US20140360399A1 - Wireless model railroad control system - Google Patents

Wireless model railroad control system Download PDF

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US20140360399A1
US20140360399A1 US14/294,990 US201414294990A US2014360399A1 US 20140360399 A1 US20140360399 A1 US 20140360399A1 US 201414294990 A US201414294990 A US 201414294990A US 2014360399 A1 US2014360399 A1 US 2014360399A1
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control
wireless transceiver
transceiver circuit
wireless
locomotive
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Abandoned
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US14/294,990
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David Rees
Pete Skeggs
Eric Laun
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BlueRail Trains LLC
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BlueRail Trains LLC
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Priority to US14/294,990 priority patent/US20140360399A1/en
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Publication of US20140360399A1 publication Critical patent/US20140360399A1/en
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    • AHUMAN NECESSITIES
    • A63SPORTS; GAMES; AMUSEMENTS
    • A63HTOYS, e.g. TOPS, DOLLS, HOOPS, BUILDING BLOCKS
    • A63H19/00Model railways
    • A63H19/24Electric toy railways; Systems therefor
    • AHUMAN NECESSITIES
    • A63SPORTS; GAMES; AMUSEMENTS
    • A63HTOYS, e.g. TOPS, DOLLS, HOOPS, BUILDING BLOCKS
    • A63H19/00Model railways
    • A63H19/24Electric toy railways; Systems therefor
    • A63H2019/246Remote controls

Abstract

A control system for a model railroad includes a wireless transceiver circuit, associated with a model railroad device, and control software, operable upon a general purpose wireless smart device, comprising programming code for bidirectional wireless communication with the wireless transceiver circuit. The wireless transceiver circuit includes a control circuit, configured for controlling operation of the model railroad device, and a communication unit, configured for bidirectional communication between the wireless transceiver circuit and the general purpose wireless smart device. The control software is configured for allowing user commands entered via the general purpose wireless smart device to control operation of the control circuit.

Description

    PRIORITY CLAIM
  • The present application claims priority from U.S. Provisional Application Ser. No. 61/833,500, filed on Jun. 11, 2013, and entitled ELECTRIC TRAIN BLUETOOTH SMART READY DEVICE INTERFACE, the disclosure of which is incorporated by reference herein in its entirety.
  • FIELD OF THE DISCLOSURE
  • The present application relates to devices for controlling model trains. More particularly, the present application relates to a system and method for controlling model trains using a wireless-enabled device.
  • BACKGROUND
  • A typical model train set, available in toy and hobby stores, generally includes an electric transformer, model railroad track having conductive metal rails, and a model train that includes locomotive having a DC electric motor and a number of model railroad cars. Users can control the direction and speed of the locomotive (and any attached railroad cars) on the track using the transformer. These affordable train sets have been popular for many years, offering a limited amount of fun and control at a low price. Model terrain and scenery, along with model buildings and other features can be added to turn a simple train set into a complete model railroad layout, which can be as elaborate as the individual desires.
  • Many years ago, model railroad enthusiasts improved operation of the typical train set through block control. Block control involves electrically isolating blocks of model railroad track, and using electrical switches to allow selective switching of power and control of any particular block of track between multiple electric transformers. This allows multiple trains to be operated simultaneously, but only on electrically separate blocks of track. It also requires a separate transformer for control of each train.
  • As an improvement over block control, in recent decades model railroaders have begun using Digital Command Control (“DCC”) systems, which allow for greater control, versatility and realism in model railroad operation. Shown in FIG. 1 is a diagram of a prior art DCC model railroad control system 10. In this system 10, digital commands are sent from a remote control 21 to a command station 22 which encodes and transmits corresponding signals through the model railroad track 25. The track is continuously powered via a transformer 23, while the strength of the digital command signals is boosted by a signal booster 24. The control signals are uniquely coded for one and only one locomotive 30. Thus, while multiple locomotives may be operating on the same track, each locomotive responds only to the commands that are specifically coded for it.
  • On board the locomotive 30, a decoder circuit 26 decodes the signals and allows for control of the DC motor 27, allowing motion of the locomotive. The decoder circuit 26 can control other systems as well (based on signals sent via the command station 22), such as a sound board 29, and a light 28, which are also part of the locomotive 30. By manipulating the Remote Control 21 the user can control the speed and direction of the locomotive, as well as sound, lights and other train accessories.
  • DCC systems add realism and increased control to model railroading, but they have some notable drawbacks. First, DCC systems can be expensive and technically difficult to put together. They include many components, and are beyond the expense and effort that many people might want to invest in a model railroad. Additionally, the remote control 21 can be bulky, and usually includes a variety of buttons and dials and a small screen to display data, or it may include a touch screen. A user's experience can be somewhat restricted by this interface, and it has been found that the user interfaces of many existing DCC remote control devices are considered inadequate by many of today's tech-savvy smart phone users, who are accustomed to dynamic visual displays and controls as found in modern smart phones.
  • A variety of DCC systems are commercially available, and various aspects of DCC systems are disclosed and claimed in various U.S. and foreign patents. A variety of developments and improvements have been made to DCC systems in recent years, such as concerning the design and features of remote control and input devices, aspects related to radio frequency interference, communication modes, etc. Some of these developments have the potential to provide an improved user experience, but they are still firmly tethered to the DCC world, requiring the purchase and implementation of all equipment associated with a DCC system.
  • It can be more complicated and expensive to put together a DCC system than it is to buy, put together, and use a basic train set. It is thus surprising that more attempts have not been made to develop cheaper, simpler solutions more suitable to today's consumer. This may be because DCC systems were first developed and adopted more than twenty years ago, using the technology available at the time, resulting in what is now an established industry with a host of standard products. It appears that this industry has not contemplated revisiting the entire architecture that underlies the system. As a result, quality model railroading experiences currently appear to be limited to model railroaders who are willing to spend the money and devote the time required to install a DCC system, and who are satisfied holding a large plastic handheld remote control.
  • The present application is directed toward one or more of the above-referenced issues.
  • SUMMARY
  • It has been recognized that it would be desirable to have a model railroad control system that allows users to have a more satisfying model train user experience that is simple to use and easily controlled by the common wireless devices such as smart phones.
  • It has also been recognized that it would be desirable to have a model railroad control system that is affordable and simpler to install and implement than typical DCC systems.
  • In accordance with one embodiment thereof, the present application provides a control system for a model railroad, including a wireless transceiver circuit, associated with a model railroad device, and control software, downloadable upon a general purpose wireless smart device, comprising programming code for bidirectional wireless communication with the wireless transceiver circuit. The wireless transceiver circuit includes a control circuit, configured for controlling operation of the model railroad device, and a communication unit, configured for bidirectional communication between the wireless transceiver circuit and the general purpose wireless smart device. The control software is configured for allowing user commands entered via the general purpose wireless smart device to control operation of the control circuit.
  • In accordance with a more detailed embodiment thereof, the model railroad device can be selected from the group consisting of a locomotive motor, a sound generating device, a light, a turnout, a crossing signal, and a railroad signal. The model railroad device can be associated with any one of a locomotive, a tender, a railroad car, a turnout, a signal and a building. The wireless transceiver circuit and the general purpose wireless smart device can be configured to communicate via a simplified connectivity, low-energy, wireless communication protocol, such as Bluetooth Smart.
  • In accordance with another embodiment thereof, the present application provides a method for wirelessly controlling a model railroad device. The method includes providing a model railroad device with a wireless transceiver circuit, and transmitting control signals effective to control the control circuit from a general purpose wireless smart device to the wireless transceiver circuit. The wireless transceiver circuit includes a control circuit, configured for controlling operation of the model railroad device, and a communication unit, configured for bidirectional communication between the wireless transceiver circuit and a general purpose wireless smart device. The general purpose wireless smart device includes control software comprising programming code for bidirectional wireless communication with the wireless transceiver circuit.
  • In accordance with yet another embodiment thereof, the present application provides a model railroad locomotive, including a motor, configured to drive a set of locomotive wheels upon rails using electrical power transmitted through the rails, and a wireless transceiver circuit, adapted for wireless communication with a general purpose wireless smart device. The wireless transceiver circuit includes a control circuit, configured for controlling the motor, and a communication unit, configured for bidirectional communication between the wireless transceiver circuit and the general purpose wireless smart device. The general purpose wireless smart device includes software comprising programming code for allowing user commands entered via the general purpose wireless smart device to control the control circuit.
  • BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS
  • Additional features and advantages of the invention will be apparent from the detailed description which follows, taken in conjunction with the accompanying drawings, which together illustrate, by way of example, features of the invention, and wherein:
  • FIG. 1 is a schematic diagram of a prior art DCC system;
  • FIG. 2 is a schematic diagram of an embodiment of a wireless electric train control system in accordance with the present disclosure;
  • FIGS. 3A and 3B are schematic diagrams of a wireless transceiver circuit located in a secondary railroad car;
  • FIG. 4 is a schematic diagram of one embodiment of a wireless transceiver circuit that can be used in a wireless electric train control system in accordance with the present disclosure;
  • FIG. 5 is a block diagram of an embodiment of firmware for a wireless transceiver circuit for a wireless electric train control system in accordance with the present disclosure;
  • FIG. 6A is a logic flow diagram for software operating on a general purpose wireless smart device for a wireless electric train control system in accordance with the present disclosure;
  • FIG. 6B is a logic flow diagram for an embodiment of the software associated with the wireless transceiver circuit for a wireless electric train control system in accordance with the present disclosure;
  • FIGS. 7A-7D are views of exemplary display and interface screens that can be provided on a general purpose wireless smart device associated with a wireless electric train control system in accordance with the present disclosure;
  • FIG. 7E is an exemplary display and interface screen of a general purpose wireless smart device, shown schematically with a system for controlling a variety of model railroad layout accessories;
  • FIG. 8 is a schematic diagram of the circuitry of an embodiment of a wireless transceiver circuit with an IMU (inertial measurement unit);
  • FIG. 9 is a schematic diagram of the circuitry of an embodiment of a wireless transceiver circuit with a soundcard;
  • FIG. 10 is a schematic diagram of the circuitry of an embodiment of a wireless transceiver circuit with a micro video camera;
  • FIG. 11 is a schematic diagram of the circuitry of an embodiment of a wireless transceiver circuit with a wireless network connection;
  • FIG. 12 is schematic diagram of an embodiment of a wireless electric train control system in accordance with the present disclosure in which a user at a remote location operates a model train via an Internet connection;
  • FIG. 13 is a schematic diagram of an embodiment of a wireless transceiver circuit that associated with the last car of a train;
  • While the disclosure is susceptible to various modifications and alternative forms, specific embodiments have been shown by way of example in the drawings and will be described in detail herein. However, it should be understood that the disclosure is not intended to be limited to the particular forms disclosed. Rather, the intention is to cover all modifications, equivalents and alternatives falling within the spirit and scope of the invention as defined by the appended claims.
  • DETAILED DESCRIPTION
  • Reference will now be made to exemplary embodiments illustrated in the drawings, and specific language will be used herein to describe the same. It will nevertheless be understood that no limitation of the scope of the invention is thereby intended. Alterations and further modifications of the inventive features illustrated herein, and additional applications of the principles of the inventions as illustrated herein, which would occur to one skilled in the relevant art and having possession of this disclosure, are to be considered within the scope of the invention.
  • As noted above, DCC systems add realism and increased control to model railroading, but they can be expensive and complicated, and present a variety of other limitations. Advantageously, as disclosed herein, a system and method for controlling model trains and other devices has been developed that uses a general purpose wireless-enabled smart device, allowing ubiquitous smart phone or similar devices to function as model railroad control devices. In accordance with one embodiment thereof, the present disclosure provides a wireless-enabled interface that allows one or more aspects of the model railroad to be controlled directly by any general purpose wireless smart device.
  • An overview of one embodiment of a wireless model railroad control system configured in accordance with the present disclosure is provided in FIG. 2. This system generally includes a wireless transceiver circuit 35, which is configured for bi-directional wireless communication with a general purpose wireless smart device 37, such as a smart phone. The wireless transceiver circuit 35 is an electronic circuit device (i.e. an electronic circuit including electronic components mounted upon a printed circuit board) that is wireless-enabled to send and receive communications with a wireless-enabled device, and can be used to control or affect a variety of connected devices. The general purpose wireless smart device 37 can also be referred to as a Bluetooth Smart Ready Device. As used herein, the terms “wireless transceiver circuit” and “general purpose wireless smart device” both refer to respective wireless-enabled devices, and the term “general purpose wireless smart device” encompasses wireless-enabled devices having user interface features and on which operating software can be selectively loaded to enable the exchange of wireless signals with the wireless transceiver circuit.
  • Although wireless communication has been around for a long time, there have been few applications of model trains connecting wirelessly with smart phones or other smart devices, probably because of cost and complexity. As will be appreciated by those of skill in the art, there are a variety of digital wireless transmission standards, including Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and NFC. Wi-Fi is a wireless technology that is popularly used to create private and public networks that can be accessed by personal computers, game consoles, smartphones and TV set-top boxes. One advantage of Wi-Fi is that it provides a relatively wide bandwidth. It is notable, however, that Wi-Fi connections involve connecting to an available network, which may be password protected. For example, Wi-Fi control of a model train involves logging both the model train and the wireless smart device (e.g. smart phone) onto the Wi-Fi network, which involves configuration. This configuration includes informing the model train of the name and password of the Wi-Fi network, which can be difficult because the train has no direct interface for entering data (i.e. there is no keypad or touchscreen on a model locomotive). Additionally, some suggested systems for Wi-Fi train control use Wi-Fi components to connect through a standard DCC system, which simply adds to the cost and complexity of the system. For these and other reasons, Wi-Fi, though it is fully capable of providing a platform for model train control, has not become a popular train control system.
  • Bluetooth is a wireless technology standard for exchanging data over short distances using short-wavelength UHF radio frequency transmissions in the unlicensed Industrial, Scientific and Medical (ISM) short-range radio frequency band from 2.4 to 2.485 GHz. To be marketed as a Bluetooth device, a device must be qualified to standards defined by the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) and a license must be obtained. Bluetooth can be used by both fixed and mobile devices, can be used to build personal area networks, and can connect several devices simultaneously using various master and slave protocols that are part of the Bluetooth specification. In general, Bluetooth is a standard wire-replacement communications protocol that is primarily designed for low-power consumption, with a short range based on low-cost transceiver microchips in each device. Because Bluetooth devices use a radio communications system, they do not have to be in visual line-of-sight of each other.
  • Recently, some newer versions of Bluetooth have been developed that are particularly well suited to the system and method disclosed herein. Bluetooth Smart, also known as Bluetooth LE (Low Energy) and Bluetooth 4.0, is a low-energy, power efficient version of Bluetooth offering simplified connectivity with modern smart devices. One of the advantages of Bluetooth Smart is its ability to quickly connect and disconnect with other compatible wireless devices without the user “pairing” or configuring the connection. Another advantage of Bluetooth Smart is that it does not depend upon the existence of a Wi-Fi or other wireless network to operate. A Bluetooth Smart device generates its own personal area network with a range of up to about 150 feet. For these reasons, Bluetooth Smart is considered to be a desirable solution for connecting to a model train. In general terms, Bluetooth Smart can be described as a simplified connectivity, low-energy wireless communication protocol. Thus, as used herein, the terms “Bluetooth” and “Bluetooth Smart” are to be understood to refer to any simplified connectivity, low-energy wireless communication protocol, whether a Bluetooth system or some other system.
  • For purposes of this disclosure, the terms “Bluetooth Smart Ready Device” and “general purpose wireless smart device” are interchangeable, and refer to any wireless-enabled smart device. For simplicity of use, however, the term “smart phone” is frequently used herein to denote these types of devices, a smart phone being an example of such a device. These terms are used herein to refer to any device that is capable of wireless digital communications under any applicable standard or protocol, including Bluetooth Smart, the device also including microprocessing and user interface capabilities that are sufficient for the application disclosed herein. Thus, a Bluetooth Smart Ready Device or in other words a general purpose wireless smart device or “smart phone” is any general purpose microprocessor-controlled device having short range wireless radio-frequency transmission capabilities according to the Bluetooth wireless transmission standard or any other wireless transmission standard, and which also includes software download and operational capabilities and user interface devices that allow manipulation and input by a user. Such devices include (but are not limited to) smart phones, tablets, PCs, TVs, set-top boxes, and game consoles. These types of devices are part of a growing list of products that are capable of connecting with other wireless-enabled devices. Because of the efficiency and increasing compatibility in connecting other devices to these products, they are considered “Smart.” While the term “smart phone” is used herein, it is to be understood that devices other than typical smart phones are suitable for use in this way.
  • Referring again to FIG. 2, the wireless model railroad control system 20 includes the wireless transceiver circuit 35 positioned inside a model train locomotive 40. Power from the tracks 36 (e.g. 24 Volts DC) enters the wireless transceiver circuit 35 at the rail terminals 42. The wireless transceiver circuit 35 communicates wirelessly with a general purpose wireless smart device, such as a smart phone 37. This general purpose wireless smart device could be any of the types of smart devices listed above.
  • The smart phone 37 runs a software application that identifies the wireless transceiver circuit 35 and allows a user to wirelessly connect to the wireless transceiver circuit 35 for control purposes. The smart phone 37 includes a display 80, which can provide the user with a graphical user interface that displays information regarding operation of the locomotive 40, such as its speed and direction. In addition, as discussed in more detail below, the display can provide additional information, such as information regarding the position and orientation of the locomotive on the train layout, how hard the motor 38 is working to maintain speed, and the on/off status or level of accessories (such as lights and sound), etc. Using the smart phone 37 to send signals to the wireless transceiver circuit 35, the user is able to control the direction and speed of the locomotive 40, as well as control the light and sound accessories and other features.
  • The wireless transceiver circuit 35 receives the user's input regarding speed and direction and adjusts the polarity of the motor 38 and sends an appropriate amount of power to the motor 38 via the motor terminals 43. The user's input regarding light is similarly used to provide power to the light 41 via the light terminals 46. In the same way, the user can activate a sound device 39 on the locomotive 40 by controlling the output to the sound terminals 44. The user can essentially drive the locomotive 40 using the smart phone 37 and control various electronic components including (but not limited to) the motor 38, lights 41, and sounds 39.
  • Another embodiment of a wireless transceiver circuit 50 is illustrated in FIG. 3A and in more detail in FIG. 3B. Referring to FIG. 3A, the wireless transceiver circuit 50 is located in the tender 52, which runs behind the locomotive 54. The locomotive 54 and the tender 52 have a connecting cable 56 running between them, which contains multiple pairs of wires. Referring to FIG. 3B it can be seen that the wire pairs connect the various components of the locomotive to the wireless transceiver circuit 50. The wireless transceiver circuit 50 can be essentially the same as the wireless transceiver circuit 35 in FIG. 2, though it can include some different features and characteristics, as described herein. Power from the tracks 36 enters the wireless transceiver circuit 50 at the rail terminals 58. Again the wireless transceiver circuit 50 communicates wirelessly with a smart phone 37. The wireless transceiver circuit 50 receives the user's input and routes power to the various electronic components as needed to control the train. Speed and direction commands provide the proper power and polarity to the motor 60 via the motor terminals 62. Activation of the locomotive sound 64 is accomplished by controlling power to the locomotive sound terminals 66. Similarly the tender sound device 68 is controlled by the tender sound terminals 70. Power to the light 72 on the locomotive 54 is controlled by the light terminals 74.
  • The embodiment of FIGS. 3A and 3B can be very useful in circumstances where the body of the locomotive 54 has no room inside to physically accommodate the wireless transceiver circuit 50. In such a case, the wireless transceiver circuit 50 can be housed in a secondary car. In the embodiment of FIGS. 3A and 3B, the secondary car is the tender 52 behind the locomotive 54. However, any type of railroad car or vehicle can be used, such as a boxcar or a non-powered locomotive dummy, for example.
  • A more detailed view of the circuitry of one embodiment of the wireless transceiver circuit 35 is illustrated in FIG. 4. While the circuitry embodiments shown in FIGS. 4 and 8-11 are shown with respect to the wireless transceiver circuit 35, it is to be understood that these alternative embodiments apply to any wireless transceiver circuit shown and described herein, including the wireless transceiver circuit 50 shown in FIGS. 3A and 3B. The wireless transceiver circuit 35 receives AC or DC power from rail terminals 42, which are in contact nearly all the time with powered track (36 in FIGS. 2, 3A-B). The AC or DC power can first enter a power supply circuit 100. The power supply circuit 100 converts the incoming power from AC to DC, if needed, then filters the resulting DC power to remove ripple, as is common in the art. The power supply circuit 100 makes the low-ripple DC power available as a motor supply 101.
  • The power supply circuit 100 further regulates the low-ripple DC power to generate one or more output voltages sufficient for the operation of logic circuits contained in the wireless transceiver circuit 35. In the embodiment of FIG. 4, a 3.3 volt output supply 102 and a 5.0 volt output supply 103 are provided, although other embodiments may involve more or different logic circuit supplies.
  • The wireless transceiver circuit 35 of FIG. 4 contains a microcontroller 104, which comprises a microprocessor device on which a pre-programmed set of instructions 106 a (hereafter referred to as the firmware 106 a) are stored in a non-volatile memory store 106, and can be executed in a step-by-step manner in response to internal or external stimuli. The microcontroller 104 includes a central processing unit 105, the non-volatile memory store 106, and a volatile memory store 107 (commonly referred to as random access memory or RAM). In this embodiment the non-volatile memory store 106 includes a combination of Flash memory as well as electrically erasable programmable read only memory, or EEPROM, although other embodiments can use other non-volatile memory storage mechanisms.
  • In the embodiment of FIG. 4 the microcontroller 104 receives power from the 5.0 volt supply 103, which it utilizes to perform its functions. Although this embodiment shows the non-volatile memory store 106 and the volatile memory store 107 as being an integral part of the microcontroller 104, other configurations can also be used. As one alternative, the non-volatile memory store 106 and/or the volatile memory store 107 can reside in integrated circuits outside of the microcontroller 104 and still provide all the same functionality. However, using memory stores that are embedded within the microcontroller is considered a useful arrangement in order to benefit from a more compact physical size.
  • The wireless transceiver circuit 35 of FIG. 4 contains a digital wireless transceiver circuit (DWT) 108, which is connected to an antenna 109 and to the microcontroller 104 using a synchronous serial data connection 110, as well as to the 3.3 volt supply 102. In one embodiment, the wireless transceiver circuit 108 is an nRF8001 chip available from Nordic Semiconductor of Oslo, Norway. The digital wireless transceiver circuit 108 can utilize any of a multitude of existing or future digital wireless transmission standards, including Bluetooth and other wireless standards mentioned herein. The embodiment in FIG. 4 can use an industry standard integrated circuit that implements a standard wireless communication protocol. One such protocol that can be used is Bluetooth Low-Energy, also known as Bluetooth 4.0 or Bluetooth Smart. This Bluetooth protocol is well suited for the digital wireless transceiver circuit 108 because it provides an especially easy method by which many smart phones can be interfaced. Using the synchronous serial data connection 110, the microcontroller 104 can stimulate the digital wireless transceiver circuit in order to perform a multitude of desired functions. One desired function is to identify each unique physical wireless transceiver circuit 35 by a unique identification number 106 b, stored in the non-volatile memory store 106, and/or by a human readable name 106 c, also stored in the non-volatile memory store 106, in such manner as the smart phone 37 may be able to detect the unique identification number 106 b and/or the human readable name 106 c. Alternatively, rather than storing the unique number 106 a in nonvolatile memory 106, each unique physical wireless transceiver circuit 35 may be identified by a unique identification number stored in the wireless transceiver circuit 108. In this way the user of the smart phone 37 can easily control one or more wireless transceiver circuits 35. Another desired function is to enable the digital wireless transceiver circuit 108 to accept a wireless connection from the smart phone 37 for the purpose of transferring data in either direction. In this way, the firmware 106 a can receive commands or queries from the smart phone 37, and in return effect changes to other parts of the wireless transceiver circuit 35 and/or return answers to queries, as explained in more detail below.
  • The wireless transceiver circuit 35 of FIG. 4 contains a motor driver circuit 111, which receives power from the motor output supply 101 as well as a control connection 112 to the microcontroller 104 and a feedback connection 113 to a feedback sensing circuit 114. The motor driver 111 provides a driving voltage to the motor terminals 43. As the motor terminals 43 are connected to the motor (38 in FIG. 2), the motor driver circuit 111 allows the firmware 106 a to cause the motor 38 to move or to not move. Through the control connection 112, the motor driver 111 can be made to provide some or all of the power provided by the motor supply 101 to the motor terminals 43, as is deemed appropriate by the firmware 106 a, causing the motor to turn in a desired direction at a desired speed.
  • In the embodiment in FIG. 4, the feedback sensing circuit 114 utilizes measurements of back-EMF across the motor terminals 43 to provide the feedback connection 113 a to the microcontroller 104. This allows the firmware 106 a to estimate the current speed of the motor 38. Back-EMF is a voltage generated by a spinning DC motor, and is proportional to the rotational velocity of the DC motor's shaft. Such a back-EMF sensing circuit to measure motor speed is common in the art. Other embodiments can use completely different yet equivalent feedback sensing circuits, such as, but not limited to, optical encoders connected to optical codewheels that are mechanically attached to the wheels, visual-flow sensors such as mouse sensors, or other common motion feedback devices.
  • As a further enhancement provided in the embodiment of FIG. 4, the wireless transceiver circuit 35 can contain one or more controllable analog power output circuits, such as an analog power output 44 and an analog power output 46. It is to be understood that more or less than two such analog power output circuits can be provided in other embodiments. The analog power outputs 44 and 46 are controlled by the microcontroller 104 through a synchronous serial data connection 116 a and a connection 116 b to select any voltage from 0 volts to the voltage of the motor supply 101, through analog power amplifier elements 117 a and 117 b. These analog power outputs 44 and 46 can be used, for example, to selectively provide power (or not provide power) to the sound generating device (39 in FIG. 2), or to the light (41 in FIG. 2), or to control any of a multitude of model railroad accessories. The analog power amplifier elements 117 a and 117 b are made using digitally adjustable voltage regulators which include pins that can enable or disable their outputs. Other switching elements or power amplifier elements can also be used, such as electromechanical relays, solid state relays, bipolar junction transistors, or class A audio amplifier circuits.
  • Provided in FIG. 5 is a block diagram of and embodiment of the firmware designated 106 a in FIG. 4. The firmware 500 represented by FIG. 5 can be produced using any suitable programming language. In one embodiment, this firmware has been written using the C++ programming language. Each block in the diagram of FIG. 5 represents a high-level logical operation that the firmware performs. Each block can include one or more functions or procedures, each of which can be made up of one or more logical, mathematical, storage, retrieval, iteration, or alternation operations, all of which are typically provided by any of a myriad of programming languages. The description of each block should be sufficient for one of skill in the art to produce a working embodiment.
  • The Main block 502 is the starting entry point of the firmware. It first calls the Setup block 504, which prepares the firmware and hardware for normal operation. After the setup routine is complete, the Main block 502 then calls the Loop forever block 506, which performs all operations of the firmware from that point until power is removed.
  • The Setup block 504 calls the Init Accessory pins block 508, which sets up the microcontroller hardware so that the firmware will be able to control the accessory output lines. The Setup block 504 then calls the Init measurements block 510, which resets variables and prepares the system to measure track voltage and motor speed. It then calls the Init Transceiver block 512.
  • The Init Transceiver block 512 in turn calls the Create object block 514, which creates a C++ object representing the wireless transceiver chip (108 in FIG. 4). This object provides properties and methods needed to interact with the wireless transceiver chip (108 in FIG. 4), and sets up the database needed by the wireless transceiver chip to inform the smart phone (37 in FIG. 4) of the number, names, and types of services and characteristics the wireless transceiver chip (108 in FIG. 4) offers, as well as whether each characteristic is readable, writeable, and/or capable of producing notifications.
  • Next, the Init wireless transceiver chip block 512 calls the Register handlers block 516, which sets up callbacks for various events which can occur as a result of changes of the wireless transceiver chip's state caused either internally or as a result of its wireless communication with the smart phone 37. Finally, the Init wireless transceiver chip block 512 calls the connect block 518, which places the wireless transceiver chip in the correct state—e.g. a state in which the processor periodically sends out alerts to available devices—so that the smart phone can attempt to connect to it wirelessly. Finally, the Setup block 504 calls the Init motor pins and pwm block 520, which initializes the microcontroller hardware so that the motor driver can be correctly controlled.
  • After the Main block 502 calls the Setup block 504, it then calls the Loop forever block 506. The Loop forever block 506 alternately calls the Control motor block 522 and the Handle wireless transceiver block 530. The Control motor block 522 first calls the Measure speed (BEMF) block 524, which determines the current rotational velocity or motor speed by measuring Back EMF, a commonly understood physical phenomenon of brushed DC electric motors. Such electric motors produce a voltage—the Back EMF—as a result of rotation of their shafts, which is proportional in value to the rotational velocity of the shaft.
  • The Control motor block 522 then calls the Compute PID block 526. This block uses the measured speed and the most recently-received goal speed to calculate an error. This error is used by a standard Proportional Integral Differential (“PID”) control algorithm to produce a desired motor drive current. This algorithm uses three gain values—Kp, Ki, and Kd. In this embodiment, the values of Kp, Ki, and Kd are scaled based on the currently selected power factor from the smart phone. Alternatively, the programming can instead receive independent control of Kp, Ki, and Kd from the smart phone. As yet another alternative, an autotune algorithm can be provided to automatically adjust Kp, Ki, and Kd without need for interaction with the smart phone to adjust or tune the PID gain values.
  • The Control motor block 522 passes the desired motor drive current value to the Set motor speed (PWM) block 528. This block changes a setting in the microcontroller's hardware PWM generator to select a new switching duty cycle value. The motor drive current will be proportional to the selected duty cycle value, which is commonly specified as a percentage or fraction of time during an on/off cycle that the motor output is fully on.
  • The Handle Wireless Transceiver block 530 takes care of communication with the smart phone through the wireless transceiver chip (108 in FIG. 4). The Handle Wireless Transceiver block 530 first calls the Poll Wireless Transceiver block 532. This block will in turn call the Data received handler block 534 if there is new data available from the smart phone. New data will be available as a result of the smart phone's having transmitted it in such as manner as to make the purpose and value of the data readily understandable by the wireless transceiver chip. This new data is fed to the appropriate sub block—Set goal speed 536, Set power factor 538, Set Accessory on/off 540, and Set device name 542, the value of each of which is a writeable characteristic. Alternatively, the programming can use a hardware interrupt handler to respond to changes in the wireless transceiver chip and thus call the Data received handler asynchronously, rather than doing so in a polled, synchronous manner as shown herein.
  • The Handle Wireless Transceiver block 530 then calls the Notify Measurements block 544. When block 544 detects changes to the measured rail voltage, changes to the currently selected motor drive current value or motor power, or changes to the measured Train speed or motor speed, block 544 issues notifications to the smart phone, so that the smart phone can be kept informed of the current operating state of the wireless transceiver circuit.
  • Finally, the Handle Wireless Transceiver block 530 calls the Reconnect if lost block 546, which checks for loss of active connection with the smart phone and, if such a condition arises, will place the wireless transceiver chip back in a state which rapidly and repeatedly sends out requests to reconnect to the smart phone.
  • The application software for the wireless transceiver circuit has the basic functionality of connecting the general purpose wireless smart device to one or more wireless transceiver circuits and setting and getting properties on the wireless transceiver circuit. Shown in FIG. 6A is a logic flow diagram for application software that can run on the smart phone. The embodiment of FIG. 6A represents the logical operations within an application running on any general purpose wireless smart device, including but not limited to iOS, Android, Tablets, PCs, TVs, set-top boxes, and game consoles. The application can be written in any appropriate programming language including but not limited to Objective C, C++, or even programming languages yet to be developed. Regardless of the programming language, the sample logic in FIG. 6A along with this description should be sufficient for a reasonably skilled practitioner of the art to produce a working embodiment.
  • The application software 600 shown in FIG. 6A includes a main block 602, which calls a connect block 604, which begins a process of connecting with one or more wireless transceiver circuits that are available for connection. This can proceed according to a loop shown in this figure. The software first causes the smart phone to search for and discover any available wireless transceiver circuit devices (block 606). The system then saves device information for any wireless transceiver circuit device that is found (block 608) and then queries whether all available devices have been found (block 610). If not, the search process is repeated.
  • If all available wireless transceiver circuit devices have been found, the system next lists all connected wireless transceiver circuit devices (block 612), selects an active wireless transceiver circuit device (block 614) and then selects a specific wireless device interface (block 616). Once the specific wireless transceiver circuit device has been selected, there are four general categories of actions that the smart phone device can undertake. The first category is control operations 618, which can involve controlling the speed, direction, etc. of a locomotive, for example, or actuating accessories, such as lights, sound, etc., as listed in block 620. These control operations are wirelessly transmitted to the selected wireless transceiver circuit, as indicated at block 622.
  • Another category of actions that the smart phone application software can enable is to establish settings for the particular wireless transceiver circuit, as indicated at block 624. These settings can include a train name, sound on/off setting, max speed, acceleration rates, etc. as indicated at block 626. These control operations are also wirelessly transmitted to the selected wireless transceiver circuit, as indicated at block 628.
  • Another category of actions that the smart phone application software can enable is to obtain operational statistics from the particular wireless transceiver circuit, as indicated at block 630. These statistics can include track voltage, engine performance, speed history, etc., as indicated at block 632. Naturally, the specific operational statistics will depend on the particular device(s) that is/are associated with particular wireless transceiver circuit. These operational statistics are wirelessly transmitted from the selected wireless transceiver circuit, and can be displayed on the display of the smart phone, as indicated at block 634.
  • Another category of actions that the smart phone application software can enable is to control or actuate accessories and obtain operational statistics from the accessories, as indicated at block 636. The accessories can include crossing gates, lights, switches, etc., as indicated at block 638, and the operational statistics can include crossing gate status, light levels and switch states, as also indicated at block 638. These control operations are wirelessly transmitted to the selected wireless transceiver circuit, and the operational statistics are wirelessly transmitted from the selected wireless transceiver circuit, and can be displayed on the display of the smart phone, as indicated at block 640.
  • Shown in FIG. 6B is a logic flow diagram for one embodiment of software 650 that can run on the wireless transceiver circuit. This software includes a wireless broadcast block 652, which can constantly broadcast various types of data for receipt by any connected smart phone device, and which can also be queried for additional types of data. In the embodiment shown in FIG. 6B, the wireless transceiver circuit is associated with a particular target train (indicated at block 664) and the wireless broadcast block 652 constantly broadcasts real time properties regarding the locomotive. These properties can include motor power (block 654), current speed (block 656), rail voltage (block 658), accessory status (block 660) and motor temperature (block 662). The wireless transceiver circuit can also query for dynamic train properties, as indicated at block 666, whether prompted by the smart phone device, or by its own internal programming. As shown in block 668, these dynamic train properties can include information such as wireless transceiver circuit BTID (which is a unique identifier for a Bluetooth circuit board, and provides a means for a smart phone device to uniquely identify each wireless transceiver circuit), firmware version, accessory status, engine direction and target speed, for example.
  • In view of the logic flow diagrams of FIGS. 6A and 6B, when the application software is running on the smart phone device, an interface can be provided to connect to any wireless transceiver circuit that is receiving power within range of the smart phone (see example in FIG. 7A). The application software can be aware of each wireless transceiver circuit's type and provide appropriate interfaces. These interfaces allow the user to control each wireless transceiver circuit, adjust its settings, or display statistics. If the wireless transceiver circuit is a locomotive wireless transceiver circuit, the control interface (as represented in FIG. 7B) can provide sliders, buttons or other control devices to allow control of aspects like speed, direction, light, horn, bell, or whistle.
  • The interface can also display feedback settings like current speed, target speed, headlamp state and more. An example embodiment of a locomotive wireless transceiver circuit settings page is represented in FIG. 7C. An embodiment of a control interface for a layout and accessory wireless transceiver circuit is represented in FIG. 7E. All of these interfaces provide feedback on the current state of the wireless transceiver circuit properties (like current speed and headlamp state) as well as standard interface elements to control them. These interface elements include but are not limited to sliders, buttons, knobs, and pull-downs (the creation and use of which is common in the art). The application persistently stores preferences and historical data associated with any wireless transceiver circuit's unique identification number for access in subsequent sessions. In this way useful statistics like track voltage history and engine performance data can be displayed (as represented in the embodiment in FIG. 7D).
  • Shown in FIGS. 7A-7E are embodiments of example screens from a typical smart phone touch screen from which a user would run applications to operate a wireless model railroad control system in accordance with the present disclosure. On these screens the wireless control system is referred to with the acronym ETSI, which stands for Electric Train Bluetooth Smart Ready Device Interface. Shown in FIG. 7A is an embodiment of a graphical user interface 700 that can be provided on the display screen 80 of the smart phone 37, and which allows a user to connect to one or more wireless transceiver circuit-enabled trains detected within range (indicated at 702) of the smart phone 37. Connections are very easy to make with the latest wireless protocols and can be made with a single touch (or click). All discovered devices can be listed and are selectable by the user, as indicated at 704. If a device is password protected, the user can be prompted to enter the password when the device is selected. Passwords are optionally stored by the application for subsequent connects.
  • The application can connect to multiple wireless transceiver circuits simultaneously as well as to different types of wireless transceiver circuits (discussed in more detail below) which can include locomotive wireless transceiver circuits, caboose wireless transceiver circuits, video cam wireless transceiver circuits, layout accessory wireless transceiver circuits or other varieties. In the event that a wireless transceiver circuit enabled train travels out of range of the smart phone, the application can be set to automatically search and reconnect once the train is in range. Using this interface, the user can select any train or accessory controller to make it the ‘current’ controlled wireless transceiver circuit device.
  • Shown in FIG. 7B is an embodiment of another interface 710 that can be provided on the display screen 80 of the smart phone 37 that allows a user to control operation of a train. A Throttle Slider 712 allows control of the speed of the train. A Direction Button 714 allows for change of direction (forward/reverse). A Stop Button 716 stops the train with a single touch (rather than throttling down). A Light Button 718 toggles the light on the train on and off. Sounds can be activated by pressing a Horn Button 720, Bell Button 722, or Whistle Button 724. Although this example shows only a light, horn, bell, and whistle, many more accessories could be operated from this screen. Each button or controller on this interface activates the appropriate terminal on the wireless transceiver circuit (35 in FIG. 2). The Connection Indicator light 726 can illuminate when the user is connected to a wireless transceiver circuit train. In the event of a disconnect, the connection indicator light 726 can turns off and a warning beep can alert the user that the connection has been lost. When connection has been lost, the application software can continuously attempt to reconnect. Upon reconnect, the wireless transceiver circuit train can seamlessly resume control.
  • Shown in FIG. 7C is an embodiment of another exemplary interface 730 that can be provided on the display screen 80 of the smart phone 37 and allow the user to adjust settings for a train using the smart phone 37. This interface can include a Sounds Option 732 that allows a user to turn sounds on or off. A Sound Pack Option 734 allows the user to set the sound scheme for the train (e.g. steam, diesel, Christmas train etc.). A Max Speed Option 736 allows the user to set the train's maximum cruising speed. This allows for safe and realistic operation as engine power can vary from locomotive to locomotive. A Train Nickname Option 738 allows the user to establish an easily recognizable nickname for the train. An Acceleration Option 740 allows the user to control the rate of acceleration for a particular train. This can be set for a slow realistic acceleration (as with a large freight train) or a quick acceleration (as with a trolley car). A Deceleration Option 742 allows the user to control the rate of deceleration for a particular train to simulate realistic braking performance. For example, this option can be set for a slow realistic deceleration (as with a heavy freight train) or for a quick deceleration (as with a trolley car). It is to be appreciated that deceleration is merely acceleration in an opposite direction, and thus the term “acceleration” can be used to encompass both concepts.
  • Provided in FIG. 7D is an embodiment of another exemplary interface 750 for the display screen 80 of a smart phone 37 that can allow users to receive feedback on performance of the train and layout. The wireless transceiver circuit (35 in FIG. 2) can accomplish this by sending measurements of the apparatus's (e.g. a locomotive) operating state to the user's smart phone 37. A Track Voltage Graph 752 shows the user the track voltage as the train travels the layout, making it easy to identify bad sections of track that may need cleaning or changes to wiring for more even voltage distribution. In this example there is a low-voltage section of track at a position 20% along the user's layout. The position of the train along the layout can be represented in percent (e.g. 100%=1 full lap around the layout) starting at an arbitrary point the user chooses. The software application can recognize patterns in the voltage data, and after several laps around the track can identify when subsequent laps start and end.
  • An Engine Performance Graph 760 shows how hard a locomotive is working to maintain its speed as it travels the layout. This is useful to identify grades that may be too steep and may need to have their pitch adjusted. In this example the graph shows that the engine is working harder at a spot 20% along the user's layout. This may be the result of an incline at that point in the layout.
  • A Measured Speed Graph 762 shows the train's actual speed (both presently and over time). A Track Voltage History Graph 754 shows the Track Voltage Graph 752 from multiple sessions historically overlaid over one another (in varying colors). This can be useful to identify when it is time to clean the track. Users can set a threshold below which the application proactively alerts them it is time to clean the track. In this example the dotted line 764 on top is the track voltage from a previous session, the more dense dotted line 766 in the middle is a more recent reading, while the solid line 768 at the bottom of the graph is the track voltage from the current session. As this graph indicates the track voltage has been declining steadily over time, indicating that it may be time to clean the track.
  • An Engine Start Graph 756 shows how hard the locomotive is working to initially start rolling. In this example the engine gradually tries harder to overcome the initial resistance to rolling, reaching maximum effort at the 1 second point, after which the train starts moving with less effort. An Engine Start History Graph 758 shows the Engine Start Graph 756 from multiple starts historically overlaid one over the other. This is useful to identify when it is time to lubricate the engine and wheels. In this example (as in the previous) the solid line 770 represents the most recent Engine Start data peaking at almost 100% before falling off. It is clear the engine is requiring more effort to begin rolling in the current session than it did previously, and probably requires lubrication. These some types of performance feedback that are made possible with a wireless transceiver circuit, although others are also possible.
  • While the above discussion describes some application screens that allow for control of a wireless transceiver circuit-enabled train, many more are possible. For example, shown in FIG. 7E is an embodiment of an interface 780 that can allow the user to adjust settings for train accessories which are controlled by an accessory wireless transceiver circuit 35. The accessory wireless transceiver circuit 35 resides on the model railroad layout and receives power from a power source 401. This accessory wireless transceiver circuit 35 communicates bi-directionally with the software application running on the smart phone 37. The accessory wireless transceiver circuit 35 has power leads running to various accessories on the layout including (but not limited to) crossing gates (412A and 412B), turnouts (414A and 414B) and lighting (416A and 416B).
  • On the interface 780 the Light Control Sliders 786 can be used to control the Layout Lights 416A and 416B. In this view an individual slider 786 for each light, as well as a master light level slider 788, are shown. While lights 416A and 416B are indicated as layout lights, these can also be representative of railroad signal lights, which can be controlled via the wireless transceiver circuit in a similar manner. The Track Turnouts 414A and 414B can be operated by pressing the Turnout Control Buttons 782. The Crossing Gates 412A and 412B can be activated by pressing the Crossing Gate Control Buttons 784. The Crossing Gates 412A and 412B can also be set to “automatic” mode, as indicated at 786, to be triggered at the proper times by the application. Other signals, such as a railroad signal light 418 can also be controlled via the wireless transceiver circuit 35. Although the embodiment shown in FIG. 7E displays control of two lights, two turnouts, two crossing gates and one railroad signal, this should not be construed as a limitation on the number and type of accessories that could be controlled. Many more accessories and accessories of other types can also be controlled in this way. Any type of device that can be actuated by a wireless transceiver circuit can be used in this way.
  • The accessories can also be autonomously controlled by the application in the smart phone 37 without user input. An example of this might involve the application managing a train or trains traveling on the layout as turnouts (414A and 414B) and crossing gates (412A and 412B) operate accordingly. Similarly, lighting on the train set can naturally transition simulating day becoming night (and vice versa). This transition can be based on the actual time or on any schedule, or can be manually controlled by the user via the smart phone 37. Other accessories on the train set that can be controlled by the accessory wireless transceiver circuit 35 can also be used.
  • Another embodiment of the wireless transceiver circuit 35 is illustrated in FIG. 8. The embodiment in FIG. 8 contains all of the same circuitry as presented in FIG. 4, with the addition of an inertial measurement unit (“IMU”) 300. The IMU 300 can include any one or more of the following sensors: multi-axis gyroscope, multi-axis accelerometer, and/or multi-axis digital compass. The IMU 300 connects to the microcontroller 104 through a synchronous serial data connection 301. The synchronous serial data connection 301 allows the microcontroller 104 to configure various operating parameters of the IMU 300, as well as to periodically query the current value of the various physical measurements sensed by the IMU 300. These physical measurements can be acceleration in one or more axes, strength of Earth's magnetic field in one or more axes (to give a direction or compass reference), and/or rate of rotation around one or more axes. The microcontroller 104 can use these various physical measurements to compute an estimate of the locomotive's orientation. Another embodiment can use an IMU 300 which can compute on its own an estimate of the locomotive's orientation and provide measurements of it to the microcontroller 104 without further work by the microcontroller 104.
  • The wireless transceiver circuit 35 with the IMU 300, as shown in FIG. 8, captures information about the locomotive's orientation and transmits his information to the smart phone 37. The smart phone 37 can use this information in many ways. One way is to combine information about the locomotive's orientation with information about the locomotive's distance traveled to generate a spline representative of the track layout and the locomotive's position on the track within the smart phone application. The user can then see an overhead view of the track layout as well as an indication of the locomotive's real-time position on the track.
  • This configuration generates a host of interesting possible applications and uses. An overhead view of a layout and its locomotive's travel position displayed in real-time on a smart phone presents a novel way to view and interact with the train. This can be even more interesting if a user is running multiple wireless transceiver circuit trains on the layout simultaneously and can see all of their positions at the same time. The smart phone application can intelligently control multiple trains to avoid crashes. Users can control any of the trains by touching desired destination locations on the graphical representation of the track in the smart phone application, and the train can automatically drive itself to that spot.
  • Game play can also be added to smart phone applications that take advantage of this. The user's layout display in the smart phone can be populated with virtual stations, crossings and cities that the user can interact with. Assignments and tasks can be introduced that involve the loading and unloading of freight and passengers and transporting them to their destinations in a timely matter. The smart phone application can keep track of the user's progress and gauge success levels in achieving the assigned goals.
  • Other challenges can be included in game play that involve carrying heavy loads and gauging the user's ability to operate a locomotive under challenging conditions. A heavier train takes longer to attain full speed, requires more energy to travel uphill, and is more difficult to stop than a train with no load. The smart phone application can instruct the locomotive to behave with simulated physics and challenge the user to maintain a schedule and measure success in stopping at specific locations. Additional hazards like broken bridges, damaged track, and loose cattle or ice on the rails can all be added to the experience.
  • A spline representative of the user's track layout can also be utilized in 3D simulations to generate a 3D model of the user's track layout for an immersive 3D experience on their smart phone. With this feature a user can see a depiction of a train traveling along a 3D representation of the layout from various camera angles as the real train travels on the actual layout. This feature can also be used as a layout planning tool. A user can use the 3D representation of the layout to experiment with various buildings, mountains, tunnels, and scenery in the virtual layout, and plan and design their real layout before working on it. The user's virtual 3D layout can display relevant seasonal changes like snow in the winter, fall colors in the fall, flowers in spring, or time of day.
  • The spline of the user's layout, when combined with information from the wireless transceiver circuit about track voltage and the locomotive's performance and perceived effort as it navigates the track, can provide valuable technical feedback and help the user correct problems or optimize the layout. These include (but are not limited to) identifying low voltage sections of track, identifying issues related to grade and pitch, or identifying turn radius issues and hazards. It is to be understood that the above examples of potential uses of this embodiment of the system shown herein is not to be considered exhaustive. Other uses and adaptations can also be made.
  • Another embodiment of the wireless transceiver circuit 35 is illustrated in FIG. 9. The embodiment in FIG. 9 contains all of the same circuitry as presented in FIG. 4, with the addition of an attached soundcard 320. The soundcard 320 is connected to the microcontroller 104 through a digital data connection 321. The soundcard 320 obtains power from the power supply 103. The soundcard 320 includes several additional items. First, an audio sample buffer 322 contains audio samples for one or more sounds. As commanded by the microcontroller 104, these samples are delivered to a digital to analog converter 323, sequentially, at a rate determined by the microcontroller 104. The digital to analog converter produces a voltage whose value is proportional to the numeric values fed to its input from the audio sample buffer 322. The voltage is then fed to an audio amplifier 324, which uses electrical power from the power supply connection 103 to produce sufficient voltage and current to drive a speaker 325. The speaker 325 converts the applied voltage and current to a series of air pressure waves that humans perceive as sound.
  • The addition of this soundcard attachment allows for added sound functionality within a model train (above and beyond the whistle/bell sounds common in many basic model trains and sounds that can reside in the smart phone application itself). For example, the application software of the smart phone 37 that communicates with the wireless transceiver circuit 35 can support a wide range of audio content that can be played in synch with the actions and behavior of the train to add increased effect and realism. This can include high fidelity startup sounds, sounds that emulate locomotive operation, radio and voice commands, braking and shutdown sounds, and more. Because the smart phone application is in control and aware of everything the model train does, these sounds can be matched and synched precisely. Whether the model train is a steam locomotive, a small logging train, a large freight diesel, or a yard switcher, the smart phone application can supply the proper sounds to make the experience as real or enjoyable as possible. The application can also supply traditional train music, seasonal music and sounds, or music from the user's music library to accompany the model train experience as desired.
  • As previously described, the smart phone 37 can operate on-board bell and whistle sounds within the wireless transceiver circuit-enabled model train. Additional sounds (as described above) can also be played on the smart phone (tablet or PC) itself, if desired. Built-in features like AirPlay® can allow these sounds to emanate from any AirPlay-enabled speakers positioned on or near the model railroad layout. This can provide rich stereo audio quality for all train sounds.
  • With the addition of a sound card 320 attached to the wireless transceiver circuit 35, as shown in FIG. 9, these additional sound effects can be played from speakers within the locomotive (or other train car) itself. This can offer added realism as the sounds will emanate from the model train (rather than from the smart phone or speakers on or near the train set). Because the smart phone 37 can communicate with the sound card 320 through the wireless transceiver circuit 35, audio content in the locomotive can be updated or streamed at will. For example, the user can easily add new sound packs (i.e. sound effect software packages) to the sound card, such as to make the locomotive sound like a huge freight locomotive or an old style steam locomotive. The user can also choose to speak into the smart phone and have the sound emanate from the locomotive. New applications on the smart phone might include new gameplay that involves downloading new audio content to the sound card. Seasonal holiday music can be added to the train for holidays or special occasions. Other sound and music applications that are made possible by the wireless transceiver circuit and sound card can also be used.
  • It is to be appreciated that the attached sound card 320 is an optional feature that users can choose to add to the wireless transceiver circuit, depending on budget and personal preferences. The sound card attachment provides an added level of realism and functionality to model railroading, but is not required for a satisfying user experience.
  • Another embodiment of the wireless transceiver circuit 35 is illustrated in FIG. 10. The embodiment in FIG. 10 contains all of the same circuitry as presented in FIG. 4, with the addition of an attached micro video camera 340. The micro video camera 340 connects to the microcontroller 104 through a serial data connection 341. The microcontroller 104 can use the serial data connection 341 to configure the micro video camera 340, including turning it on or off, changing its video exposure and resolution, and or configuring a WiFi connection to the smart phone 37. Configuring the WiFi connection using information transferred over a Low Energy wireless connection (e.g. Bluetooth) makes an otherwise difficult procedure easy for end users to get the video camera 340 connected to the smart phone 37.
  • In the embodiment of FIG. 10, the micro video camera 340 includes various elements, such as a controller 342, a WiFi wireless network transceiver module 343, a frame buffer and video compressor 344, a camera image sensor and lens assembly 345, and an antenna 346. Other embodiments can have more or different elements and still provide the ability to receive video from the model train in the smart phone application.
  • The addition of the video camera 340 allows for additional video functionality within a model train. Video footage from the camera 340 on the locomotive (or other rail vehicle) can be captured and stored or streamed in real time to the smart phone 37. Users can watch a driver's view from the cab of the locomotive displayed in real time on their smart phone, for example. This can simulate the experience of actually driving the train, and allow users to observe the scenery of the layout from the position of a small person riding inside the model train. Video and still footage can be easily saved and shared from the user's smart phone 37, or even streamed to the worldwide web as a live video feed. Built-in smart phone features like AirPlay can allow the video to be streamed and watched on a television screen or monitor. PCs, TVs, set-top boxes, and game consoles can also display video on a television screen or monitor. Other video applications that are made possible by the wireless transceiver circuit and optional video cam can also be used. As with the additional sound features discussed above with respect to FIG. 9, the attached video camera 340, as shown in FIG. 10, is an optional feature users may choose to add to the wireless transceiver circuit that can provide an enhanced user experience, depending on budget and personal preference.
  • Another embodiment of the wireless transceiver circuit 35 is illustrated in FIG. 11. The embodiment in FIG. 11 contains all of the same circuitry as presented in FIG. 4, with the addition of a wireless network connection or wireless adapter 360. The wireless network connection 360 connects to the microcontroller 104 through a serial data connection 361. It connects to the smart phone 37 through wireless network signals transmitted and received using an antenna 362. The microcontroller 104 can use the serial data connection 361 to configure the wireless network connection 360 by setting the desired SSID, encryption type, and passphrase, to turn it on or off, as well as to send and receive other information more quickly than can be done with some wireless transmission protocols (e.g. Bluetooth). Configuring the WiFi connection using information transferred over another type of wireless connection can make an otherwise difficult procedure easy for end users to get the wireless network connection connected to the smart phone.
  • This embodiment can provide the added advantage of being able to connect to a Wi-Fi network. Wi-Fi network connections support a larger bandwidth than some other types of wireless connections. This can be advantageous in streaming live video taken from a micro video camera within the locomotive to be viewed on a smart device, television, monitor, or across the web, for example. As another example, a Wi-Fi connection can allow streaming of audio content from an application on a smart phone, the Wi-Fi network, or the Internet for real-time playback on the wireless transceiver circuit with a soundcard. With this capability the locomotive can access a large library of sounds for playback through a speaker on the locomotive itself. This can include train sound effects, relevant radio chatter and commands, instructions, music, or user voice (using the train as a walkie-talkie). Other sound applications that are made possible by the wireless transceiver circuit and sound card can also be used.
  • Another mode of usage of the wireless transceiver circuit is illustrated in FIG. 12. In this embodiment a user at a remote location is able to control a wireless transceiver circuit-enabled train via the Internet. As illustrated in FIG. 12 a user operates the train from a control smart phone 37A at a remote location. Control parameters are received by an Internet web server 400 that is coupled to the Internet and can be physically located almost anywhere. The control smart phone 37A can access the Internet through a cellular connection or via a Wi-Fi network, for example. At a second location a relay smart phone 37B receives the control parameters from the Internet web server 400 and transmits the control parameters to a wireless transceiver circuit 35 within a locomotive 40 (or associated with some other model railroad device). In this way a user at a distant location can drive the wireless transceiver circuit-enabled locomotive 40 without actually being in the same room. This experience could be even more satisfying if the person controlling the train was simultaneously viewing the operation on a webcam.
  • The wireless transceiver circuit 35 within the locomotive 40 can also use data accessed through the Internet web server 400 to control its behavior. One example might be a train that blows its whistle when the user receives an email, or rings its bell each time a favorite sports team scores a point. The wireless transceiver circuit 35 can also use location data from a remote user's smart phone, enabling the locomotive 40 to wake up and drive when the remote user travels faster than a certain speed. Other features and options that are made possible by giving the wireless transceiver circuit 35 access to the Internet can also be used.
  • Another embodiment involving two different kinds of wireless transceiver circuits is illustrated in FIG. 13. In FIG. 13 a first wireless transceiver circuit 35 is disposed in the locomotive 40, while a caboose wireless transceiver circuit 35A is located in the caboose 420 at the rear of the train. Each of these wireless transceiver circuits can contain an IMU (as previously described) and can communicate its position to the application software running on the smart phone 37. The application software running on the smart phone 37 can “know” the layout of the track as well as the position of both the locomotive 40 and the caboose 420, by virtue of signals sent from the wireless transceiver circuits 35, 35A.
  • With this information the application on the smart phone 37 can offer a number of compelling features because it essentially “knows” the length of the train. For example, crossing gates on the layout can receive a signal when a train begins to cross the gate area, as well as when the last car has passed. Turnouts can also receive a signal when a train is passing the turnout to prevent switching the turnout at an unsafe time (which might cause a derailment). If the layout is running multiple wireless transceiver circuit-enabled trains simultaneously, the smart phone application can safely and automatically manage the positions of all trains to avoid a collision. With these types of features, many trains can run simultaneously and autonomously without ever colliding. The caboose wireless transceiver circuit 35A can also be used to control the interior light 422 and the flashing end light 421 on the caboose 420.
  • Although the foregoing discussion specifically refers to a “caboose,” it is to be appreciated that the caboose wireless transceiver circuit 35A is representative of a wireless transceiver circuit that can be provided in any type of railroad car or rail vehicle. For example, this can be a car that is at the end of a train, or it can be a car in any other position. In accordance with this disclosure a wireless transceiver circuit can be associated with any type of model railroad vehicle to provide lights, sound and other operational features. For example, ore dump cars or hopper cars can be provided with actuators for opening gates or dumping to the side. These actuators can be controlled by a wireless transceiver circuit that is associated with the specific car, and allow more realistic operation of the specific cars. Other types of cars with other types of actuators or operable features can also be used.
  • Many other unique experiences are also made possible by using a wireless transceiver circuit to connect a model train to a smart phone. The train has access to computing power and information that allows it to operate intelligently and in interesting ways. For example, the train can wait for a user to arrive near the layout (e.g. come home) and can come to life when it detects that the user is in range. The train can even get more excited (in the form of movement, lights, and sounds) when the user is nearby. A train can also become a desktop companion, giving the user “push notifications” like blowing its whistle when emails arrive, playing the bell when the phone rings, or flashing its headlight when a bank account is low. The excitement level of the train can increase with the user's heartbeat, such as during an exercise workout. Recent advancements in speech recognition can also allow for voice command control and interaction. Gesture control like swiping, tilting, and shaking of the smart phone can be used to operate functionality. As an example, the user can use his smart phone hand to pull down on an imaginary cord in the air to blow the train's whistle. The smart phone's camera can also be used to track user motion (as with an Xbox® Kinect®) allowing for control of the train by various hand motions. As another alternative, the smart phone can be positioned on the locomotive itself, so that the wireless transceiver circuit in the train can utilize the phone's camera and microphone to “see” and “listen to” the world around it and behave autonomously. The train can essentially become a low-cost companion robot that attempts to interact with the user and the world around it as much as possible. With this type of functionality the train can also use beat detection to respond to music and move, flash lights, and make sounds synced to any rhythm. Other features made possible by attaching a wireless transceiver circuit to a model train can also be used.
  • From the description above, a number of advantages of some embodiments of the wireless transceiver circuit become evident. First, a wireless transceiver circuit allows any general purpose wireless smart device to easily connect directly to and control a model train and any model train accessories. Additionally, a wireless transceiver circuit of the sort disclosed herein involves no additional equipment and eliminates the cost and complexity typically associated with digitally controlled model railroading (DCC). Furthermore, general purpose wireless smart devices (like smart phones and tablets) are increasingly common and offer excellent touch interfaces, gesture, and voice command capability, which are well suited for controlling a model train.
  • Accordingly, it will be apparent that the model railroad control system disclosed herein can provide an inexpensive, easy-to-implement, and easy-to-use system for controlling a wide variety of devices associated with a model railroad using a smart phone or any general purpose wireless smart device. Wireless remote control of a model train, which has typically involved high-end, expensive DCC equipment, can now be enjoyed by any smart phone user by virtue of a wireless transceiver circuit. Furthermore, general purpose wireless smart devices, such as smart phones, Tablets, PCs, TVs, set-top boxes, and game consoles, provide a wide variety of high-end interfaces allowing users to interact with model trains in exciting ways.
  • With the list of general purpose wireless smart devices growing every day, the possible embodiments and interfaces is not limited to the examples shown and described herein. For example, wristwatches and glasses that are general purpose wireless smart devices are currently being developed, and could make excellent remote control devices for use with a wireless transceiver circuit. Thus, while the description above contains many specificities, these should not be construed as limiting the scope of the invention, but as merely providing illustrations of some of several embodiments. For example, for very small trains or trains with confined spaces, a wireless transceiver circuit can be separated into several small circuit boards connected by wires and even extended across multiple cars if necessary. Because wireless communication protocols such as Bluetooth do not rely on a wireless network, the wireless transceiver circuit is an excellent choice for outdoor garden trains and layouts which may have larger power requirements. In these sorts of applications, the circuitry of the wireless transceiver circuit can be scaled to meet those needs. The wireless transceiver circuit can also be used to control any electrically-operated accessory, such as traffic lights, signal lights and animated mechanical accessories, not just the examples listed above.
  • Although various embodiments have been shown and described, the present disclosure is not so limited and will be understood to include all such modifications and variations are would be apparent to one skilled in the art.

Claims (20)

What is claimed is:
1. A control system for a model railroad, comprising:
a wireless transceiver circuit, associated with a model railroad device, having a microprocessor and system memory and provided with programming code for controlling the model railroad device, and including
a control circuit, configured for controlling operation of the model railroad device; and
a communication unit, configured for bidirectional communication between the wireless transceiver circuit and a general purpose wireless smart device; and
control software, operable upon the general purpose wireless smart device, comprising programming code for bidirectional wireless communication with the wireless transceiver circuit and for allowing user commands entered via the general purpose wireless smart device to control operation of the control circuit.
2. A control system in accordance with claim 1, wherein the model railroad device is selected from the group consisting of a motor, a sound generating device, a light, a turnout, a crossing signal, and a railroad signal.
3. A control system in accordance with claim 1, wherein the model railroad device is associated with at least one of a locomotive, a tender, a railroad car, a railroad track device and a model building.
4. A control system in accordance with claim 1, wherein the model railroad device is a locomotive, and the control software is configured for controlling speed, direction and acceleration characteristics of the locomotive.
5. A control system in accordance with claim 4, wherein the communication unit is configured for transmitting operational data related to the locomotive to the general purpose wireless smart device.
6. A control system in accordance with claim 1, wherein the control software is configured for allowing the general purpose wireless smart device to simultaneously and independently control multiple model railroad devices having a wireless transceiver circuit.
7. A control system in accordance with claim 1, wherein the control software provides a graphical user interface for the general purpose wireless smart device, and is configured to receive user input via a touchscreen of the general purpose wireless smart device.
8. A control system in accordance with claim 1, wherein the communication unit is configured to send and receive data with the general purpose wireless smart device using a simplified connectivity, low-energy wireless communication protocol.
9. A control system in accordance with claim 1, wherein the control software further includes programming code for bidirectional wireless communication between the general purpose wireless smart device and a web-enabled device, whereby a remote user can control operation of the model railroad device via an Internet connection.
10. A control system in accordance with claim 1, further comprising an inertial measurement unit, associated with the wireless transceiver circuit, the inertial measurement unit including at least one of a multi-axis gyroscope, a multi-axis accelerometer, and a multi-axis digital compass, and configured to provide inertial measurement output signals to at least one of the control circuit and the communication unit.
11. A method for wirelessly controlling a model railroad device, comprising:
providing a model railroad device with a wireless transceiver circuit, the wireless transceiver circuit including
a control circuit, configured for controlling operation of the model railroad device; and
a communication unit, configured for bidirectional communication between the wireless transceiver circuit and a general purpose wireless smart device; and
transmitting control signals, effective to control the control circuit, from a general purpose wireless smart device to the wireless transceiver circuit, the general purpose wireless smart device having control software comprising programming code for bidirectional wireless communication with the wireless transceiver circuit.
12. A method in accordance with claim 11, wherein transmitting the control signals effective to control the control circuit comprises transmitting control signals for controlling at least one of a speed of a locomotive, a direction of a locomotive, a rate of acceleration of a locomotive, a sound, a light, a turnout and a signal.
13. A method in accordance with claim 11, wherein providing the model railroad device with a wireless transceiver circuit comprises associating the wireless transceiver circuit with one of a locomotive, a tender, a railroad car, a building, a signal and a turnout.
14. A method in accordance with claim 11, further comprising transmitting the control signals from a web-enabled device to the general purpose wireless smart device, to allow control of the model railroad device by a remote user.
15. A method in accordance with claim 14, further comprising transmitting control signals to the web-enabled device via the Internet.
16. A method in accordance with claim 11, further comprising transmitting signals from the wireless transceiver circuit to the general purpose wireless smart device, the signals being selected from the group consisting of speed of a rail vehicle, direction of a rail vehicle, location of a rail vehicle, directional orientation of a rail vehicle, track voltage level and an amount of current that a motor is drawing.
17. A model railroad locomotive, comprising:
a motor, configured to drive a set of locomotive wheels upon rails using electrical power transmitted through the rails; and
a wireless transceiver circuit, including
a control circuit, configured for controlling the motor; and
a communication unit, configured for bidirectional communication between the wireless transceiver circuit and a general purpose wireless smart device;
the wireless transceiver circuit adapted for wireless communication with a general purpose wireless smart device having software comprising programming code for allowing user commands entered via the general purpose wireless smart device to control the control circuit.
18. A model railroad locomotive in accordance with claim 17, wherein the control circuit is configured for controlling at least a speed and direction of the locomotive.
19. A model railroad locomotive in accordance with claim 17, wherein the control circuit is configured for controlling a speed and direction of the locomotive, and is further configured for controlling at least one of a light, a sound device and a video camera disposed in the locomotive.
20. A model railroad locomotive in accordance with claim 17, wherein the communication unit is configured for transmitting operational data related to the locomotive to the general purpose wireless smart device.
US14/294,990 2013-06-11 2014-06-03 Wireless model railroad control system Abandoned US20140360399A1 (en)

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