Wireless hand controller for model railway “TCS Controller” – What did you want to know?

As you know, some time ago I started to make a hand-controller for TCS command station, which will be able to use more known protocols. And now I would like to summarize what the hand-controller can do and also give a space to discuss what else he should know or what should change. At the end you can write comments and ask, or make suggestions for changes. Please note that this article will change as necessary.


There have been a lot of questions during the whole hand-controller development process and the hand-controller has also changed over time, now I’m getting to a certain working point, but it’s still not finished. For example, the title is not yet clear. The original working name was “TCS controller”. Then there came a fan and invented “ZAVAMOUSE”, which is also great. But how will it end in the end? What would you like? Write opinions and ideas in the comments.

At the beginning, I would like to mention that there are currently two prototypes that are quite different from each other and it is not yet clear whether they will be sold both or just one of them.

Two hand-controllers and one software

Both hand-controllers have the same software, but differ by modules, size, shape and availability of certain features. Therefore, we compare the two hand-controllers and mark the differences in bold.

Full-featured large hand-controller

Main features:

  • IPS Touch screen
  • Fully wireless control
  • Advanced WiFi networks management
  • Add WiFi network via NFC TAG
  • Mode selection – Admin/User
  • Battery monitor (accurate)
  • Charging (controlled from SW)
  • STOP button
  • Charging status LED
  • Updates via Internet
  • Language selection (Czech/English)
  • Protocol selection (TCS/Z21/XNET/…)

Modules:

  • Charging
  • Encoder (optional)
  • Wheel with center detent (optional)
  • Keyboard
  • Light sensor
  • NFC
  • ON/OFF button
  • Charging station (in plan)
  • Vibration

Train features:

  • Automatic connection to TCS command station
  • Full control of trains with wheel (Center detent or encoder)
  • Control of the all 28 functions of train via keyboard
  • Form for adding new train
  • Adding new train via NFC

Accessories features:

  • Not implemented yet (working on it)

Physical parameters:

  • Powerful processor ESP32
  • Size (h x w x d) : 165 x 80 x 28 mm
  • Charging via microUSB
  • Battery Li-ion 1850 mAh
  • Magnets on back (in plan)
  • Working time: more than 24 hours when connected to WiFi
  • Charging time: about 4 hours

Features in plan:

  • Battery saving mode
  • All functions for accessories
  • Read/write CVs
  • Protocol Z21
  • Protocol Li-LAN (Li-ETH)
  • Protocol XpressNet (via BLE)
  • a more…

Small hand-controller (mini)

Main features:

  • LCD TFT screen
  • Fully wireless control
  • Advanced WiFi networks management (only SW keyboard)
  • Add WiFi network via NFC TAG
  • Mode selection – Admin/User
  • Battery monitor (tentative)
  • Charging
  • STOP button
  • No charging status LED
  • Updates via Internet
  • Language selection (Czech/English)
  • Protocol selection (TCS/Z21/XNET/…)

Modules:

  • Charging
  • Encoder (always)
  • No wheel with center detent
  • SW keyboard only
  • No light sensor
  • NFC (in plan)
  • ON/OFF button
  • Charging station
  • Vibration (in plan)

Train features:

  • Automatic connection to TCS command station
  • Full control of trains with wheel (only encoder)
  • Cannot control train functions
  • Form for adding new train (only SW keyboard)
  • Adding new train via NFC

Accessories features:

  • Not implemented yet (working on it)

Physical parameters:

  • Powerful processor ESP32
  • Size (h x w x d) : 108 x 54 x 19 mm
  • Charging via USB-C
  • BatteryLi-ion 600 mAh
  • Magnets on back
  • Working time: not tested yet
  • Charging time: not tested yet

Features in plan:

  • Battery saving mode
  • All functions for accessories
  • Read/write CVs
  • Protocol Z21
  • Protocol Li-LAN (Li-ETH)
  • Protocol XpressNet (via BLE)
  • a more…

So, as you can see, there are two hand-controllers available and each one is interesting for something different. For example, the mini controller fits beautifully into the hands of children and has a completely finished box, but otherwise hasn’t got a hardware keyboard and has low battery life. In contrast, the classic large hand-controller has a large battery and keyboard, but still has a pending appearance and the keyboard is not yet 100% form.

Sponzorovaný obsah

Distribution (sell)

The hand-controller will be available firstly in the Czech republic and Slovakia only. If you have some questions, please feel free to contact me.

I am thinking too about the distribution only software and schematic for M5Stack modules and other similar.

Making decision

For some things, I am still in the decision-making phase. For example, the large controller needs keyboard frames – these are the most discussed elements that are still not finalized. Given that the large controller needs a keyboard, it must allow all train functions and also menu navigation when it has a wheel with center detent, so all this has to be well integrated and the following options are offered:

  1. What you see on the photos (ie rubber keyboard with letters, numbers and navigation keys)
  2. Use the encoder instead of the navigation keys, for example on the side of the controller?
  3. Instead of a keyboard, give a touch screen with a keyboard and a haptic response (like a touch-screen e-paper display)? It could also display train function icons when no keypad is needed …
  4. Not adding the HW keyboard?

Another thing I decide is the processing of individual materials. This means what and how the individual parts (frames and keyboards) will be made. The options are:

  1. High-quality 3D printing.
  2. Plastic laser parts.
  3. Silicone keyboard.

Of course, the processing also influences the resulting price enough.

Do not forget to give your opinion in the comments, it will help a lot. So come to the end of the article and write!

Answers to questions

You are asking, I am answering. Here I will respond to most of your questions, so write 🙂

  1. What will be the price of the hand-controller?
    Probably the most common question you ask is price. Unfortunately, I don’t know exactly the price until I have completely resolved the look and know all the costs. At present, it is certain that the price will not be less than 5 000 CZK (€200) for a large hand-controller.
    As far as the mini hand-controller is concerned, the current hardware costs about $64. But it does not include NFC or other things that I want to add. A small controller could be probably cheaper.
    But the question is whether I will sell only one of them.

  2. When will the hand-controller be available?
    Unfortunately, the availability of the hand-controller is still unknown. Once it will be done, the hand-controller will first be available for rent and testing for a few people, or as a beta, before will be selling commercially.
  3. What is the difference between the encoder and the wheel with center detent?
    The wheel with center detent allows you to control the train just like the Roco MultiMAUS. This means that the center position is zero and you can accelerate left or right. This wheel cannot control other functions of the controller – only train speed.
    On the other hand, the encoder (or we can also say the infinite wheel) allows to take one step in train speed and can also be pressed as confirmation. So it controls the entire hand-controller and in the case of train control accelerates only to the right and slows to the left. The direction is changed by pressing the wheel.

  4. How to control multiple trains?
    This is not yet implemented. In the future, it should be possible to connect multiple trains and switch between them with one button.

Sponzorovaný obsah

Some photos and videos from development

Add new train via software keyboard.
Connect to WiFi via NFC and add train via NFC is allowed too. New NFC tag can be created in Android application for TCS command station.
Hand-controller update via Internet.
Hand-controller settings.
The old video of the first pre-prototype of the controller.

3 thoughts on “Wireless hand controller for model railway “TCS Controller” – What did you want to know?

  1. Pingback: How to implement the NFC module into M5Stack FACES box? – ZAVAVOV

  2. Alex

    This looks very interesting, and I will keep an eye on this. However, you may have to consider the naming of your product. There is a US company called TCS (Train Control Systems) who make DCC Equipment for model trains. Could be a possible name conflict.

    1. admin Post author

      Hi Alex,
      thank you for the comment. I know about US company called TCS (I found it after I started sell my first product http://www.zavavov.cz/en/tcs-en/). At start, it will be product for Czech republic, here is the name OK, but I am thinking about better name of course.
      For other countries will be the product later – there is lot of things as a guide in the other languages and more…

      Vilem

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