Protocab control system

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Buelligan
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Protocab control system

Postby Buelligan » Sun May 03, 2020 1:38 pm

Hi all, I wasn't sure which forum to post this in, so if a mod could please move it to the correct place.

I've been watching some old BRM DVDs and saw an interview with a company called protocabs, who make a battery powered, radio controlled system, for the control of locos. This would seem to me to be the perfect solution to an outdoor OO gauge garden railway, less need for keeping tracks clean, and the wireless control would be perfect for controlling from within the shed, or a chair on the patio etc.

My question is (and I have done a search on the forum but it only returned 3 results), has anyone here got 1st hand experience of this system? Is it a reliable system? The cost is expensive per loco, but I feel personally, that while DCC doesn't offer me anything I'm interested in, but at an extra cost, the RC battery powered system would offer a huge benefit.

Thanks in advance for any replies,

Derrick.

Bigmet
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Re: Protocab control system

Postby Bigmet » Sun May 03, 2020 2:21 pm

Thread probably belongs down in the basement where 'electronics' lurks.

There are plenty of alternatives available, and you would be wise to take a good look around. Run a Google (other search engines are available) search on 'radio control model railway' and you will have a week of reading.

As far as I can see, we are still at the 'fumbling around for an ideal solution' stage: no maker has come up with a killer package that makes it the obvious way to go, there is a field of competing and incompatible options.

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Bufferstop
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Re: Protocab control system

Postby Bufferstop » Sun May 03, 2020 3:35 pm

The batteries that would be required to pull a train, assuming unpowered rails would solve the stay alive problem, the rails would be close enough to pick up the DCC signals from the rails (minimal change required to hardware) and you are ready to go. Shame about the batteries but it might work in gauge1 or bigger.

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Bufferstop
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Re: Protocab control system

Postby Bufferstop » Sun May 03, 2020 3:44 pm

Basement, Electronics, DCC and other weird stuff. Mind the doors please.
Growing old, can't avoid it. Growing up, forget it!
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Bigmet
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Re: Protocab control system

Postby Bigmet » Mon May 04, 2020 10:04 am

The main problems with radio control for model railway have been that those proposing such systems tend to think in terms of application to the operation of free vehicles, whether on air, land or water, making it vital to have a secure control link and adequate power supply endurance on board, and typically only operating one vehicle at a time (BORING!) with a prep process in advance of operation (BORING!) and then 'pack-up' when the vehicle is recovered (BORING!).

Our key differences:
A model railway has to have a pair of metal wires for the vehicles to run on which positively restrain the vehicles from 'wandering off' in the event of signal interference: there is no 'imminent catastrophe problem' as an 'all stop' command is available.
Relatively few of those interested in operating a model railway run just one loco at time.
We typically have numerous locos of very variable size on the layout, due to our obsession with constant scale. Compactness of the system on the loco is very important, you cannot simply make the loco to a larger scale to accomodate bulky kit.
The layout typically has track systems - points, etc. - to be operated as well as the locos.
We have long been accustomed to control systems which make any loco go the moment it is selected, and free access from single or multiple control interfaces (as the constructor decides) to all the layout operations.
Since electric operation was introduced as standard a century ago we have no power endurance problem on the locos.
Handling locos is the main way that detail is damaged or degraded, therefore 'hands off' the models is preferable.

There is an established control system which handles all the above factors very well - not perfectly, there is room for improvement - but any credible alternative therefore has to start by matching or exceeding all the current system benefits, as well as offering yet further advantage. No going backwards in other words, clunkfests such as binding specific locos to specific low capacity control interfaces is a poor joke: better tech is already in use.

It's a tough hill to climb. The major advantages that a new control system might potentially offer is considerable layout wiring simplification, and the option for operation over electrically dead track: but the power for fixed installations such as operation of points still has to be provided, there's only so much wiring can be eliminated. The solution is simple in concept. We have to have track: run the power supply bus exactly as DCC but connecting to the plain track rails only with connections to the point motors, not the point rails; and have a small capacity constantly recharging energy storage on each loco to overcome poor pick up and keep running over the short dead sections such as points. Commands broadcast as packets specific to each loco receiver and decoder, and via the track network to decoders on fixed structure such as the point motors, which also run on track power. It's conceivably an extension to DCC, and that must pose a threat to a good alternative R/C based system: the installed base of DCC could be offered an upgrade to all the potential R/C benefits if such a competitor emerged.

Buelligan
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Re: Protocab control system

Postby Buelligan » Tue May 05, 2020 8:30 pm

Thanks for the replies. I have previously searched looked for RC control systems, but struggled to find much that would work for OO gauge. I did find a site selling components, taking a very simple approach, using the methods employed on RC cars, boats planes etc. But that's not ideal, as those type of controls wouldn't be easy to use.

It's specifically the protocabs system I liked the look of, as it seemed to offer the ability to control multiple engines on the same track, thus allowing me to run a slow goods train into a passing loop, out of the way of a fast moving non stop express. The main selling point for me was the onboard power, rather than having to keep the rails outside clean, and it removes the need for soldering wires to every length of track. Points were planned to be minimal, so that control would be manual, but if decided I could fairly easily knock up a battery powered system for each point, using the selection of old servos I've got in a drawer. The servos being good quality marine units, should fair well outside.

I shall continue to look into it, and try and see if there are any alternative systems I like the look of.

As an aside, I am also toying with the idea of a solar powered unit that can just go around on its own without control, with a small battery to get it through the shade of the shed.

Bigmet
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Re: Protocab control system

Postby Bigmet » Wed May 06, 2020 12:48 pm

Avoiding the need for cleaning the rails outdoors as a benefit of onboard power won't work. I had OO outdoors, and you have to inspect the track run before operation, and clean as required to eliminate what nature can and will deposit on the track. One grain of sand in a point crossing, and there's a derailment. Leaves on the line, bird droppings, snails, all sorts of stuff arrives! It's great fun and I would be outside now were it not for the woodland widlife ripping track up in our present location. (In a previous location on a regular urban street, never had this trouble.)

I have seen one r/c system in development in the USA that appears to be 'more like it' because it is designed by a railway modeller, but cannot think of the name at present, and am not at my usual machine to find it. (Sort of personal 'double lockdown' at present with limited facilities!)

Solar powered, now there's a thing...

Buelligan
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Re: Protocab control system

Postby Buelligan » Fri May 08, 2020 10:52 am

Bigmet wrote:Avoiding the need for cleaning the rails outdoors as a benefit of onboard power won't work. I had OO outdoors, and you have to inspect the track run before operation, and clean as required to eliminate what nature can and will deposit on the track. One grain of sand in a point crossing, and there's a derailment. Leaves on the line, bird droppings, snails, all sorts of stuff arrives! It's great fun and I would be outside now were it not for the woodland widlife ripping track up in our present location. (In a previous location on a regular urban street, never had this trouble.)

I have seen one r/c system in development in the USA that appears to be 'more like it' because it is designed by a railway modeller, but cannot think of the name at present, and am not at my usual machine to find it. (Sort of personal 'double lockdown' at present with limited facilities!)

Solar powered, now there's a thing...



Thanks, I know I'll need to keep it clean from those sort of things, though not many trees here so leaves on the line shouldn't affect my rail services... It was more the general grime from wheels I was thinking of. Ideally I'd have it wired for the live steam, which leaves oil and dirt on the track, so would give it a good clean prior to running the LS, and then general running from battery powered RC.

The solar power is just a small project I've been thinking of since I came across some very small solar panels on a website. About £1.50 each, something to have a play with and see if I can make it work. I did also consider a normal loco on track, with a solar panel wired up to the track.

Aeromole
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Re: Protocab control system

Postby Aeromole » Thu Jul 30, 2020 9:26 am

Hi.
I've had Protocab for a while now. I think it is great, but not without its limitations. I model in Scale7, using CSB suspensions and ball bearings in place of plain brass. The benefits of not having to worry about insulating wheels/frames etc are wonderful, and as for dispensing with those antediluvian pickups...just wonderful. I'm not a heavy runner, but battery power does not seem a problem. Running multiple locos is also no problem. What I do have a problem with is bigger locos which are naturally heavier and require bigger motors, and I can easily exceed the stall current capability of the loco control unit. Protocab are working on this, but progress is slow (and not helped by C-19!)
I've also tried Deltang - again it worked, but required a lot more fiddling to get it to run reliably.
I'm currently wondering whether to experiment with Brian Jones' kit for the bigger locos, but will probably go back to Protocab when they get their big LCUs working.
Pete

Bigmet
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Re: Protocab control system

Postby Bigmet » Thu Jul 30, 2020 10:17 am

Welcome Pete, and a storming first post!

Your need for greater power output for larger locos: is there a facility to add a second (or more) 'slave' control units to a master receiver unit, in order to double (or more) the current output to the motor? It seems such an obvious work around, but when I have asked of those using and producing such systems the usual answer is of the form 'we don't do it like that'. I cannot see an obstacle in principle, and in 7mm there is less likely to be the space issue that might make this impractical in smaller scales.

I will admit to being a little impatient with the r/c thing for model railway, see fairly lengthy post of May 4th. It potentially has much to offer, but development seems to me hampered by both a large quantity of preconception not wholly applicable to model railway, and some infestation with dogmatic lumber of the 'true believer' variety: ONLY r/c and onboard power (dead rail) is acceptable.

'The solution' that I want is a completely flexible system that will run conventional DCC - or an equivalent of equal or better performance - on the powered rails, and the option for receiver/decoder with battery equipped locos: all seamlessly from a single control system: but so far no one is going there. Then I can have the one extra thing I want on the layout that DCC cannot do, run a loco under control over completely rusted over rails (the stub of an old branch line). If no such commercial product turns up, then when I am free of current commitments, and assuming I still have the energy, I will just have to develop it myself!

Aeromole
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Re: Protocab control system

Postby Aeromole » Fri Jul 31, 2020 3:25 pm

Hi Bigmet.
Not sure what you mean by a second slave unit...unless you are talking about multiple motors. I was more toying with the idea of putting a current limiting device between the control unit and the motor.....oh, and reducing the weight of the loco! The problem is just on startup, when the stall current rises before the motor can start rotating. I was astounded to learn that the Mashima 1833 has a stall current of over 2A - no wonder microelectronics 'don't like it up 'em!'

The big selling points for me was that I don't need to use a month's output of a Zambian copper mine to supply the layout, I don't have to worry about dirty rails or wheels, I haven't got to include rubbing contacts in the loco design and I don't have to insulating everything! Currrent locos in build are S&D 4Fs, and in addition to CSB suspension and axle ball races, there is working inside motion. Not much room inside for pickups.

I know DCC has come a long way, particularly with stay-alive circuits, and it currently offers more in the way of sound etc., but I'm now committed to r/c. Protocab's development plans look good too, and potentially could match DCC functionality. At the end of the day, we are just talking about two functions - provision of a power source and transmission of digital signals to a microprocessor. However their progress - particularly recently - has been slow.

Not sure how you would integrate DCC and over-the-air data transfer, though I'm sure it is possible. Easier just to go for over-the-air data transmission as it overcomes rail-delivered transmission problems.

Anyway, back to the day job...... Pete

Bigmet
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Re: Protocab control system

Postby Bigmet » Sun Aug 02, 2020 8:22 pm

Aeromole wrote:...
Not sure how you would integrate DCC and over-the-air data transfer, though I'm sure it is possible. Easier just to go for over-the-air data transmission as it overcomes rail-delivered transmission problems...

Just been alerted to a system that does exactly this, transmits the DCC system signal by radio to in loco receivers, which then relay the signal to the DCC decoder. Choice of loco power supply, including my preferred small battery continuously recharging from the track.

BananaRepublic
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Re: Protocab control system

Postby BananaRepublic » Tue Aug 04, 2020 12:13 am

Bigmet wrote:
.....'The solution' that I want is a completely flexible system that will run conventional DCC - or an equivalent of equal or better performance - on the powered rails, and the option for receiver/decoder with battery equipped locos: all seamlessly from a single control system: but so far no one is going there.....
......If no such commercial product turns up,......


This has all been available for years. Just not here in the U.K.
Wireless transmission of NMRA DCC to battery powered locos, has been available from US DCC manufacturer CVP (makers of Easy-DCC systems) for 20 years or so, with their AirWire system.

NCE used to have their wireless G-Wire throttles, which are just like the PowerCab and ProCab throttles, but transmit DCC signals wirelessly to radio receivers in battery powered locos. Unfortunately they stopped making them several years ago. I think they basically handed this market over to CVP (the systems are compatible).

Tam Valley Depot, of Frog Juicer fame, have their DRS-1 equipment.
This is an add-on system that works with any regular DCC System and all regular DCC decoders.
Basically the tiny transmitter module connects to the DCC system’s track output, or to the track bus. The receivers fit inside the loco and connect to both a battery power supply and also the the DCC decoder.
You get the full array of DCC functions, including sound, for sound fitted locos.
You can also simultaneously control trains via regular track powered DCC and other trains wirelessly.
The downside is the requirement for onboard space to fit the batteries and the extra receiver module.

Look at Ring Engineering’s RailPro system.
This is a true successor to DCC as a regular digital control system. Unfortunately, unlike DCC it’s a proprietary system without universal standards and it’s only sold within the USA.
However, RailPro is now fully compatible with DCC decoders.
The system uses the track to provide motive power (you can use either DC or DCC fixed voltage track power), but the control signals are transmitted directly to and from the train and accessory decoders using a modern high speed, two way, industry standard protocol.
On-board battery power is also now an option, as it doesn’t affect how the control signal part of the system works.
The two-way data network allows locos to automatically talk to one another when formed into a consist, and they then speed match themselves in real time whilst operating within that consist. No more manual speed matching or messing around with CV’s. You don’t have to do anything at all.

Then there are the “system less” systems. i.e. app based control systems that use a smartphone or tablet, or other type of throttle, to communicate directly with the decoders inside the locos.
No expensive trackside hardware, such as command stations and boosters. All that’s required is a source of motive power, which is either provided via the track (fixed voltage), or from on-board batteries.
There are both Bluetooth and WiFi based systems available.
Look up BlueRail Trains and WiFiTrax.
BlueRail Trains original decoders (they call them boards) were completely proprietary, but they’ve now overhauled the product to work with DCC, including sound.
The battery powered version is already available and a “known” sound decoder manufacturer is developing DCC sound decoders with a Bluetooth receiver module built-in to the chip.

Stuff like Protocab is positively archaic and very limited in comparison with all these options.
Totally ill-conceived.
It’s a clunkfest dead end.


Q

Aeromole
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Re: Protocab control system

Postby Aeromole » Tue Aug 04, 2020 12:50 pm

Very interesting!

gppsoftware
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Re: Protocab control system

Postby gppsoftware » Tue Aug 11, 2020 7:49 am

Personally, I think what is on the market at the moment is rather in its infancy and fairly typical of the 'we got it to just about work so we'll push it on the market'.

There are standards for radio control and given that we control of model locos digitally, I think we should stop 'small thinking' and adopt proper computer industry technology.

By that, I mean that digital communications should be wireless using proper wifi as used by our computers.
Power source should be optional: either from an on-board battery or 16VAC from the rails.

If we want to run conventional DCC, then our command station can output it on the rails as now. It wouldn't be too hard to manufacture a command station which outputs DCC to the rails and wifi for radio-enabled locos. The wifi communications would need to be standardised.

We need to get away from proprietary 'standards' - all they do is lock us in to technological debt of which DCC is already limited by 1980's thinking by definition of not having a proper ISO 7 layer communications stack.

Graham Plowman


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