RADIO CONTROL THROTTLE
Manufacturer: ARISTO-CRAFT TRAINS/Polk's Model Craft Hobbies, Inc., 346 Bergen Avenue, Jersey City, NJ 07304. Price: ART-5470 "Train Engineer" two piece set (consisting of transmitter and receiver) walk-around wireless radio control system $169.95 suggested list.
ARISTO-CRAFT'S REMOTE THROTTLE may help to revolutionize model railroading. It is the most exciting concept in train control we have tested to date. We think virtually anyone who tries ARISTO-CRAFT's "Train Engineer" radio control throttle will never again want to use only a traditional stationary power pack.
Two components make up the system: A transmitter/throttle and a receiver. You also will need a d.c. power pack; whatever you now own is probably fine. Turn it on, set the throttle knob to full power, and forget about it. The system requires absolutely no modification to your locomotives, rolling stock, power pack, or accessories.
The transmitter uses a 27 megahertz f.m. signal with pulse code modulation to eliminate any signal interference. Its signal travels up to 300 feet. We controlled trains running in the backyard from the most remote room inside the house. The trains responded perfectly. The throttle reportedly will handle up to 10 amps; we were unable to verify that. It has momentum but no way to adjust or override it. The controls are buttons. Depressing "Fast" is the same as turning the knob on a traditional power pack to increase speed. Depressing "Slow" is the same as turning the knob on your pack to decrease speed. Depressing "Emergency Brake" stops the train immediately. And depressing the "Direction" buttons changes the direction of travel. On the lower half of the transmitter is a five button keypad and the accessory mini-receiver for it will be available later this year.
The throttle also has a "Track 1-2" switch. "Track 1" lets you start a train on one electrically isolated section of track, then switch to "Track 2" and control a second train independently with an additional receiver. Since the system has a memory, the train on either track will continue to do whatever you last told it until you order it to do something different.
The transmitter is about the size of a small cellular telephone; it has a short flexible antenna, will fit in a shirt pocket, and comes with a belt clip.
The receiver is about 3 1/2 by 4 1/2 by 2 1/2 inches. It has terminals for input and output wires, a thin limp wire antenna, a "Track 1-2" switch, a multi-pin auxiliary socket, an "On-Off" switch, and three dip switches. If the throttle transmits on the "Track 1" setting, the receiver must be on the same setting. The dip switch settings also must correspond on both units; they adjust the signal. In most cases, you will set all three switches on both units to "On" but, if you use more than one system, you must raise or lower one or more switches on each unit so the signals match. Nine signal combinations are possible. In addition, the Train Engineer comes in eight frequencies so, altogether, 72 Train Engineer systems can operate in close proximity.
How well does it run trains? Extremely well. Using the Train Engineer with Timothy Miller's pure filtered d.c. power supply resulted in far better slow speed performance than using such a power supply together with a traditional throttle. What is more, our oscilloscope readings indicated virtually no variation from the ideal flat line meaning the Train Engineer essentially passed the pure filtered d.c. through its circuitry. Specifically, at the slowest speeds where a pulse power type pack would show the greatest variation from a flat line, our scope indicated .3 volt peak "switching noise" at the receiver's output terminals-and that decreases as you increase the voltage (speed).
Our resident electronics engineer, Chuck "Electro-Man" Haverlah, says those results indicate amplitude modulation rather than pulse width modulation. In practical terms, that means the system is safe to use with any manufacturer's d.c. powered locomotive, sound system, or other sophisticated electronic device regardless of scale or gauge.
According to our tests, if you continuously depress the "Fast" button, it takes about ten seconds for a locomotive running without cars to reach top speed (18 volts) and, using the "Slow" button, the same length of time to decelerate to a complete stop (0 volts). We consider that a good rate of momentum.
But the most interesting feature is how the throttle handles acceleration and deceleration. It causes the locomotive to speed up at a faster rate than it slows down. What is more, the throttle appears to have a microprocessor to anticipate what you probably want based on what you have just done. That means if you touch the "Fast" button once quickly to cause the loco to accelerate, the next time you touch it, the throttle will provide only about half as much voltage as it did the first time. In other words, it automatically cuts back the rate of acceleration. It does the same thing when you want to slow down the engine. That results in very realistic control.
We discovered the best way to cause a locomotive barely to begin moving was to alternate quickly between "Fast" and "Slow" two or three times, then to press "Fast" very briefly, as though dialing on a touch-tone phone, until the loco begins to move. The Train Engineer's degree of control was better than that of any throttle knob we have tested.
The receiver output showed a one volt drop at full throttle meaning it requires one volt to operate. Under most conditions that is inconsequential but, if you have a pack with 12 volt maximum output and no headroom, you will notice a drop in power as you push your pack toward its limit. Preliminary reports from readers indicate that voltage drop may increase as you add load (locomotives) to the track.
A couple of comments: The pack has no safety feature to make you stop a train before reversing direction. That is common to many packs but still worth mentioning. You may use any power pack, even one with crude "pulse" power, together with the Train Engineer and probably still avoid damaging motors and sound systems. Why? The wave forms of most such packs flatten out (become "safe") at top speeds, and that is the throttle setting the Train Engineer requires.
The quality of the components and workmanship of our sample seemed excellent. Everything functioned perfectly during our tests. The Train Engineer provided better speed control than we have achieved with any traditional power pack and that control appears perfectly safe for any manufacturer's products at any speed setting. We consider ARISTO-CRAFT's Train Engineer radio control throttle more than an excellent product; we think it may be a revolutionary one.-Gary Raymond, Chuck "Electro-Man" Haverlah, and Russ Reinberg