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BlueRail Trains - Bluetooth Locomotive Control

Bluetooth dcc iPhone iPad




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#1 rgmichel

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Posted 28 January 2015 - 19:45

Bachmann had a demonstration of a bluetooth controlled locomotive at the Amherst, MA, USA, Model Railway Show this January 2015.  The Locomotive was under control via an iPad. It was easy to reprogram, unlike present dcc control systems that require a programming track etc.  For example, a simple menu item allowed the volume of the sound from the locomotive to be controlled from the iPad screen.  One USA prototype diesel locomotive was being demonstrated, and it could run on dcc track but was not dcc controllable.  Future plans could involve dcc compatibililty, but that is not available yet.  The idea is at the beginning stages at Bachman, and its future direction of development is not clear. 


Edited by Andy Y, 20 November 2017 - 12:39 .




#2 two tone green

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Posted 28 January 2015 - 19:58

Was out last year. https://www.youtube....h?v=k6xoL6NY83g


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#3 brittannia

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Posted 28 January 2015 - 20:01

Similar  as the Roco Z21



#4 rgmichel

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Posted 28 January 2015 - 20:04

Its too bad it is at an early stage of development yet.  It would be nice if bluetooth could be hitched to an existing dcc locomotive.



#5 two tone green

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Posted 28 January 2015 - 20:09

It is being developed by a well know European manufacturer for Bachmann.



#6 rgmichel

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Posted 28 January 2015 - 22:02

Trouble with developments of this nature, the older technologies are in danger of being obsoleted.  Does anyone know more details about the bluetooth that Bachmann is working on?  It seems to me that an interface with dcc would be the most desirable, rather than direct bluetooth control of the locomotive as being demonstrated by Bachmann at the moment.



#7 Grovenor

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Posted 28 January 2015 - 23:12

 

It seems to me that an interface with dcc would be the most desirable, rather than direct bluetooth control of the locomotive as being demonstrated by Bachmann at the moment.

Why? As proposed it needs no command station and can use any sort of track power, or even on board batteries, linking it to a DCC system would defeat the objective.

Keith


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#8 Greengiant

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Posted 28 January 2015 - 23:16

Trouble with developments of this nature, the older technologies are in danger of being obsoleted.  Does anyone know more details about the bluetooth that Bachmann is working on?  It seems to me that an interface with dcc would be the most desirable, rather than direct bluetooth control of the locomotive as being demonstrated by Bachmann at the moment.


This site should give you more detail.
Was listening to one of the developers on the Model Rail Radio podcast, he said that they are hoping they can make it interact with existing DCC systems, but would be reliant on those systems having some sort of update.

http://www.bluerailtrains.com

Martin

#9 rgmichel

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Posted 29 January 2015 - 00:11

Was listening to one of the developers on the Model Rail Radio podcast, he said that they are hoping they can make it interact with existing DCC systems, but would be reliant on those systems having some sort of update.
 

I do agree that it would likely be difficult just to hijack the existing dcc board.  "some sort of update" does not sound practical to me, just from the point of view of likely cost.

 

Another thought is simply to hijack the dcc controllers, so the loco still only sees dcc control, but the iPad or iPhone could control the controller.  To me this is much more acceptable and more likely to be successful.  So, surely the present Bachmann approach might be good only for those of us without a significant investment in dcc? 

 

It sounds impractical that the whole dcc board should be replaceable with a bluetooth controlled board, so that our existing dcc locomotives could be upgraded, using the existing plug, to bluetooth.  This approach would obsolete the existing dcc board.  If the whole dcc electronics of a sound equipped locomotive need to be replaced this could be unacceptable as the dcc equipment is expensive.  After all, a good sound equipped locomotive is twice the price of a regular locomotive. 



#10 rgmichel

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Posted 29 January 2015 - 11:11

This site should give you more detail.

http://www.bluerailtrains.com
 

The key to reading the content at this URL is the phrase that the "bluerail" trains will operate "independently" on a dcc layout.  So, different types of controller for different types of loco....  I am not sure I like this, although it is better than total incompatibility, because you can put your loco down on a dcc system and run it with the bluetooth controller.  I remember that Hornby "live steam" was a totally different system and what a mess that was.


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#11 Ron Ron Ron

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Posted 29 January 2015 - 13:13

Similar  as the Roco Z21

 

Other than using a Smartphone or Tablet device as a throttle, there is no similarity between these systems at all AFAICS.

 

The Z21 is regular DCC, operated through a software App based control interface and connected by wireless to the DCC system.

 

EZ App / BlueRail Trains isn't a DCC system. It's an App based control system that communicates directly with proprietary decoders, situated in the train/loco.

 

There are still a lot of questions that haven't been answered about this system.

Information that has come out, is that everything is stored in the App.

 

Loco ID's, decoder settings etc. 

Sound files are stored and played in the App.

 

Sound will be played out of the Smartphone or Tablet speakers, or attached earbuds/headphones.

At the moment, there will be no speaker in the train/loco.

They have mentioned plans to have the ability to send sound by AirPlay to remote devices (vapourware?)

 

If you use a different Smartphone or Tablet to control the loco/train, none of you current settings are available.

If your Smartphone or Tablet dies or needs recharging, then using another device will mean you have lost all your loco settings, unless there's a means of duplicating it, or synchronising it with another device.

If the loco is taken to another layout and used with another Smartphone/Tablet device with the EZ App (e.g. a mates phone), no settings or sound will be available. 

 

Consisting is included, but there has been no mention of speed matching ?????

Note the Ring RailPro system uses automatic speed matching. In DCC it's programmed manually.

 

Bachmann have avoided the question of using multiple throttles/operators.

 

No mention of track detection or layout control yet.

 

 

 

 

.


Edited by Ron Ron Ron, 29 January 2015 - 13:14 .

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#12 rgmichel

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Posted 30 January 2015 - 04:30


There are still a lot of questions that haven't been answered about this system.

Information that has come out, is that everything is stored in the App.

Loco ID's, decoder settings etc. 

Sound files are stored and played in the App.

Sound will be played out of the Smartphone or Tablet speakers, or attached earbuds/headphones.

At the moment, there will be no speaker in the train/loco.

They have mentioned plans to have the ability to send sound by AirPlay to remote devices (vapourware?)

If you use a different Smartphone or Tablet to control the loco/train, none of you current settings are available.

If your Smartphone or Tablet dies or needs recharging, then using another device will mean you have lost all your loco settings, unless there's a means of duplicating it, or synchronising it with another device.

If the loco is taken to another layout and used with another Smartphone/Tablet device with the EZ App (e.g. a mates phone), no settings or sound will be available. 

Consisting is included, but there has been no mention of speed matching ?????

Note the Ring RailPro system uses automatic speed matching. In DCC it's programmed manually.

Bachmann have avoided the question of using multiple throttles/operators.

No mention of track detection or layout control yet

.

I think the key is "independent" control.  They did mention that multiple iPads/iPhones could be used. I imagine its must a matter of setting an address for each loco on any iPad you want.  Its very interesting to me that the sounds will be doable by airplay.  This is like the "soundtraxx" system in a sense.  It will be a while before the sound can "follow the loco" around the track with multiple speakers though.   It sounds to me, the way they describe putting such a loco on a dc layout, just "turn up the power to max" that the layout could be controlled using either traditional dcc or dc methods, and the locos would work either way, with sound included.  It sounds good to me, except for the uncertainties about upgrading existing sound equipped locos.

 

Its long been clear to me that the existing dcc cabs were obsoleted the minute the 1st gen iPhone came out.  The Bachmann bluetooth approach is promising, though not mature yet.  However, computer controlled dcc systems, such as that by Hornby, may be a different matter, as their interface could be rather like a bluetooth controlled system.


Edited by rgmichel, 30 January 2015 - 05:50 .


#13 Glorious NSE

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Posted 30 January 2015 - 13:23

Bachmann have avoided the question of using multiple throttles/operators..

 

I think the key is "independent" control.  They did mention that multiple iPads/iPhones could be used. I imagine its must a matter of setting an address for each loco on any iPad you want. 

Surely the point of it being a bluetooth link is that you have one bluetooth device (smartphone) talking (paired) directly to a second device (loco) - if that's the case you could have as many people using smartphones to control their individual loco's as you wanted, as each one would just be one device talking to a second device. Each phone controlling each loco would be an entirely separate direct link between the two devices.

MUing presumably is just connecting to two devices (loco's) at once from the same device (phone) - which is okay if you can fine tune running but won't be acceptable otherwise.

 

 The key to reading the content at this URL is the phrase that the "bluerail" trains will operate "independently" on a dcc layout.  So, different types of controller for different types of loco....  I am not sure I like this, although it is better than total incompatibility, because you can put your loco down on a dcc system and run it with the bluetooth controller.

 

Depending on your DCC setup it may not be a different type of controller, but a different app on the phone for each method of control. 

I have to say I like the concept of this, but I have lots of questions (particularly as it's emerging from Bachmann's HO range in the US, generally thought of as a "train set" level manufacturer by much of the US hobby) over how good the quality of control and level of settings included.

If you can get a decent level of control of things like momentum, speed steps, speed curves, lighting etc, then it might be worth a play. There's some definite advantages I can see for us modular types in reducing reliance on control infrastructure.

(I'd also want an android version...) ;)


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#14 Crosland

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Posted 30 January 2015 - 13:27

I do agree that it would likely be difficult just to hijack the existing dcc board.

 

Technically it would be quite easy to have a Bluetooth module drive an existing DCC decoder, but why bother? Half of the circuitry would effectively be redundant and you would need to find the space for two "decoders" in the loco.

 

Andrew


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#15 Oldddudders

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Posted 30 January 2015 - 13:35

rgmichel, on 30 Jan 2015 - 05:30, said:

 

Its long been clear to me that the existing dcc cabs were obsoleted the minute the 1st gen iPhone came out. 

Not clear to me at all. We don't all worship the Great God of Apple, and I cannot get along with touch-screen technology of any sort. Just as I don't want an all-in-one tv remote control, so my Digitrax DT402 suits me fine, thanks, because I know what the controls do. DCC does pretty much what I want, and using my smartphone to control a train would be a nightmare.

 

It is inevitable that digital technology attracts people who enjoy exploiting technology for its own sake, and if they push the boundaries, that's fine. Just do not extrapolate that tendency to represent the entire DCC community.

 

When photography was first available as a commercial reality, people said painting was dead. Yeah, right.


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#16 Glorious NSE

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Posted 30 January 2015 - 13:40

I think the phrase "replacement of the DCC board" might be misleading - surely for any non-DCC loco all you'd do is plug in a bluetooth receiver instead of a DCC chip into the 8 pin socket, you wouldn't need to remove or replace anything (provided the bluetooth board fits in the loco physically).

If you have loco's already with DCC sound obviously you would have to take that out - but then I don't think a system like this is really aimed at making folk who are already heavy DCC users change to something different.


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#17 10000

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Posted 30 January 2015 - 15:32

Sounds a good idea but in some situations could prove as unreliable as infra red.

 

I use airplay from a mac mini to devices around the house.

 

But to try and save some money on one occasion I resorted to blue tooth connection. I found that every time I walked between the transmitter and the receiver I disrupted the connection. So it was quickly replaced.


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#18 rgmichel

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Posted 30 January 2015 - 17:08

Sounds a good idea but in some situations could prove as unreliable as infra red.

I use airplay from a mac mini to devices around the house.

But to try and save some money on one occasion I resorted to blue tooth connection. I found that every time I walked between the transmitter and the receiver I disrupted the connection. So it was quickly replaced.

I agree on this.  Both these wireless networking technologies can be sketchy.  However, I believe there are some fundamental issues at play:

 

1st - the iOS is well-supported by Apple and thousands of developers, so there is some hope that the model railway world can see more rapid improvement in the future.  We are still saddled with various incompatible technologies left over from the 1980s and before, including dc, dcc, which are command-driven dinosaurs that are very clumsy to use.  They are not much better than a Timex watch with its buttons to set time, date, and other functions.  iOS allows programmers to do things that would make life much simpler for railway modellers, including more intuitive touch screen operations that do not have such steep learning curves.

 

2nd - cost is always a factor.  I worry about this a good deal, with my latest example being these awful TTS sound locomotives that lose a great deal of realism in the name of price.  How many new full dcc sound locomotives are on Hornby's web site now?  Bluetooth could become dominant just because its likely cost is low.  So, the question is then whether or not many of the advantages to which we have become accustomed with dcc control will be transferred painlessly to the Bachmann approach.

 

3rd - some direct computer control, such has Hornby's and other systems, show great promise for intuitive control of layouts.  It seems to me that Bluetooth could simply be an addendum to such systems, and the intuitive control of touch screens retained, and dcc in the locomotives.

 

4th - I am just not sure about swapping dcc and bluetooth boards and all the on-board loco implications, of which there seem to be many.  I don't know enough about it to state with any confidence what is possible and what is not on the loco.  My only  concern is intuitive and detailed control of layouts and locomotives.

 

5th - This is price related again: Many of us, including me, have investments in dcc, as well as dc locos that need converting.  I am concerned that while I like the thought of iOS control technology, that either my locos will be obsoleted to use it, or I will be confined to the command-driven mayhem of dcc in order to take advantage of what I have already bought.  As with the Hornby TTS sound example, there is a danger that dc and dcc will be driven out of the market on the alter of Bluetooth/iOS price advantages. and dcc will not be viable anymore, through lack of further development.

 

I think the phrase "replacement of the DCC board" might be misleading - surely for any non-DCC loco all you'd do is plug in a bluetooth receiver instead of a DCC chip into the 8 pin socket, you wouldn't need to remove or replace anything (provided the bluetooth board fits in the loco physically).
If you have loco's already with DCC sound obviously you would have to take that out - but then I don't think a system like this is really aimed at making folk who are already heavy DCC users change to something different.

I agree that an investment in dcc is a big energy barrier to iOS technology.  Exactly what can be done to alleviate this is a mystery to me at the moment, beyond idle speculation.  Clearly, we would want all the advantages of dcc technology fused with all the advantages of iOS technology.

 

Not clear to me at all. We don't all worship the Great God of Apple, and I cannot get along with touch-screen technology of any sort. Just as I don't want an all-in-one tv remote control, so my Digitrax DT402 suits me fine, thanks, because I know what the controls do. DCC does pretty much what I want, and using my smartphone to control a train would be a nightmare.

It is inevitable that digital technology attracts people who enjoy exploiting technology for its own sake, and if they push the boundaries, that's fine. Just do not extrapolate that tendency to represent the entire DCC community.

When photography was first available as a commercial reality, people said painting was dead. Yeah, right.

I am really sorry to have to disagree with all these statements, particularly the last one.  When was the last time you took your family for a "painted" family portrait?

 

The "God of Apple" has brought us out of the difficult to use command-driven PC world of the 1980s into our present world that is so intuitively connected that the vast majority of the population uses it.  The reason for this is that touch screen technology in conjunction with iOS is ..... easy to use....

 

"technology for its own sake" certainly applies to a few people most of the time, but not to all people all the time (to misuse a famous quote).  If something is used by many people, you can bet it has real utility. Touch screen technology and iOs is one of these technologies that has made it across many walks of life, and we should have it in railway modelling too.


Edited by rgmichel, 30 January 2015 - 17:21 .

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#19 Nigelcliffe

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Posted 30 January 2015 - 17:40

I can see all sorts of issues, both pro and anti on the bluetooth devices inside locos.  

 

The Bluetooth issues are fundamentally different to smartphones used as DCC throttles.  Smartphones as DCC throttles are already available from Roco, Hornby, Lenz, ESU, and just about every other command station if you stick a PC in the loop. 

 

Within the Bluetooth loco, the big issue I foresee is long term compatibility.   If you buy a loco today, for how many years in the future will the smartphone interface be upgraded/supported ?   If you replace your smartphone in four years time (and four years is a long time in phone development), will the loco's software still run on the new phone, or is your loco's decoder (and possibly loco) now scrap ?    And, conversely, if you buy a new loco in four years time, will that new loco run on your old phone, or do you need a newer phone to run it ?    
I already get frustrated when Apps cease to work and you must upgrade the App, yet cannot upgrade the App because the old smartphone isn't capable of running the latest version of Android or iOS.  It would be seriously annoying if a model train stopped working and I needed a new phone to run my train !


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#20 rgmichel

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Posted 30 January 2015 - 17:52

I already get frustrated when Apps cease to work and you must upgrade the App, yet cannot upgrade the App because the old smartphone isn't capable of running the latest version of Android or iOS.  It would be seriously annoying if a model train stopped working and I needed a new phone to run my train !

I agree with this.  I am fed up to the back teeth with the lack of  backward compatibility as upgrades progress.  So, this is a likely problem.   One answer frequently offered of course is to not do the upgrades.  This means that the iphone you buy for your layout, or laptop or whatever should not have its OS upgraded unless you know your app will work.  I have managed to keep one of my Apple computers going without upgrading for seven years, but it cannot be used for anything now, except the app I need!  Makes me feel like a dinosaur, but it is proudly running in my cupboard.



#21 rgmichel

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Posted 30 January 2015 - 17:54

I can see all sorts of issues, both pro and anti on the bluetooth devices inside locos.  

 

The Bluetooth issues are fundamentally different to smartphones used as DCC throttles.  Smartphones as DCC throttles are already available from Roco, Hornby, Lenz, ESU, and just about every other command station if you stick a PC in the loop. 

 

I agree with this.  To me the key is ease of use, but I always worry about new less expensive approaches losing me the features I had before.  The market can be cruel.



#22 Glorious NSE

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Posted 31 January 2015 - 09:13

The Bluetooth issues are fundamentally different to smartphones used as DCC throttles.  Smartphones as DCC throttles are already available from Roco, Hornby, Lenz, ESU, and just about every other command station if you stick a PC in the loop. 

With at least 2 of them you don't need a PC (Lenz has a module you can plug in to do it direct, and that capability is inherent in the Roco Z21 system.)
 

ithin the Bluetooth loco, the big issue I foresee is long term compatibility.   If you buy a loco today, for how many years in the future will the smartphone interface be upgraded/supported ?   If you replace your smartphone in four years time (and four years is a long time in phone development), will the loco's software still run on the new phone, or is your loco's decoder (and possibly loco) now scrap ?    And, conversely, if you buy a new loco in four years time, will that new loco run on your old phone, or do you need a newer phone to run it ?    
I already get frustrated when Apps cease to work and you must upgrade the App, yet cannot upgrade the App because the old smartphone isn't capable of running the latest version of Android or iOS.  It would be seriously annoying if a model train stopped working and I needed a new phone to run my train !

 

An interesting thought. 




 


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#23 GoingUnderground

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Posted 31 January 2015 - 10:02

The "Great God of Apple" is doing its very best to tie users of its grossly overpriced products so tightly in to them that they will be unable to go anywhere else without losing all their data and walking away from a lot of very expensive hardware. Every wonder why Apple makes $ooo,ooo,ooo,ooo,ooo,ooo,ooo,ooo,ooo,ooo,ooo,ooo much money? Microsoft may have taken over the desktop PC market and with Windows appearing on every PC, but we could still choose the hardware and that at least kept its price down. It gave us a standardisation for a period that meant exchanging data between different users was easy.

 

So no I don't want to rely on iOS, that's the very, very, very last thing I want to do.

 

Bluetooth is a blind alley. Wi-Fi is the way to go, and some of us are already using Wi-Fi to control our layouts and operate our trains under DCC. The smartphone apps already let us do this without being tied hand and foot to Apple. You can even control an ESU ECoS running firmware 4.0.0 remotely from any make and model of tablet by using a VNC client, it's just like having the ECoS in the palm of your hand as you walk round the layout.


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#24 Ron Ron Ron

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Posted 31 January 2015 - 14:03

Hi Keith, everything inside the "walled garden" is just fine and hunky dory.
 

.....Microsoft may have taken over the desktop PC market and with Windows appearing on every PC, but we could still choose the hardware and that at least kept its price down. It gave us a standardisation for a period that meant exchanging data between different users was easy.


As far as desktop OS's are concerned, you can exchange almost any data between users of Windows and OSX.
OS X users can run any Windows specific software on their Mac too.
It's an entirely different scenario to that with mobile OS's.

 

So no I don't want to rely on iOS....
.....The smartphone apps already let us do this without being tied hand and foot to Apple.....


The "fear" of being "tied hand and foot" is illusory and nothing to get the slightest bit concerned about.
The preference for using iOS based apps by certain DCC companies or third part app developers, is not unique to model train control.
For many developing for iOS, either exclusively or at first (with Android versions done later), is a reflection of the market.
Despite the late rise of Android based usage, to be the most common/popular worldwide, it still hasn't translated into a commercially successful opportunity for app developers on the scale of developing for iOS.

Then there is the market demographic. For example, the very high percentage of iOS users in N. America, its predominance in certain sectors of society, or in the case of apps aimed at specialist or professional use, most of the target audience are iOS based.
Developers are just targeting the appropriate markets for their wares.

 

Bluetooth is a blind alley. Wi-Fi is the way to go.....

 

I also thought Bluetooth was a blind Alley. In fact as an industry standard it was certainly on its way out and due to be culled (by default) until a couple of years ago. Since then, new developments in the world of Bluetooth have revived its fortunes and it's had a new lease of life, so I'm not so sure it's such a dead end now.

In the case of model train control, I agree with Nigel that we shouldn't confuse the wireless technology and protocols being employed, with the issue of Smartphones/Tablets being used as control interfaces and throttles.
They are different, but related subjects.
The same confusion persists in discussions about these control interfaces and direct wireless communication with locos, being mixed up with the subject of Dead Rail and battery power.


As an aside, I've read that at last weekend's Amherst RailRoad Hobby Show (one of, if not the world's biggest show), there were problems with so many thousands of Bluetooth and WiFi users in close proximity.
Some demos of various systems using BlueTooth and WiFi, were said to have encountered problems with interference; Bachmann demo'ing their EZ app included !!



.


Edited by Ron Ron Ron, 01 February 2015 - 11:38 .

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#25 jjb1970

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Posted 31 January 2015 - 17:16

I think the real question is whether you want a layout with no power supply. For large scale garden layouts I can see a lot of advantage in battery powered locomotives using radio control, but you can do that already without blue tooth. For a typical OO/HO layout whilst you could convert to battery powered stock it would seem to be a retrograde step given wiring a DCC layout is much simpler than an analogue layout and no big deal. If you have power to the track anyway then I am not sure why it would be beneficial to re-invent the digital control wheel with this Bachmann system. Wireless control of the DCC system, yes absolutely, I can see the advantages. Ditto software based control packages, I am using Hornby Railmaster for my little lads trainset and am really impressed with it. So for wireless control and moving things to software and away from traditional standalone units I am a big fan but you can do both of those things with conventional DCC. I can see the benefits of moving sound onto a tablet or PC, however that still needs the locomotive to be speaker fitted, if you're going to fit a speaker and a chip anyway I'm not sure the real advantage of having the sounds on a computer are significant. Then there is the issue of how will the Bachmann system control points and other layout functions? If Bachmann demonstrate why this is better than conventional DCC then I will listen and am open to persuasion but at the moment I tend to be with Olddudders that this seems to be an example of answering a question nobody has asked because we can.

This reminds me of a meeting I had with ABB a couple of years ago. One big issue with a lot of industrial control systems is alarm overload which can mask the actual failures and end up increasing rather than easing operator workload. One of ABB's senior control systems engineers offered a priceless comment as to why they build in so much functionality which is neither needed nor wanted by most customers -  "its like asking a dog why it licks its private parts, its because it can", I thought that summed up the argument!


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