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Serial Train Controller (C64+Arduino)

I'd previously attempted to use the parallel port for train control but have now switched to the Serial port for communications. I've also slapped an Arduino in between the layout and the controlling (Terminal) device. The Arduino will be programmed to understand data coming in from the Serial port, which can be fed from any device which is capable of outputting an RS-232 signal. For the example below, I'll be doing this from a Commodore 64. See this article to learn how to build a Serial Port for your C64.

Designing a communication language

Since we'll be using the RS-232 standard, we're able to define a language that any Terminal can speak to control the Arduino. This will be based on ASCII for command verbs and then raw byte data where targets and values are required. For instance, we could set throttle number 1 to 150 or point number 4 to left. Without being too tricky, 3 bytes is adequate to communicate these commands: C|T|V. If we wanted the data messages to be 'human readable' (so you can print them straight out to a file or other serial line), then we should send through 7 bytes C|TTT|VVV, where the target and value are padded out with zeroes. Fortunately, we only need these two to be 8-bit values, which is the definition of a byte. We'll simply have to convert them to ASCII if we ever want to print or display them.

Next, we'll need a command separator. I've chosen the exclamation mark '!'. Hence, when sending commands, our messages will be 4 bytes long. The recipients will need to wait data, ensure there is at least a full 4-byte message with a terminator and then start processing.

Important Note: As is described down below, I found out the hard way that not all text is equal. I've naively mentioned 'ASCII' two paragraphs above and jumped straight onto the C64, compiling strings and sending them down the wire. For some reason, although I full-well knew that I was coding in PETSCII, I neglected to think that it would actually send it down the line! Long-story-short, when the C64 sends a capital A, it actually sends a character that does not map to ASCII. Also, when it sends a lower-case A, it is actually seen in ASCII as an upper-case A!

Moral of the story? Make sure you understand what character set each device is transmitting and receiving!

Talking back to the Terminal

Although everything written above indicates that most of the communication will be one-directional; this won't always be the case! Some of the commands in the table below will actually be asking for data from the layout. This will be in the form of sensor blocks, where optical or occupation sensors will exist on the layout and be wired to binary input data. The Arduino will be hooked up to shift registers which, when daisy-chained, will be capable of 'watching' up to 64 inputs.

To get this data back to the terminal, we'll send through a message of 10 bytes. This will start with the letter S and be followed by 8 bytes of binary data indicating the state of all connected sensors. Finally a '\0' will be appended to indicate the end of the message. The Arduino wont expect a response to this; if the Terminal has failed to receive, then it can simply request the data again.

The Command Table

Now that we have our expectation of 3 data bytes and one terminator per message, we can start to define all of the commands expect to send.

Command Target Data
T

Set Throttle

1 or 2

The Arduino will have two separate PWM throttles.

0 to 255

The throttles will supply 12v DC PWM. The wave-cycle will be dependent on the value from 0-255. This maps to 0-12v. Hence 128 should be roughly ~6v.

D

Set Direction

1 or 2

Each throttle has it's own direction.

F or R

Forward or Reverse.

P

Toggle Point

1 to 8

8 separate points will be connected.

L or R

We'll use ASCII here to make life easier. Left or Right can be specified.

S

Read Sensors

0

We don't need to specify a block... we'll get the whole 8 bytes back regardless.

0

No value required here. We'll send a zero for padding.

Code for the Arduino

The Arduino will need to keep an eye on the serial port and act on commands when they appear on the channel. Data from the serial port will come in as singular bytes, so they'll need to be written into a buffer and processed once a whole message is found. In case the Arduino struggles, it'll need to be able to understand what a whole message is and discard anything that looks incomplete.

I'll skip the bits on PWM throttles, reading sensors and LED Matrices here... I'll describe all that in another article. Currently you can find individual articles on each of these topics on this site if you need the information straight away.

#include <SoftwareSerial.h>
SoftwareSerial mySerial(8,9); // RX, TX

void setup() {
	// set the data rate for the SoftwareSerial port
	mySerial.begin(2400);
}

...

void processCommand() {
	int x = 0;
	switch (serial_buff[0])	{
		case 'T':
			setThrottle(serial_buff[1], serial_buff[2]);
			break;
		case 'D':
			changeDir(serial_buff[1], serial_buff[2]);
			break;
		case 'P':
			//adjust point
			break;	
		case 'S':
			//read sensors and return the data.
			break;
						
	}
	
	for (int x = 0; x < SERIAL_MAX; x++) serial_buff[x] = '\0';
	last_pos = 0;
}

...

void loop() {
	//if there's data and we've not read the end of the current message.
	if (mySerial.available() && (last_pos == 0 || last_char != '!')) {
		last_char = mySerial.read();
		serial_buff[last_pos] = last_char;
		last_pos++;
		if (last_pos > SERIAL_MAX) {
			//then we need to do something drastic
		}
		if (last_char == '!') processCommand();
	}
}

The snippet above checks if there's data and if we don't already have data. If the buffer is empty, then it'll read a character into it. If that character happens to be '\0' then it'll prevent further reading and process the message.

Controlling with a Commodore 64

cc65 has all the libraries we need to get the serial interface up and running; see more on that here. We'll use a text-based interface and control everything with the keyboard. At a later date I'll write a GEOS-based GUI.

I attempted to use the Tiny Graphics Interface libraries that cc65 provides. Unfortunately, that would've also meant writing a text renderer or graphical font library as the basic 'text out' for TGI isn't implemented on the C64. Staying with text-mode was to be easier and PETSCII has enough cool symbols to draw throttles and the like.

c64-trainctl2

The screen displays the throttle, just one for now, and the direction. It also provides a clock and a schedule. The user can add and edit items in the schedule and, when in run mode, these will be executed accordingly.

void sendCommand(unsigned char c, unsigned char t, unsigned char v) {
	ser_put(c);
	ser_put(t);
	ser_put(v);
	ser_put(33);
}

...

void main() {
	...
	sendCommand('d', 1, current_direction);
	sendCommand('t', 1, current_throttle);
	...
}

I've left out most of the guff ... I'll include the full source soon. For the meantime, you'll see that I've put individual characters to the serial channel for reading at the Ardunio end. Specifically they are lower-case! You'll also note that I write 33 instead of the literal character !. The reason is, of course, that the exclamation mark in PETSCII is not the same as ASCII.

What's Next?

This works. The train happily moves back and forth using the signals sent from the C64! It's overly boring though and based on the clock. I want sensors read back to be able to trigger events... so I'll hook up the multiplexing and post again shortly.

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About stevenh

Trains... trains... trains... + Electronics + Japan.
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