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Protocab


DavidLong
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I'm a bit surprised that there doesn't seem to have been any discussion about this new form of control that was launched at Scalefour North last month. To find out more about Protocab and to save me a lot of typing the website is here: http://protocab.com/

From chatting to the proprietors it seems that this is an updated version of Exactoscale's Red Arrow system but uses a form of radio control rather than the vaguries of infra red. Control can be via iphones, android phones and tablets.

I was very taken with the Red Arrow system that I think was developed by Bernard Weller (correct me if I'm wrong) but the new owners of Exactoscale decided that it wasn't part of the core business so it never got developed.

In scales 4mm and above it does hold out the prospect of being almost wire free if used in conjunction with 3 link/screw couplings and mechanical control of points and signals. I say almost wire free as the charging points would need to have some sort of feed attached to them. Charging uses inductive technology so the loco only has to be positioned over the charging point to receive the charge.

As the infromation provided about the system alludes to facilities for lights and sound then it would appear that the Locomotive Control Units are akin to DCC chips but which take their power and instructions via batteries and r/c rather than from the track.

I realise that such a system will not be to everybody's taste but it does have a certain appeal. Sadly, working as I do in 2mm Finescale, there will have to be some fairly revolutionary developments in battery technology for me to be able to use it.

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Some-one had posted a link to U-tube clips of someone in the US doing exactly the same thing except for the induction charging. Thought I had it bookmarked but I dont. Having a DC system i am really interested in how this works out since it will, if I understand things correctly, do some DCC type playing without all the cost of a complete conversion

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There a couple of place in the States that have announce something similar

 

Ring Engineering -- check their prices

Railflyer

 

Bill,

 

The Ring Engineering system isn't quite the same as it still uses track power as part of the operation and I think may have been discussed in the DCC area. Railflyer seems to be similar to Protocab although they imply that you would have to use their Android-based Tablet PC as part of the operating system. I understood from the Protocab guys that an app, downloadable to any Android device, could be used for their system.

I was unsure where to put this thread in RM Web to generate discussion and only decided on this section as it is clearly both electrics and non-DCC, even though it has strong similarity to DCC in that the LCUs have much in common with DCC chips.

I have been a little disappointed that nearly 100 views have brought forth only two responses as it does seem to be a system with possibilities and it would be interesting to read more opinions of it.

Just to emphasise, by the way, that I've no connection with them and, as I said prevously, it won't work for me in 2mm scale.

 

David

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......it seems that this is an updated version of Exactoscale's Red Arrow system but uses a form of radio control rather than the vaguries of infra red......

 

Dave, the Red Arrow system was also available in a radio version, when it was marketed by A1 Micromotive.

 

 

There a couple of place in the States that have announce something similar Ring Engineering -- check their prices...

 

As Dave says, the Ring Engineering RailPro system is a different beast, requiring track power (either DC or DCC).

Incidentally, retail prices for RailPro are significantly lower than the manufacturers r.r.p. (e.g. typically £189 for the handheld controller and £47 for the loco motor/sound decoders).

 

There are other wireless systems too, including those that use battery power in the loco.

The AirWire system from CVP, the makers of the EasyDCC system, combines with ordinary DCC decoders and is fully NMRA DCC compatible, but is now looking a little dated against recent new offerings.

 

 

....I have been a little disappointed that nearly 100 views have brought forth only two responses as it does seem to be a system with possibilities and it would be interesting to read more opinions of it.

 

The lack of response is probably because such systems are "rather old hat", i.e. dated and limited in functionality; not to mention their proprietary nature. As such they may be considered incompatible, limited and "risky".

 

I rather suspect the practical reality of battery powered model trains, gives it very limited appeal.

How many people would relish the prospect of going to their layout to play trains, only to find they'd have to put them on charge for an hour or two first; especially in the evening after work, or in a limited time frame?

 

For anyone who really wanted powerless track and radio control; one of the most attractive options may be the forthcoming DRS-1 system from Tam Valley Depot (makers of the Frog Juicer and other goodies).

It isn't a control system itself, but an add-on to DCC that uses any regular DCC system and regular DCC decoders (including sound models).

Locos can then run on both powered track and unpowered track, retaining the full feature set of the DCC system and the onboard decoders.

 

 

 

 

Edited by Ron Ron Ron
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Dave, the Red Arrow system was also available in a radio version, when it was marketed by A1 Micromotive.

 

 

The lack of response is probably because such systems are "rather old hat", i.e. dated and limited in functionality; not to mention their proprietary nature. As such they may be considered incompatible, limited and "risky".

 

I rather suspect the practical reality of battery powered model trains, gives it very limited appeal.

How many people would relish the prospect of going to their layout to play trains, only to find they'd have to put them on charge for an hour or two first; especially in the evening after work, or in a limited time frame?

 

For anyone who really wanted powerless track and radio control; one of the most attractive options may be the forthcoming DRS-1 system from Tam Valley Depot (makers of the Frog Juicer and other goodies).

It isn't a control system itself, but an add-on to DCC that uses any regular DCC system and regular DCC decoders (including sound models).

Locos can then run on both powered track and unpowered track, retaining the full feature set of the DCC system and the onboard decoders.

 

 

Thanks for the link to A1 Micromotive as I'd 'lost' them. I had a previous URL which stopped working so I hadn't realised that they had pushed on with the system. I would see Red Arrow as a more basic system than some of the others that are being developed and I think that this is reflected in the prices.

I would see the Tam Valley Depot system as being along similar lines to Protocab in as much as the chip or Loco Control Unit is expected to be able to provide features such as sound and lighting as well adjustment to running characteristics.

I'm not sure that I go along with the 'old hat' assessment. I think the fact that new systems are being developed which are, as TVD define them, wireless DCC in the true sense i.e. no layout wiring required. I'm sure that there are many 4mm and 7mm modellers who have three link couplings and mechanical point and signal control who could well do without all that excess knitting under the layout. I'm not sure it is such a hardship to have locos charged up when you haven't had to do all that wiring and then spend time afterwards keeping all the rails and wheels clean.

 

David

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....I would see the Tam Valley Depot system as being along similar lines to Protocab in as much as the chip or Loco Control Unit is expected to be able to provide features such as sound and lighting as well adjustment to running characteristics...

 

Not at all. The Tam Valley Depot system isn't a control system, it is simply a wireless link between the DCC Power Bus and a module in the loco.

That module, plus a battery pack, "feeds" a normal DCC decoder with the DCC signal (including power).

All the features such as motor control, function control, lights, sound etc, comes courtesy of the DCC decoder, just as it would when taking the DCC signal and power from the track. The module doesn't do any of that stuff.

 

The best description I could come up with, is to think of the TVD DRS-1 as a "wireless DCC Power Bus".

 

I'm not sure it is such a hardship to have locos charged up when you haven't had to do all that wiring and then spend time afterwards keeping all the rails and wheels clean.

 

I'm not convinced about that David.

I can imagine many people being frustrated at finding their locos have no charge and therefore cannot run them until they've been recharged again.

That could result in no running session, due to lack of time, or not being able to use particular locos because they are "dead".

 

 

.

Edited by Ron Ron Ron
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I'm not sure that I go along with the 'old hat' assessment.

David

 

I would agree. With batteries and chips getting ever smaller, I think the time has come for wireless control. I would certainly go for such a system if it were affordable (i.e. no more than DCC), reliable, well developed and adhered to standards, especially if it were adopted as an NMRA standard.

 

The problem with Protocab as demonstrated at Scalefour North was that it was none of these things and I was not convinced that the demonstrators really understood the model railway high-end market. They kept talking about improving the operating experience. Well, their loco performed appallingly because of some mechanical imperfection (poor quartering?) and I get a much superior "operator experience" with my ancient Compspeed.

 

Possibly because of my ex-telecmms background I think the standards are vital and they made no mention of any. It would be a brave modeler who invested much capital in using their system.

 

 

Sadly, as with many emerging technologies, it's a chicken and egg situation, I will not buy until it's proven and widely adopted - but then, neither will anyone else, so the danger is that it will not be developed.

 

I would be very pleased to have to eat my words because I would love to have a good wirelesss system with all the capabilities of DCC but I won't hold my breath...

 

Ian

 

I'm not sure that I go along with the 'old hat' assessment.

David

 

I would agree. With batteries and chips getting ever smaller, I think the time has come for wireless control. I would certainly go for such a system if it were affordable (i.e. no more than DCC), reliable, well developed and adhered to standards, especially if it were adopted as an NMRA standard.

 

The problem with Protocab as demonstrated at Scalefour North was that it was none of these things and I was not convinced that the demonstrators really understood the model railway high-end market. They kept talking about improving the operating experience. Well, their loco performed appallingly because of some mechanical imperfection (poor quartering?) and I get a much superior "operator experience" with my ancient Compspeed.

 

Possibly because of my ex-telecmms background I think the standards are vital and they made no mention of any. It would be a brave modeler who invested much capital in using their system.

 

 

Sadly, as with many emerging technologies, it's a chicken and egg situation, I will not buy until it's proven and widely adopted - but then, neither will anyone else, so the danger is that it will not be developed.

 

I would be very pleased to have to eat my words because I would love to have a good wirelesss system with all the capabilities of DCC but I won't hold my breath...

 

Ian

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.......I would love to have a good wirelesss system with all the capabilities of DCC but I won't hold my breath...

 

As you say, standards are the key and it's already going to be available soon, in the form of the Tam Valley Depot solution.

It can be used with any DCC system and uses ordinary DCC decoders, sound and non-sound. All within the NMRA standards.

 

Rather than trying to re-invent the wheel, they've just added wireless and the battery power option to regular DCC.

In their promo video they're using an NCE system, but it could just as well be used with other makes.

.

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Hi David,

 

I think another reason why people aren't particularly interested is because they have already heavily invested in DCC equipment, which doesn't come cheap. I have 9 Loksound and 4 Zimo sound decoders (and still need more) and I'm on my third controller. Add that up and you come to a tidy sum, and that is probably peanuts compared with what other people have spent.

 

Regards,

David

But if those decoders and controllers could be retained and used with a wireless interface for control and induction charging of locos' batteries - wherever they stop to pick up "water"?

 

I would never have guessed that one day I could get rid of all the cabling between our computers, printers, scanners and routers and use Wifi instead! But now would go back to the old ways?

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Hi David,

 

I think another reason why people aren't particularly interested is because they have already heavily invested in DCC equipment, which doesn't come cheap. I have 9 Loksound and 4 Zimo sound decoders (and still need more) and I'm on my third controller. Add that up and you come to a tidy sum, and that is probably peanuts compared with what other people have spent.

 

Regards,

David

 

I think that you may well be right, David, and why I suspect that the sort of solution offered by Tam Valley Depot may have more of a future as it can be used with existing systems. It may require a European company to develop it for this side of the Atlantic as it would ensure the use of acceptable radio frequencies.

 

David

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But if those decoders and controllers could be retained and used with a wireless interface for control and induction charging of locos' batteries - wherever they stop to pick up "water"?

 

I would never have guessed that one day I could get rid of all the cabling between our computers, printers, scanners and routers and use Wifi instead! But now would go back to the old ways?

 

Agreed. All that stuff under the baseboard does seem a bit twentieth century. :)

 

David

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Interesting stuff. Its very hard to avoid wires two of my live steamers required wires to link the receiver to the servos. Of course if you go for manual control instead of radio you can dispense with the wires. Having got used to it with the live steamers and also all the stuff that comes with remotes something you could point and control seems to be so natural. The red arrow system looked good and someone made a nice 0 gauge model of Bodmine using it but the system did seem to take off and there was also the issue of adapting the locos. At least in 0 there is a bit of room but unless you go for those large boxy things steam locos really need to be built with the system in mind. Perhaps for tender locos we could find room in the tender for the battery (again would need re-thought to make it accessible) but it would be less easy in small tanks. Compared with that fitting DCC chips is quite easy so that's the way I went. I managed to get a handsfree unit that works with my lens system which solves part of the problem but still leaves track pick-up.

I would suggest that a small reciever -dcc style chip that will provide the control but would need a sophisticated power driver that could work from DCC track supply or DC track supply or on-board battery supply. Coupled with a battery charge unit that could re-charge the battery form either supply and ideally be able to cope with a fast charge could make the whole thing highly flexible.

Mind you I cannot see batteries improving ehough for 2mm even if you can get the rest in. Mind you technology keeps improving. My latest Radio control is 2.4GB the transmitter and receiver know each other and find a channnel that no one else is using to avoid conflicts. No more changing crystals and all that.

Don

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  • 2 years later...

I have been aware of Protocab since it's first outing at Scaleforum North but the batteries seemed rather large.

Had an in depth look at Scaleforum North 2015 and am now completely sold.

It will mean that I require a vehicle permanantly coupled to my locos but a price worth paying.

Anyone looking for(unused)DCC gear?

Jim

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Thank you Ben and Jim for your comments.. and good to see you at Scalefour North, Jim.

As you can imagine, it's been somewhat hectic since we announced prices and opened the 'shop' for preorders. We took back a strong message that the 1902-703048 battery is fine, but only for the larger 4mm and small to medium 7mm locos and the 4mm modellers need a smaller battery. Did you see the 240mAh one we had on the stand? We're currently assessing it and getting some positive results so we'll be making a decision on whether to add it to the range as soon as possible.

Hope you enjoyed the front cover of the update! The weather hasn't been as good since!

 

Best regards

 

Tony Hagon

Acc+Ess Ltd

(Protocab)

Bowermadden

Scotland

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  • 4 months later...

I really believe this is the stuff of the future.  One thought I would have is based on the experimental program the Koreans are doing for a bus transit system (assuming I understand the info provided correctly).  Specifically, could several sections of track be powered with a fixed voltage that is picked up by the loco and used to charge the on board battery.  You still would not have to worry about continuity or polarity and it would allow for the use of smaller batteries.

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I really believe this is the stuff of the future.  One thought I would have is based on the experimental program the Koreans are doing for a bus transit system (assuming I understand the info provided correctly).  Specifically, could several sections of track be powered with a fixed voltage that is picked up by the loco and used to charge the on board battery.  You still would not have to worry about continuity or polarity and it would allow for the use of smaller batteries.

 

IIRC, Tony has suggested this is a possibility for the future, but I guess that depends more on miniature battery technology. He has already found an even smaller battery, which is likely to be available from launch. But it will still be quite an exercise to install that and the controller in small 00 locos - possible, as his voluntary testers have shown - but much harder, relatively, than just installing a DCC chip. Then, once he adds sound to the functionality, even more of a problem. I think that is where this system will rise or fall, as a mass commercial item. It may be much more successful in 0 gauge and larger, at least initially.

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I think the success will depend on adaptability.  For most indoor  layouts the system should default to stop when radio connection is lost

 

However in my garden it needs to default to continue at the last setting until contact s resumed.  I have several radio dead spots on my layout including a tunnel a couple of meters long under 18" of soil so I am watching developments.  

 

I might even dig the track out from under the ivy and have a go at restoring it if this new system looks like it will work

 

The key is probably in using 3 volts or 4.5 volts for the motors and using 5 volt computer motors rather than 12 volt motors intended for  model railways.  3 decent AA or AAA rechargable batteries will run a 00 diesel and 7 coaches for a couple of my sessions without recharging though at a scale 40 to 60 mph rather than HST speeds.

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I think the success will depend on adaptability.  For most indoor  layouts the system should default to stop when radio connection is lost

 

However in my garden it needs to default to continue at the last setting until contact s resumed.  I have several radio dead spots on my layout including a tunnel a couple of meters long under 18" of soil so I am watching developments.  

 

I might even dig the track out from under the ivy and have a go at restoring it if this new system looks like it will work

 

The key is probably in using 3 volts or 4.5 volts for the motors and using 5 volt computer motors rather than 12 volt motors intended for  model railways.  3 decent AA or AAA rechargable batteries will run a 00 diesel and 7 coaches for a couple of my sessions without recharging though at a scale 40 to 60 mph rather than HST speeds.

Perhaps the problem will be the loco control units are apparently designed to deliver 12 volts from a single battery through i think an integrated voltage regulator which boosts the battery voltage? Some of my locos when under full load draw over 400mA so the initial loco control unit release won't be suitable for those. For me the key is better battery technology, not surprisingly large capacity batteries that can run a loco for many hours but smaller batteries that can last a useful length of time, in my case 20-30 minutes.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Maybe the answer is not to try to make this work with 12-20 volt RtR mechs but for someone to produce Ready to Run chassis using this system. as a demo. A dual power bogie class 37 chassis  to take the Lima body maybe.  1961 to 2015 timescale...   Or a Gronk.  A GWR big Prairie chassis would be ideal as they were extensively used as bankers so your R/C banker could bank a DC or DCC train as a demo.

The difficulty with high voltage is that cells are typically 1.5 volts so you need 8 for 12 volts while my 37s run line speed on 2 cells around 3 volts using CD Tray motors, with easy room for 4 AA cells. Trying for 12 volts you are talking button cells and a whole lot less energy stored for the available space.  I am fairly sure a CD tray motor is smaller than H/D Wrenn pole pieces so with an extension piece on the armature and Romford Gears it could fit those Amp guzzling H/D motors so even a H/D Duchess or A4 could be converted, though the cast body might cause R/C reception issues.  

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Neither the voltage, e.g., 3V or 12V, nor the size and shape (AA v button cells), has to affect the amount of energy stored, if other things are equal. For a given battery technology, a given volume can store the same amount of energy, regardless of the battery voltage. There may be inefficiencies due to wasted space in packing multiple cylindrical cells, but other shapes are available.

 

What really matters is how much power the motors need, i.e., how quickly the energy store is depleted.

 

You could use a couple of 2200mAH AA NiMH cell and use a voltage boost circuit to generate whatever higher voltage you want. Discharging at the 1C rate (i.e. discharged in 1 hour, or 2200mA in this case) with a cell voltage of 1.4V at 90% efficiency (should be achievable) would give almost 1/2 Amp at 12V, for an hours running. In practice the run time will be much longer unless you run your trains flat out and never stop them.

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You could use a couple of 2200mAH AA NiMH cell and use a voltage boost circuit to generate whatever higher voltage you want. Discharging at the 1C rate (i.e. discharged in 1 hour, or 2200mA in this case) with a cell voltage of 1.4V at 90% efficiency (should be achievable) would give almost 1/2 Amp at 12V, for an hours running. In practice the run time will be much longer unless you run your trains flat out and never stop them.

in practice the run line would be a good bit less as Nimh discharge is not linear, and varies also with discharge rate .

 

Battery powered locos in under 00 gauge are a ways off, Ill be getting 500km from my electric car first before you'll see  batteries for 00 and smaller as suitable 

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Maybe the answer is not to try to make this work with 12-20 volt RtR mechs but for someone to produce Ready to Run chassis using this system. as a demo. A dual power bogie class 37 chassis  to take the Lima body maybe.  1961 to 2015 timescale...   Or a Gronk.  A GWR big Prairie chassis would be ideal as they were extensively used as bankers so your R/C banker could bank a DC or DCC train as a demo.

 

Funny, weren't that sort of prototype originally selected for models, because the body work could easily disguise a larger clockwork mechanism?

 

We seem to have gone full circle!

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