Progress to Date

12th December 2012

Over the last year-and-a-half we have been hard at work on the development of a number of products, most of which are finally nearing their release dates. From the numerous emails we have received asking about progress related to specific products in development, we felt a progress to date page would be appropriate to let everyone know where we are. Below we describe some of the issues which have resulted in delays and what we have tried to do to overcome them.

The Switchboard

At the time we initially set up this website we had anticipated having the Switchboard ready for release within a few weeks. Unfortunately, our hardware analysis then revealed that, under certain obscure circumstances when using more than one Switchboard, these devices could create a short-circuit through the user's computer motherboard. Naturally, we felt this was an unacceptable risk yet it is a problem which shows up repeatedly with model train electronics. As a general rule, DCC devices such as command stations, boosters, braking generators, etc. each need a separate transformer to power them or you risk short circuits when locomotives bridge from one device's power district to another. While we understand the reasons for this rule, we felt you should be able to safely attach as many devices to a transformer as its power rating can cope with. Consequently we needed to provide our devices with fully isolated power feeds.

So, in order to eliminate the risk of short-circuits, we decided that all our high-current devices should have isolated power circuitry using a more complex design called a Flyback Regulator which not only isolates the output voltage but can also provide higher currents than any other type of regulator. (Flyback regulators are frequently used in laptop transformers.) The down-side with this type of regulator is that they are often quite bulky and frequently generate excessive amounts of heat. It has taken us quite some time to improve the efficiency of our regulator such that it produces very little heat and is also now only slightly larger than a postage stamp — and believe me this has been no mean feat.

Then, given the significant capabilities of the microprocessor on the Switchboard, we were able to develop our “Virtual Machine” option. This device can now optionally be run not only when connected to a computer (either via a CID device or direct to USB) but if desired, its inputs and outputs can be programmed while connected, then allowing it to function independently of the computer as well. For example, consider a case where you want Point Motor 17 to be set to ‘curved’ when Occupancy Detector 12 shows ‘occupied’; Switch Signal 22 to be set to ‘stop’ when Point Motor 17 is set to ‘curved’; and Braking Generator Relay 31 is switched on when Signal 22 is set to ‘stop’. Once all these settings have been entered, the PC or laptop can be disconnected from the Switchboard and put away as the device will now handle this logic automatically on its own. A device such as this could even automate features for older DC-based layouts. Below are examples of daughter boards for occupancy detection and accessory control e.g. for signals, lights, motors other than servo motors etc.

5V DC Switcher Board Occupancy Detector Board Motor Control Board
The 5V DC Switcher Board The Occupancy Detector Board The Motor Control Board

Command Station

The Command Station has likewise had some significant features added above and beyond what was originally planned. Like the Switchboard, it will have a fully isolated power feed circuit. Most currently available equipment of this type that are designed in Europe, are intended for a 220V mains supply resulting in proportionally higher track voltages when run in the UK on 240V. Our device will allow the user to set the required track voltage as well as the maximum current feed (up to a full 5A rating). The Command Station will also come with Wi-Fi as standard, thereby allowing layouts to be controlled via smart-phones and tablet PCs. Naturally, the option to use traditional wired controllers will remain for those who prefer this option.

Smart Booster

The specification for this device has changed significantly over time. It's too early to go into detail but imagine a programmable Booster that can become a Braking Generator or a speed limiting device or a device that can toggle decoder functions in locomotives, etc. on receiving a digital command. Of course, it will add the RailCom cut-out to the signal if desired. Watch this space.

Bus Analyser / DCC Reader Device

This is a simple device, not much more complex than the average DCC decoder, which offers a convenient method for adding as many of your pre-existing DCC hardware items to a layout as desired. Early indications are that it should be one of the easiest of all our devices to bring to market.

RailCommander Software Package

Software support for RailCom has been a little disappointing so far. Most packages either don't support it at all and those that do merely use RailCom to display where on your layout the trains are. RailCom can and should do much more than this. So, in response, we decided to develop our own package that includes the features we felt were either lacking in other programs, or implemented in an unsatisfactory manner.

So, what can the RailCommander do? Firstly, it does away with the idea that layouts have to be represented by pre-defined blocks placed on a grid. Our layout editor allows for both straight or curved tracks of any geometry. By, for example, loading a photograph or scanned drawing of a layout as the editor background, a user may perfectly recreate it in the software. Secondly, the software requires minimal effort in setting up new hardware. In many cases, no set up is required at all. Thirdly, and most importantly, RailCommander uses a scripting system for automation which is both very powerful and extremely simple as it is written in plain English. Each script contains only a condition (or conditions) to be met and an action (or actions) to be taken. For more complex scenarios, basic scripts can be run as ‘actions’ in a master script. Each line in a script reads as plain English (or German, if preferred) and can be chosen from a list of options thereby negating the dreaded fear of typos and syntax errors.

While we will need to charge for this software, given the time it has taken to develop, all ongoing upgrades are free. In order to allow users to fully test the software's features we have built in a generous trial period of 100 hours of active use (i.e. only time spent actually running the software is counted). We are confident that this will allow most model rail enthusiasts to fully appreciate the benefits of our software before needing to decide if they wish to purchase the package. In addition, we offer online help with bespoke scripts, etc. even for those still using trial software. (Though, needless to say, we will have to give priority to customers who have already bought the software.) We have big plans for the future of this package, and there are a lot of features which we intend to add over the coming weeks and months. If you do decide to try it out, please let us know what your impressions are and if there are any features you feel should still be added. Even if such features are already on our to-do list, it may cause them to move up to be done sooner, so please don't think this wouldn't be worthwhile.