DCC-Ex Wifi Shield

jngeddes Mar 11, 2023

  1. jngeddes

    jngeddes TrainBoard Member

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    Can anyone recommend an eBay or AliExpress supplier for the DCC-Ex WiFi Shield, i.e. one they have successfully used.

    I have not been able to find what looks like an exact match for any of the recommended shields on the DCC-Ex site.

    Perhaps some pretty good matches of the WangTongze board, but it is hard to tell.


    John Geddes
    Vancouver, BC
     
  2. Mark Ricci

    Mark Ricci TrainBoard Member

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    The Makerfab Wifi shield is available from either the company
    ESP8266 WIFI Shield for Sale | Makerfabs
    or the Robotshop
    ESP8266 WiFi Shield - RobotShop

    Have not seen these anywhere else. eBay, though I'd sold 1 of mine a year ago or so on eBay)

    Original got 2 from Robotshop and both worked. This shield is the one "most" recommended by EX. Have a small layout with 1x2 framing members so actually use the
    ESP8266 ESP-01S Wireless Transceiver Module+Breadboard Adapter Breakout US | eBay

    Mounted it next to the Mega on layout. Have 2 and both are great. Pic below of test system with ESP + adapter attached with screw and spacer.. You will need 4 male-female Dupont jumpers.

    Highly recommend selecting 1 from their page that is a known with history to start off.
    Supported WiFi Shields and Boards — DCC-EX Model Railroading documentation


    [​IMG]
     
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  3. sidney

    sidney TrainBoard Member

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    the last makerfab i got was from there site and it did not work . it seems they are no long putting in the code /program what ever it is for them to work i. you have to do that your self now. and that sucks ,NO INSTRUCTIONs as to how EXACTLY to do that. so i will not buy there garbage again. I have not tried that lil board as posted above , but if i need a another one thats what im going to try next... Makerfabs need to pull there you know what out of there you know what and get it together. ive got three systems working but i have two makerfab boards that wont work. ive emailed them and all they can do is tell me i need to program them my self so im done with them ! BUYER BEWARE
     
  4. jngeddes

    jngeddes TrainBoard Member

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    Sidney, Mark - Thanks for your replies. Much appreciated. After considering all options, I am trying WangTongze board from eBay with my fingers-crossed. Living in Canada, shipping costs factor into decision making process -- especially when "success" is not guaranteed, i.e. a purchase is really an "experiment".

    https://www.ebay.ca/itm/401578341513

    As some one new to DCC-Ex, I have to say that this sourcing of parts has been more of challenge than I expected. Comments like Sidney's do not fill me with confidence.

    The DCC-Ex folks have put a reasonable effort into providing sourcing information but I suspect for the DCC-Ex initiative to gain more traction with Conductor/Tinkerer's like myself, they will have to do more. And finding such information from Discord is an exercise in "needle in a haystack". Hence my posting here.

    Cheers
    John Geddes
    Vancouver, BC
     
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  5. sidney

    sidney TrainBoard Member

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    keep us posted about that board im interested how this comes together. hope it goes well for you. i love dcc++ex . its been a game changer for me.
    i do have three or four makerfabs boards that work very well. just my last order from them was bad. and customer service was bad about the whole deal...
    to date i have had great success with the dcc+=ex system works flawlessly for me.
    please keep us posted how all this come together......
    I do want to try one of these boards as well https://www.amazon.com/HiLetgo-Wire..._3?keywords=WiFi+Module&qid=1678654875&sr=8-3 . I just dont need one at the moment.
     
  6. FlightRisk

    FlightRisk TrainBoard Member

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    Hi Sidney, Can you give us more information? The chips come from Expressif and Makerfabs just puts them on their board. We have never seen a board shipped without firmware. And the Makerfabs site specifically advertises that they provide the AT command set. Did they tell you point blank they did not? With the language barrier, there could have been a miscommunication.

    We have diagnostics built into the command station. If you use the Arduino Serial monitor connected with a serial cable and cut and paste the boot log, we could take a look at it. If you type <+AT> into the serial monitor, do you see an "OK"? Sending <+GMR> if there is an AT command set and communication, version information should display.

    They do provide instructions for how to flash their boards here, but it not Conductor friendly: https://www.makerfabs.cc/article/esp8266-wifi-shield-firmware-upgrade-v1-0.html

    We could help you flash them. There is also an easier way, but we would have to write up some instructions for you. There are 2 tools, one is the Expressif Flash tool, and the other is a command line tool called esptool.py. We do have instructions for using them on the website in the Mega+Wifi section, but I wouldn't send you there yet because while using those tools is the same for the Makerfabs board, connecting it is not.

    If you want to flash firmware, you need to have a spare Arduino and some jumper wires. You can even use the Mega you have. Or you need to buy what is known as an FTDI board. It is a cheap little board that has a USB to UART (TTL serial port) converter. The link above shows one that Makerfabs sells, but there are several others.
     
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  7. FlightRisk

    FlightRisk TrainBoard Member

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    If you do try an ESP-01s and it doesn't have a recent enough version of firmware for you, buy one of these, makes things Conductor friendly for the hardware part, you just plug the ESP-01 onto the board and plug it in. Then you just need the Arduino IDE and some instructions to flash them: https://a.co/d/2wbUXlY

    The version of these boards with the female and male pins can also be used to program the Makerfabs board, but you also need the dupont jumpers to make the connection.
     
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  8. FlightRisk

    FlightRisk TrainBoard Member

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    John, the Wangtonze board (which are more often than not knockoffs) will probably need the instructions we have on the website here: https://dcc-ex.com/reference/hardware/wifi-boards/wangtongze-board.html

    Can you tell us why you didn't like about using Discord? It is much like this forum in that it isn't necessarily how you would search for something. You can, for example, put in "wangtonze" and it will show you all the "channels" where things are and you can just go to them. Much like the forums and subforums here, there are channels and subchannels there. The difference is that Discord is organized more like a chat program. The benefit of Discord is that you can pretty much talk with one or more of the key team members 24/7 there.

    Here is my discord screen:
    upload_2023-3-14_0-54-45.png

    Don't be intimidated by it yet. The circles on the left are the "servers" where conversations happen. The icons to the left are Discord servers. I use Discord for more than just trains. You can see the DCC-EX Server listed to the left with a red 4 in the corner. That is telling me there are 4 conversations somewhere than mentioned me.

    The next column is all of our channels and subchannels. Grouped in hopefully easy to figure out topics. Notice I have the "DCC-EX Project" channel open (I usually keep it closed to make things less cluttered). I chose a dark theme, but you can make the screen look any way you want. Notice some sub channels are bright white and others are gray. The white ones have new posts since I last logged on. Some channels have a red number next to them. Those are the ones where someone mentioned me or that flag me because of my role as an admin.

    So if you are new to discord, the first stop should just be to go to that clearly labeled "Support" channel and click on the "open-a-ticket" channel. It will then show instructions in the conversation window to the right. You just follow the instructions and post a question. The entire support team is notified and they will answer you. I can't guarantee it will be instantly, but it usually is. Even if you have to wait a while, you can come back later and click on your ticket. Users "wtd" and "nickm" are in a conversation in their tickets and it is notifying me to go look there. And you don't have to open a ticket. You can look for a channel name where you want to post a question, like "networking" or "decoders". You just scroll down the list of channels to find them.

    In this image, the conversation windows is showing me the "general" channel under "dcc-ex project" as you can see from it having a gray bar. That means I clicked on it. People just post in a stream or chat in real time there. The Message box at the bottom is where I can type and hit enter to send my text. The plus sign lets me attach files. An animated ellipses wiggles at the bottom to let me know if someone is typing to me so I can wait for them to send their message.

    You can see my icon and screen name in the bottom left. I am "FlightRisk". You can even voice chat with people as you can see that at the moment I have my mic and speaker/headphone off.

    Here I have done a search by just typing in the upper right corner search box:

    upload_2023-3-14_1-15-24.png

    A new area opened to the right with 19 occurrences of "wangtongze". You can see that there was a conversation about him and his board in the #networking, #ex-support, and #support-installer channels. There are more I can scroll through in that window. If I click on anything in that window, it jumps to that thread in the middle window without losing my place in the right side window. It makes it very easy to read a bit, and click to go right to other conversations. If you come back there, say hello :) You can flag me by just typing @FlightRisk (or just @fli) and selecting my name to enter it and typing something.
     

    Attached Files:

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  9. FlightRisk

    FlightRisk TrainBoard Member

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    Hardware is our biggest headache. As you know, technology is outdated from 5 minutes ago. Because people are trying to save money, most of these boards are coming from China. We chose the Arduino "Genuino" and clones in part because they are available all over the world. And we tried to find other boards that people could find on Amazon, Aliexpress, and Banggood. eBay is another source, as well as robotics suppliers. The easiest way to find things is to search Google with a couple of keywords like "wifi shield" or "makerfabs wifi shield" or "ESP8266" and click on the images tab. Then find the ones that look like they do on our website.

    More and more people are using WiFi which is a challenge. It is a complex technology, many of the boards require tinkering, and most of them require flashing firmware onto the board. A majority of our users are Tinkerers, but we constantly strive to find ways to make more things Conductor friendly.

    When you depend on boards made by other, or even discrete components, you have to deal with the fact that things constantly change. Products are discontinued or updated all the time. And the chip shortage is still a huge problem. Are parts are used in the automotive and robotics industries and anything that does industrial control. They can't even get the parts they need! Hopefully, that will ease by next year.

    We realized a while back that we had to start making our own hardware, but we also knew that one of the problems would still be sourcing it. So our plan is to sell hardware by having partnerships in a couple of key countries first, like the US, UK, and Australia. We may find others through dealers. The hardware will be open source so Tinkerers and Engineers could find a local board fabricator (or one of the Chinese ones like JLPCB), go to their website, and just order the board and then source the parts. For a little more, they will be able to order a board made with all the parts soldered on. We hope that will address people being able to find DCC-EX products no matter where they are, but the cost goes up when you are having just ones or twos made. We hope where are clubs or users that will order them 10 at a time and then resell them to their members. I don't want to jump the gun about what products you will be seeing, but the first one will be available very soon. The Arduino Motor Shield is the closest thing to plug and play, but does not completely meet our needs since it does not have a lot of current. There has never been a motor shield designed specifically for DCC and DC train operation. So I'll drop that hint ;)

    I will say that there are several people now in the UK and the US so far putting together command stations with or without wifi that are already flashed, tested, and ready to go. We will be putting links to them on our website. One place in the US is SmartHobby LLC. Jack from Smart Hobby is here on Trainboard and can respond to direct messages.
     
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  10. sidney

    sidney TrainBoard Member

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    ohhh did i see a HINT ? hummm caught my interest for sure(y)
     
  11. FlightRisk

    FlightRisk TrainBoard Member

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    I apologize for not catching some of the errors in my posts, like using "are" instead of "our". I wish we had the ability to edit posts for longer than the short time the software allows.
     
  12. sidney

    sidney TrainBoard Member

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    oh and Thank you for the information FlightRisk im going to look into more of the discord stuff. i have many problems there . one is just trying to get it loaded up. two i get real confused real fast then im done. finding where everything is. for y'all it prob loads up just fine but fer me ha sometimes it loads and i can see everything and sometimes it loads and all i see is a black page with just a couple things that dont do nothing. Have not been there in a long time because of that . i just give up and search else where............its like commercials on tv i get tired of them fast and just turn the dang thing off.
    but i do truly love my dcc++ex system works so good . im not a tecky guy more of a hands on and hit it with a hammer guy....it either works or its the hammer :D
     
  13. jngeddes

    jngeddes TrainBoard Member

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  14. jngeddes

    jngeddes TrainBoard Member

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    Hi Fred/Flightrisk
    Re Discord.

    First let me say that I can imagine how for developers like yourself and a significant number of the current DCC-Ex community a real-time conversational tool is helpful.

    However, I suggest that for a conductor/tinkerer (like myself), the opposite might be true.

    I am not on Discord on a continuous basis, nor want to be. My needs are to be able to quickly scan past posts for information related to my query, filter past posts by topic sentence (or searching), and then post a question or comment accordingly. Usually, I am more than happy to wait 24 hours for a response. It is great to have faster response and I can imagine situations like when try to debug a config or new thing I am doing, that such a response would be invaluable. But on average, a standard forum tool is good enough.

    My second point is pretty simple to explain -- I really want to use a forum tool that does not take a page of instructions to use (but PLEASE thank you for taking the time to explain Discord to me. I am sure that I will eventually get more familiar with it). All I can say in my case when I first went looking for advice re DCC-Ex (that I could not on the website -- which is EXCELLENT BTW), I first went to GroupIO JMRI group. Someone kindly pointed me to Discord (which I had missed on the website). I downloaded Discord, and then spent well over 30 minutes trying to figure out the basics of how it worked. Gave up in frustration and de-installed it -- that is how dissatisfied I was (and I will add that I am a pretty experienced computer user). As a conductor the last thing I want to spend time on is learning a forum tool.

    Anyway I am back on Discord only because I am so interested in DCC-Ex and I appreciate all the efforts of you and your team. Peter Akers also encouraged me to persevere.

    My third point is that GroupIO is where I have over 25 model railroad forums that I monitor. I don't really need another forum tool in my life.

    My comments will NOT apply to everyone. But you asked.

    All of my comments are in this general context: -- I think the DCC-Ex initiative is FANTASTIC. Exactly where the hobby should be going. I am keen to participate. And if it turns out to be a good as I think it will be (as you know from my post I have bought all the gear to get started) I will be keen to promote it to fellow modellers. We are so overdue for moving beyond DCC 1.0. I am very thankful for folks like yourself, the JMRI team, the Engine Driver team for what you are doing for the hobby.


    Cheers
    John Geddes
    Vancouver, BC
     
  15. jngeddes

    jngeddes TrainBoard Member

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  16. jngeddes

    jngeddes TrainBoard Member

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    Hi Fred/Flightrisk

    As an engineer very familiar with technology, I can fully understand the hardware challenge. You have done an excellent job with the information provided on the website. It is complete. Comprehensive. And very helpful.

    My situation is just as you describe. I could not find the preferred components -- partially in my case because living in Canada means that shipping costs are higher -- sometimes as high as for the device itself. So there is a big financial incentive to look at AliExpress and other lower cost suppliers.

    In doing so, I realize that it is impossible for one person/organization like the DCC-Ex team to keep up with all the knock-offs and Chinese suppliers.

    A simple solution would be a thread on Discord where folks like myself to post the parts they have ordered (and from whom) and whether they worked or not. Hopefully this would provide a single thread to search for such crowd-sourced procurement information.

    Just a thought.

    Cheers
    John Geddes
    Vancouver, BC.

    p.s. I would suggest that the DCC-Ex team making any its own hardware is a game that you can never win (our small market can never keep up with the hardware innovation happening in broader markets). I like what you are doing
    - trying to recommend what you believe are the most reliable parts/suppliers
    - providing a forum for exchange of user experience with the myriad suppliers that come and go.

    As I see it, the power of DCC-Ex is your use of commercial off-the-shelf modular components/parts that take advantage of the scale and volume of other applications. Our hobby has been trapped in the custom-hardware world for too long. Example -- your Command Station will soon be more capable than all the custom CC's on the market today at a fraction of the cost -- and the intelligence will be in the software that will continue to bring new features to our hobby.
     
  17. BigJake

    BigJake TrainBoard Member

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    Look, I'm excited about DCC-Ex too, but let's not get carried away just yet.

    By "custom CC's" I assume you meant "commercial command stations"?

    Where's the capability/support for:
    1. Configurable Auto-reverse on secondary/programming track output? (re: Pi SPROG 3 Plus)
    2. Railcom? (re: TCS, ESU, Zimo, let alone proprietary Digitrax transponding)
    3. Layout Command Control (LCC), including throttles? (re: TCS, RR-Circuits*)
    *LCC bus can be added to any system via JMRI on external computer, with RR-circuits HW (or via WiFi), but LCC is natively supported by TCS command stations, throttles, etc.
     
  18. jngeddes

    jngeddes TrainBoard Member

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  19. jngeddes

    jngeddes TrainBoard Member

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    Hi Big Jake,

    I hear you. I'm just an optimist that those features with strong demand will come with time. On an open platform, there can be many contributors.

    - John
     
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  20. BigJake

    BigJake TrainBoard Member

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    I agree, regarding feature demand, but implementing, integrating and testing any new features also has to compete with never-ending support for new/additional motor driver boards, over which they have no control (other than to simply not support it.) There are costs/trade-offs associated with lack of investment in their own hardware: using other vendors' motor driver boards is not a free lunch.

    For RailCom support, the easiest thing DCC++ can do is simply incorporate the un-driven, high-impedance, 488uS 'RailCom gap' in the generated DCC waveform, to allow 3rd party* RailCom detector/readers to be used alongside DCC++. Many two-wire-controlled motor drivers can do this, since the four output states are open, high, low, and shorted.

    However, separating RailCom detection from DCC waveform generation negates the DCC capacity/responsiveness advantage of stopping sending unchanged speed commands to a locomotive that has confirmed it is already operating at the commanded speed. Granted, with the typically low-amperage motor drivers supported by DCC++, it's not likely going to be commanding enough locomotives to become a DCC bandwidth/responsiveness problem anyway.

    *It is also possible that DCC++ could implement a RailCom reader assembled from 3rd party hardware (current loop reader).
     

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