Many Model Railroaders would agree that electronic turnout control is an essential part of their layout. Many would agree that adding lighting, signals, crossings and animations bring a layout to life. Most would also agree that there is no comprehensive, easy to use system for layout control that makes it easy to do all of these things at the same time to automate your layout.
Several years ago, after a long hiatus, I returned to N Scale model railroading. With all the inexpensive micro-controllers and micro-computers available, I set out to build a semi-automated layout, controllable from a central point but loaded with configurable, automatic responses to changing conditions—block occupancy, turnout positions or even time of day.
I looked at my options and realized that there is no true off-the-shelf, plug-and-play system for layout control. I was going to have to create something new. This new system would have to run all conventional layout devices (turnouts, signals, crossings and so on), plus be easily adapted to a highly custom device like a motorized turntable. Plus it should support significant amount of variable lighting and have a built-in fast clock that layout objects and lighting can respond to.
Since there is little hardware available to support large scale layout control, I would need to create a handful of hardware components to bridge the gaps and make layout control a plug and play proposition.
Comprehensive Control without Limits
Along way the concept of standardized Layout Control Nodes (LCN), bound together in a Layout Control Mesh Network emerged. The challenge was to design a system whose components are easily installed on a layout, that could be configured easily to adapt to specific needs in a specific part of the layout.
The Birth of LCOS
The Layout Control Operating System is a comprehensive firmware system that supports a mesh network of intelligent Layout Control Nodes. Intelligence is the ability to make independent local decisions ranging from setting Signals to running animated crossings or correctly setting a reversing relay based on turnout positions. Each node shares information with other nodes and monitors what they, in turn, share.
The system has to be able handle all common layout devices, such as servos, turnout motors of all kinds, signals, lighting and so on.
Most importantly, the system has to be 100% configurable via remote software tools, with no programming, compiling and program uploading.
A tall order? Sure. But I did it. And now you can have a level of layout control you never thought possible.
Ready to learn more? Start with A Guide to the Layout Control Operating System.