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Detecting trains with InfraRed + Arduino

You've probably seen a lot of reversing/stopping circuits around, but the majority of these run on occupancy detection in track blocks. This can work very well but, due to the differences in train engines, you can have issues with how quickly to slow/stop individual locomotives. There are other ways of detecting a train coming to a dead-end, and here I'll show a method using Infrared Light.

Infrared light can't be seen by the human eye, but can be picked up by electronic devices. Due to this, it can be used freely around your layout (with the exception that direct sunlight/room-light can cause interference) for detecting your trains. One of the more common usages is to put an emitter/detector combination in a buffer to stop a train as it comes to the end of the line.

IR Detector

Note that there are two emitter/detector devices! Each 'black box' in that diagram contains both an emitter and a detector. The benefit of using the QRD1114 means that these are neatly packaged in one unit!

In this set up the emitter and detector are both facing towards an approaching vehicle. The emitter-side of the QRD1114 will always be emitting infrared light down the track. The detector will then receive the infrared light reflected off the vehicle as it approaches and its internal resistance will rise accordingly. This means we can read the resistance of the detector to know how close the train is therefore slow it down proportionately. We can therefore ensure the train does not hit the buffer by checking the value of the detector and altering the speed of the train quickly and appropriately.

Firstly, here's the circuit for wiring up both the 'Infrared Emitters and Detectors' and the Optical Detector / Phototransistor (recommended) from Toys Downunder. And Here's the datasheet for the latter QRD1114.

Note: I happened to test out both setups as I destroyed my first QRD1114 by applying 5v directly to the emitter... You must only apply 1.7v max!

Wiring up the detector

And then the detector set up on the engine shed roads:

Infrared Shunt

The two roads above will eventually be located inside an engine shed. Due to the potential interference from one emitter to the other, I will put a separator down the middle of the tracks.

The maxmimum read distance I could achieve was just under 6cm during testing**. This wasn't exactly what I was expecting and would've liked around 10-12cm for this purpose, but I worked around this. It seems that there is a more expensive detector at Toys Downunder: Sharp GP2Y0A21YK that can detect object up to 84cm away. I imagine it would be as simple as obtaining larger IR LEDs to boost the light output and therefore the light reflection.

Once the two detectors were in place, I set about automating a quick shunting process. I'd started noticing that, depending on room light, the readers weren't doing the best job; down to around 20mm distance was all that was being detected. This would not be enough to measure the speed as I wanted to, but I kept going anyway.

Programming the detector was the same as the potentiometer throttle done previously. The detector acted as a variable resistor and the reading would be from +1000 to 0 depending on the reflectivity of the object. It turned out that 0 was when the object was closest to the detector. Unfortunately, this only started changing once the object came within 30mm.

Here's a video of my quick shunt automation in action. First with the QRD1114 and then with the separate emitter/detector:


I ended up stopping progress on this as the detector didn't respond as well as I'd have wanted. After getting a 6cm read distance during test I thought it would feasible, but this dropped to a max of 15mm when actually installed on the track. There would be too much re-adjusting to get either of the types of infrared detectors to work.

The only option from here is to purchase the Sharp detector mentioned above and see if it really can detect 84cm!

Comments (6) Trackbacks (1)
  1. It’s in an ODFN package, which should rightly give you the shivers (although I bet there’s a SchmartBoard for it), but I have a couple of these and they look really promising:
    Or these?

    • That first Si1120 looks interesting, but not too easy to find.
      Otherwise the Sharp is the model I mentioned in the post. I’m just concerned of it’s size and it is a lot more expensive. I’ll give this another go in due course, with those Sharp detectors… Better things to attempt next :)

      • I have two of the Si1120 that I’d be happy to send to you to try out. I thought they were SSOP packages, which I am comfortable soldering, but they weren’t. They were free samples, so it’s no problem for me if you think you’d like to try them. You do have to build an enclosure for them though, is the rough part. And be comfortable soldering them. Email me if you’re interested.

  2. I’m using TCRT5000, which are combined emitter and receiver, and so far working well and have adjustable sensitivity on uk ebay at £0.99

  3. These little IR sensors (I’ve mainly used the TCRT5000) are designed for detecting close things primarily. If you read the datasheet for the TCRT5000, it works best at 2mm!

    While I’m yet to try the QRD1114, with the TCRT5000’s we’ve used, you need to do two things.

    The first is to give the IR LED its maximum rated current. We ran these at 20mA, and at 60mA. At 20 mA they kind of worked on the bench within about 20 millimetres. At 60mA they’d work on the bench out to about 150mm. You can’t pull 60mA out an Arduino port. Use the arduino to drive a transistor (2N3904), which powers the IR LED.

    The 2nd thing is to “flash” the IR LED, and take a reading both IR illuminated, and with only ambient illumination. Reading the IR sensor both times, you can take a delta. This is your “real” reading.

    On our circuit it did take a couple of milliseconds (~10) for the IR light to “power up”. So we’d power up the LED, wait 10 milliseconds, read, power-down, wait 10 milliseconds, read again. We didn’t tune this though, maybe 3ms is enough. *shrug*.

    I was thinking you could also embed them in the track, maybe “beaming” up between rails. yeah, that might work. Hmmm, dust might be a problem.

    • Kingsley,

      This information is invaluable for anyone wanting to implement what I really only lightly touched on. Your idea of sampling the values of light when on and off is perfect, as it’ll let you work out the ambiance… as long as the ambiance doesn’t change.

      Do report back if shining from between the tracks works. I assume it would work fine, as long as the surrounding area was dark. You’d be monitoring the reflection of the vehicle chassis’ as they pass and any light shining down into the sensor would disrupt that.

      Thanks for the input!

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