Z scale is the smallest scale (1/220:1) that gets power from the track, I have seen smaller railroads that float around a physical track with angled holes through both a laminar flow and the motive power sort of like air hockey, but directional. Model Rail Road "clubs" aren't the only entry into larger knowledge of the hobby, there are a lot of train shows around the country these days, feeding the "I can make money collecting old stuff" mentality, and they do have a lot of Lionel toy trais, but with usually at least a few privately owned higher-quality layouts setting up to show off, don't miss going to see one!
For detecting RR cars in blocks, two methods are most often used, each has pros and cons: using a small bleeder resistor across the normally electrically isolated wheelset of each car--then detecting the current flow in that block of track using an external circuit; or an optical detector buried between the ties, which looks for presence/absence of overhead light (some modelers use trackside emitter and LED on opposite sides of a block of track). The digital command control (DCC) of most newer layouts does not have isolated blocks (it is not needed), howebver, so this makes the first method less practical. Also I read that some modelers are trying to use strain sensors under a block of track to sense the car weight--but there ar emany installation and consistent performance issues with this approach.
Years ago I got interested in permissive block signals and did some model-RR research. One of the problems involved detecting cars on a track. Has anyone solved this? In real RRs, the signals use the path from rail to rail to complete a circuit through the wheel sets. --Jon
@Robotics, I have the pleasure of working with some of Intel's engineers who created OpenCV (I'm a contractor that works on s/w for the CE41xx which is the heart of GoogleTV and some other even more amazing toys coming. Some might say (see another thread) that OpenCV was another Intel wasted effort, but, oh, man, look out! Wheeee!
I am one engineer that started with crystal radios, went to Heathkits, and then model railroads (HO scale). I got sidetracked for a number of years (High School) and never got back to modeling (sigh). Currently, my play time involves openCV and Kinect hacks! Not as much fun as driving a locomotive (engineering - train!) but quite satisfying. Nice article on fixing what the manufacturer said couldn't be helped!! I wonder how many other opportunities are out there just waiting for the right engineer/hobbyist to fix?
I totally agree, Glen. I do On30 because it's big enough and because I can fit in more bits without the price tag of #1 or G. I have some sophisticated control circuits that hang a DCC command driver off my ethernet port and so far it works... my Linux PC can drive the DCC-equipped loco back and forth. I also am extremely excited about the latest DCC development, controllable knuckle couplers. I haven't got any of those yet,,. but soon... since my layout is only two slightly expanded Timesaver switching layouts, a decoder plus couplers for 10 - 20 cars won't break me all the way into the poorhouse. My next step, however, is a real leap. I want the computer to do vision analysis and run one half of the switching layout for me. Talk about a Turing test! ;-)
I think this all speaks to the point we both have been making... computers and model railroading together can really stretch your brain... and a lot of why it works is the awesome can-do attitude that's embedded in every article in the magazines. It doesn't matter whether it's perspective for backdrop painting, or realistic weathering, or brass construction methods... you CAN learn to do it.
Thanks David. The patent application was eventually approved but would have cost a small fortune if continued to completion.
Have to wonder how many of today's engineers got started from having a model train as a kid? Or coming from related scientific hobbies such as ham radio or astronomy?
@DWilde1 and Sharps_eng - there are control systems available that interface with personal computers for manual or programmed operation of multiple trains. One system uses the traditional block method, another more sophisticated is standardized Digital Command Control (DCC) in which every locomotive is fitted with a programmable miniature digital decoder for motor and lighting and onboard sound control. Track power is bipolar encoded data which addresses and commands locomotives individually. Speed lookup tables can be programmed to compensate for mechanical variations between multiple locomotives coupled together so that acceleration and deceleration effects are matched. Motor back EMF is measured as feedback for a constant speed control loop. Other equipment such as signaling and turnouts (track switches) are also addressable from the same power/data bus. Many manufacturers provide inter-operable off-the-shelf equipment, the decoders are usually surface mount and can be made small enough to fit into a Z scale locomotive.
Much of the home-brew electronics is unsophisticated, that is the ideal way for an electronics beginner to get started by learning how to build something on perf board and from that how transistors etc function. It was the other way around for me, I needed something for my Heathkit H8 to do and that led to learning model railroading and assembly language. It was fun programming the driver wheels to spin a few half revolutions on startup just as the big steamers used to do, then gradually incrementing the pulse-width register to simulate acceleration.
That's the whole point - combine your mechanical, civil, electronic, photographic, and artistic skills and use them for fun.
Nice work Glen. Lets hope you're on your way to becoming a wheelwiper tycoon... Have you patented it?
I had a 000 gauge train set (slightly bigger than your Z gauge I think, made by a British company Lone Star, and now defunct) when I was a kid, and remember similar problems. I had quite a lot of stuff but heaven knows what happened to it. It's a nice hobby in that it's wide open to engineering applications. And if you can make it pay a bit on the side, good on ya!