if I were you, much safer that way. And if you haven't wired anything yet, I would avoid common-rail return, as the resistance of N scale rails is too high for that kind of duty, and this can cause real headaches for you later down the road trying to figure out why various things powered from the rails aren't behaving correctly.

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Actually I though I might be able to control just the rail that goes through the BDL168.  I thought I could leave the common rail hard wired, no?...

 

You definitely could, it's more of a design decision for the 'relay board'... i.e. if it were to only contain single pole relays, then you could only control one rail, and then it would be useless for other purposes. Having full DPST (or DPDT for that matter) would allow many more applications.

 

It would then be up to you as to how you implement it.

 

I don't know much about 'common rail return'... but Don would be the person to listen to on that :) It'd be just a bit of extra wiring to feed both through the relay board...

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... Aside: Ghan: Is your DCC layout wired with common-rail return? I would switch both rails if I were you, much safer that way. And if you haven't wired anything yet, I would avoid common-rail return, as the resistance of N scale rails is too high for that kind of duty, and this can cause real headaches for you later down the road trying to figure out why various things powered from the rails aren't behaving correctly.

 

Cap'n,

 

No, I'm not using common-rail return wiring.  I'm using Direct Home Wiring as shown on p5 of the BDL168 manual.  My subway has two loops, one east and one west bound.  Each loop is wired separately back to the PM42 and interconnecting track is double gapped.  Within each loop, sections/blocks are single gapped, just as shown on the diagram on p5.

 

Also, I'm using LocoNet and aux power whenever possible.  I'm aiming to keep track power for trains.

 

Cheers

 

The_Ghan

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Here's another thing I'm going to do:

 

I'm setting up one siding for testing and programming.  It needs acces to DC, DCC Programming, and DCC Running.  The idea is that I switch to DC to test a newly arrived consist.  Then install decoders and program it on that siding.  Then run it onto the main lines.  Where the siding meets the main lines I was going to have a S140 double isolated at both ends in case I overshoot in my testing. 

 

I was thinking of a 4P5T rotary switch and wiring up as follows:

 

[table]

 

   

4P5T Position     

   

1         

   

2         

   

3         

   

4         

   

5         

 

 

   

Siding Track

   

DC

   

OFF

   

DCC Program     

   

OFF

   

DCC Run

 

 

   

Isolating Track

   

OFF

   

OFF

   

OFF

   

OFF

   

DCC Run

 

[/table]

 

Has anyone else done this or have any thoughts?

 

Cheers

 

The_Ghan

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