Dec 19, 2011

Layout progress and an Android Tablette

No additional trackwork over the weekend but have wired and motorized all the remaining tracks and turnouts. I also prepared the surface of the engine terminal area, laying and painting the natural fiber that I use for roadbed.
However, the most fun part of my weekend was to run the trains with my Asus Transformer Android tablet through my home WiFi.
To do this, I had to run a CAT6 cable between my office and the layout room to connect my laptop to the Loconet of the Digitrax system and install the latest JMRI JMRI is basically a Java interface that runs on your computer and allow to send commands over the Loconet. I was already using it for programming the locomotive decoders.
It has many additional functions where you can control your trains, and turnouts, name your turnouts and create routes, block, etc… I plan to use the turnout and route functions to control the switches. However, the drawback is you need the use the computer and mouse to control them, not good when the computer is in different room. But thanks to the tablets and smartphone, there is an App for that! It is call a Withrottle for Apple and Engine Driver for Android
I downloaded the WiThrottles and Engione driver for both my iPhone and Android tablet. The Android one is free where the iPhone one have a light version for free and full version for 9.99$. I prefer the Android version because I can see all my routes and turnouts (defined in JMRI) in a table and with a finger touch, align the switches for specific routes. Where on the iPhone, only a wireless throttle and no direct access to the turnout or route control.
Using my WiFi, the Android tablet connects to my computer and I gain the full control of the layout (and the trains in one hand). Even the locomotive control is fun although for security reason, I may still use a dedicated Digitrax throttle. (imagine the communication is lost and have a train going into a stub end and fly over to the floor.) I don’t really care about the life of the crews but how about those expensive brass engines…
After spending a good part of my Sunday afternoon programming and configuring the system, I have run the trains all evening, finding some programming mistakes and mostly testing the concept. The concept works for me as a single operator. To work for multiple operator, each operator will need a tablet or I should install holders for 3, maybe 4 tablets at strategic location around the layout. These would act as control panel that users could carry to get closer to the action.
The apps still need to be refined, It has been design for Smartphone, not for tablet so I can’t use it in landscape mode and currently has no build-in function to see the layout schematic. However, this may not be needed anyway because JMRI also has a mini Web server function that I just started to play around with last night. The mini Web server turns your computer into a mini web server for all the JMRI windows and using the browser in your smartphone or tablet, you have access to the JMRI window, including the layout schematic.
To test it, I simply draw a turnout in the schematic panel and assigned a valid turnout number on my layout. With a click of mouse over the switch in the schematic panel, I could change it on the layout. I then activated the mini-web server of JMRI to access the layout schematics with my iPhone and Android tablet. I could connect to the “web site” with my Android tablet but could not get it to work with the iPhone (it will, just not as simple to configure I guess). Well, it works! I could change the switch position with a finger touch over the turnout schematic on the tablet.
My next step will be to draw my layout schematic in JMRI to further test the concept. Did I mentioned that the schematic is interactive? it actually shows the switch position based on the last command and the system allows actual feedback if wired accordingly.


1 comment:

  1. I'm hoping that the proposed update to the Playbook OS next year will permit sufficient Android app support for these functions.


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