Archive for the 'Electronics' Category

Data Time.

After being sick for no explainable reason, I finally got around to posting some pictures of the progress I’ve made in getting information from the powerbase.

Testing Area, and pretty much the smallest track circuit you can set up with this kit

Testing Area, and pretty much the smallest track circuit you can set up with this kit

I set up a testing area in my room so that I could run some cars and still be close to my desk. A piece of plywood is pretty high-tech, I know..

PowerBase is powered-up and ready to unleash its magic

PowerBase is powered-up and ready to unleash its magic

I found a power supply in my basement that works great for the time being. The Aux Port is really just a typical phone jack outlet, so I wired a phone cable up to this:

Don\'t mind the shoddy looking tape... It\'s a Prototype!

Don't mind the shoddy looking tape... It's a Prototype!

Underneath the electric tape is a small fuse which should prevent me from blowing up our precious powerbase if there is any accidental mishaps/crossed wires. This is a 9-pin serial adapter that is typically found on PC’s. However, Mac computers don’t have these kind of connections (only USB/Firewire) and need this Serial-USB adapter:

This plugs into laptop USB port

This plugs into laptop USB port


I got this a while back from Amazon, and it works great!

Basic sketch that retrieves and plots data in real-time.

Basic sketch that retrieves and plots data in real-time.


I wrote a quick sketch that plots the data coming from the powerbase. This shows the input from the hand throttle and you can also see the strings of numbers on the bottom which is the data in its raw form. Now just have to figure out the interesting things we can do with this data!

Computer Controlled Slot Cars Anyone?

Computer Controlled Slot Cars Anyone?


I also finally received some electronic samples I ordered a while back. The black chip is called a “digital potentiometer” and acts as a digital version of a hand throttle. I hooked this up on a Basic Stamp II Development board I had lying around (Similar to Arduino). It receives data from processing and sends a signal through the plug I’ve wired up. Sweet.

Also got the beginnings of a network/internet controlled car basically running (still buggy). Things are finally moving along!

Good News

Lets talk about some good news…

Today, I continued some work on the simulation sketch. Currently it simulates four “cars” (rectangles) that have specific attributes (location, speed, laps remaining, race standing.. etc). The rectangle travels across the screen, simulating a lap completion when it reaches the far edge, and then cycling back to the beginning again. These “cars” are fed their speed data via an on-screen slider control. This allows you to modify the speed of the car in real-time much like what the physical hand throttle does on the track. The next thing to do on this is figure out issues such as lap timing and race standing, as well as a simple way to interface this sketch with others that will use the data.

Now for the REALLY good news!…

After playing around with the physical track & powerbase for a while, I figured it was time to get this thing to spit out some data. Although, I was missing a couple of pieces of hardware that would make the data stream more reliable (MAX233 Serial Driver), I figured “what the hell,” and attempt to see what it would give me anyways. I wired everything up… checked all connections… opened up processing… crossed my fingers… and flipped the power on.

The research on this thing finally payed off. I was seeing the numbers I needed to see. And after staring at the data for awhile, I managed to code a parser to organize the information into a usable form. A couple of hours of programming later, I now have instantaneous feedback on the hand throttle’s current position as well as a simple plot of its value over time. And I also decoded the elapsed lap time data that is triggered every time the cars pass over the finish line.

I have to admit… this is extremely cool and absolutely amazing, and only reinforces all that is nerd within me.

Pictures, Screencaps, and possibly video to follow…

It’s Here!

I was beginning to hash out some processing stuff, and then this arrives on my doorstep.

Tape + A Single Layer of Bubble Wrap = Internationally Shipped Package

Tape + A Single Layer of Bubble Wrap = Internationally Shipped Package

Needless to say, I was scared as hell at the very sight of this thing.
(please, please, please… don’t be broken…)

Exposing the Protective Layering

Exposing the Protective Layering

So Far, So Good.. And it\'s even the right one!

So Far, So Good.. And it's even the right one!

Everything looks good with the powerbase, and lets hope that everything is fine internally.

Silently preparing to unleash its glorious data.

Silently preparing to unleash its glorious data.

Pretty thankful that they included this...

Pretty thankful that they included this...

From what I can tell, this thing has an amazing amount of functionality… I really can’t believe that they stopped making these models. Instead of further developing the awesomeness that they had going for them they completely chopped these bases apart.

$%!# @#$#!!!..

$%!# @#$#!!!..

Of Course it’s always something… Although, this is something that I could have foreseen, but didn’t even cross my mind until I was staring right at the alien plug. (Yeah no matter what you do derek… that thing isn’t going into the wall socket today or any other day…)

Although this isn’t nearly as big of a problem as say… trying to find a discontinued product in the UK, it still puts a small damper in things for the time being. But I think I might have a quick solution lurking in the piles of electronics in the basement…. Otherwise I’m on a city-wide search for a 12 Volt 2.5 Amp power supply.

More news tomorrow.

So… Our First Problem.

Well, opening the box up was pretty fun for the first couple of minutes, before I immediately realized that something was askew…

I coulda sworn something important went there...

I coulda sworn something important went there...

You see… The “power base” that I have been researching which will eventually allow me to extract data has a pretty important piece of hardware that looks like this:

OH LOOK AN AUX PORT!

OH LOOK AN AUX PORT!

Pretty LCD...

Pretty LCD...

Apparently, Scalextric decided to UPDATE their Power Base’s… and by UPDATE they really meant cut out every USEFUL piece of functionality and cut costs…(No AUX Data, No Lap Counting/Timing, No Racing Modes…Nothing) The really bad news is that they even decided to discontinue the older line of feature-packed 6-car bases, making these things extremely rare. One of the only bases I’ve found in the US is here: Part of a Digital Conversion Kit. Buying this may be our last hope.

Another idea..
Being somewhat knowledgeable in electronics, and with the OK from Steve… I cracked open the 4-Car Power Base that came in our kit.

Surgery Prep

Surgery Prep

Under the Hood

Under the Hood

Hmmmm....

Hmmmm....

Wait... This Looks Promising... not..

Wait... This Looks Promising... not..

I studied this thing into the night… the only thing that looked as though it could be hooked up for data (and something that I spent a lot of time trying to figure out) turned out to be something that almost every micro-controlled hardware has: An initial programming port… I confirmed this by looking up the spec sheet for the PIC 16F819 microprocessor that sits on this board. I also checked the rest of the pins on this but didn’t find anything very usable.

The only half-solution I see right now to get any kind of usable data (in this case only from the hand throttles) is to tap directly into the throttles themselves. The throttle lines (which are actually just analog values) could be spliced into another microcontroller (Basic Stamp 2 or Arduino) processed into digital and sent via a serial connection to processing… this is definitely the long way around.

Otherwise we should really look into acquiring an older version 6-car Power Base with built-in Aux Port ASAP.

Day 5 – The Big One…

ANOTHER BOX!

The NEW... Digital Power Base

The NEW... Digital Power Base

Sweet Throttles of Power

Sweet Throttles of Power

Brake and Lane Change Buttons

Brake and Lane Change Buttons

15 Volts of Madness

15 Volts of Madness

Changing Lanes!

Changing Lanes!

The Fast Pieces

The Fast Pieces

The fly-off-the-track Pieces

The fly-off-the-track Pieces

Curvy Lane Change and Sensor

Curvy Lane Change and Sensor

Borders, Fence, Elevation

Borders, Fence, Elevation

These F1s are Gigantic

These F1s are Gigantic

Its Electric...

Its Electric...

Day 3 – A box arrives…

Unfortunately it must soon leave.

It contains an SCX “Pit Box” racing set, complete with a whole track and 3 cars. However, it does not interface with the Scalextric set (The one I have been researching) that is on its way here.

Today, I also purchased the KeySpan USB to Serial adapter from Amazon.com – free 2-day shipping. I also secured a couple of FREE sample MAX233A Serial Driver IC’s from the manufacturer’s website – also free shipping. I love free stuff, and free shipping is awesome too.

**MORE TECHNICAL STUFF**
The MAX233 IC is the piece of hardware that converts the +5 Volt TTL signal from the Scalextric PowerBase to +10 Volt RS-232 signal that a computer can understand. I also acquired a nice little wiring diagram for hooking this up:

MAX233 to AUX Port Diagram

MAX233 to AUX Port Diagram

Still on the list of materials to buy:
-Serial DB9 Cable (Standard 9pin for computer)
-4 Lead RJ-11 Cable (Looks like a standard phone cable – for Powerbase)
-Other various electronics


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