Model railroad maker transforms market with Bluetooth low-energy trains

08-06-2016 | Nordic | Design Applications

Nordic Semiconductor has announced that one of the world's oldest and largest traditional model railroad and train manufacturers, Bachmann Trains, is employing Nordic Semiconductor Bluetooth low-energy (previously known as Bluetooth Smart) nRF51822 Systems-on-Chip (SoCs) at the heart of its E-Z App system.

E-Z App was developed in conjunction with Bluetooth model train PCB design specialist and game developer, BlueRail Trains, using Nordic nRF51822-based BMD-200 modules from U.S. engineering firm Rigado that also contributed design expertise to the project.

Bachmann says E-Z App brings simple wireless touchscreen control and intuitive app-based interactivity to the traditional model train market for the first time, and reduces the start-up cost and complexity of the hobby while representing the biggest technological advance in the traditional model train industry since it was digitized over 20 years ago.

"This includes putting quite literally at a user's fingertips features such as speed table controls [acceleration and deceleration rates], volume controls for sound effects, lighting effects, and many other variables," said Rich Janyszek, senior VP of sales and marketing, Bachmann. "In addition, the E-Z App control system automatically keeps track of all locomotives that are present on a track layout and lists them on the program's opening screen in a roster that can be accessed at any time. This makes it possible for multiple users to simultaneously control their locomotives on a single layout. The E-Z App supports wireless smartphone and tablet control of any of its E-Z App compatible model trains over a range of up to 100 feet (33m) and requires no special or costly equipment to operate beyond a free partner iOS app. E-Z App is also said to be compatible with all MFI-approved game controllers.

David Rees, CEO and creative director, BlueRail Trains, added: "Existing DCC [Digital Command Control] model trains and the related equipment can be costly and complicated to program by consumer mass-market standards. However, with the advent of E-Z App and Bluetooth low energy wireless control from smartphones and tablets, it has been incredibly refreshing to see adults, young children, and experienced hobbyists downloading the app because of its simplicity, and rediscovering the pleasure of model trains."

Damon Barsuglia, modules sales manager, Rigado, said: "The Rigado BMD-200 module delivers drop-in Bluetooth low energy wireless functionality out-of-the-box to minimize design lead-times and unnecessary development risk, including being pre-approved to all major wireless standards. It also features IP-protecting encrypted bootloader updates over the air using AES-128 technology, smart beacon functionality, and UART bridging. The module is 17mm x 17mm x 2.9mm in size and has full FCC, IC, and CE certification and is qualified to the Bluetooth 4.1 specification."

Janyszek continued, "The ability to wirelessly and securely update a model train's E-Z App firmware was also a major feature for us because it makes updating railroad products in the field very quick and easy both for us as the manufacturer and for customers. Bringing E-Z App to market was a totally cooperative and rewarding experience. BlueRail, Rigado, and Bachmann were able to complement each other's respective strengths and areas of expertise. This has resulted in an exciting opportunity for current modelers to gain even more enjoyment from their hobby, while potentially attracting brand new people to the market by lowering costs and complexity, and pairing a traditional toy with modern touchscreen control and brand new app-based interactivity. In fact E-Z App could propel model railroading in brand new directions that before now wouldn't have been possible."

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