Besides fiddling with radios, another hobby of mine is a very old one – model railroading. One of the major social aspects of adults (mostly) enjoying this hobby are what are called “operations” – the simulation of various operational aspects of railroading in the model environment.
Operators often rely on FRS or other handheld radios, because layouts are often sizable, have various scenic viewblocks to help simulate distance and isolation, and the dispatcher (just as in real life) must communicate with crews “out on the road.” The radios help limit the amount of yelling across the room and inspire more authentic realism by requiring the use of the specialized lingo unique to to railroading. But this can lead to a lot of back-and-forth on the radio which interferes with another aspect of the hobby – sound. Many now buy their locos with sound already installed or do that later. Things can get loud once people start taking louder to be heard over the train sounds.
Radios do fit in, because after all that’s what RR crews still use. But before that, the telegram ruled, with telegraphers transcribing orders from the dispatcher to pass along to crews passing their station. A few have even gone so far as to install telegraph keys at each model town, bit these tend to be the few whose operators are all familiar with Morse code. Given that passing the Morse code test was the toughest part of Scouting for me, I’m not going there!
However, if you’ve read the title and stayed with me this far, you may know where this is going. The goTenna Mesh provides a very convenient way to simulate sending “telegrams” to crews on the road. Interestingly enough, the pairing of radio and phone inherent in the goTenna concept fits right in with another way that smart phones are involved with the hobby already.
Both Apple and Android devices have apps that enable the phone to be used as a wireless throttle to control the trains and other features of the layout. This has proven to be very popular, because the proprietary wireless throttles marketed by train control systems vendors cost upwards of $150, while older smart phones taken out of service can have the app installed and cost virtually nothing to use.
So many model railroaders are already operating with a phone in their hand.
Last night, we did some preliminary testing with WiThrottle, the Apple app, while transmitting text via goTenna. It worked! The alert for new messages came in just fine when the phone was being run as a throttle. You do have to switch apps to read the message, but it’s possible that the goTenna SDK may offer a way to slide a banner with the message included across the WiThrottle app with some development. That’s way above my pay grade, though.
In any case, the goTenna Mesh holds potential to limit the amount of extraneous noise in the railroad layout room, replicate some of the functionality of prototype operations, and facilitate the safe operation of the line by crews. In a sense, for thos already familar with using FRS for many of the same things, goTenna is a lot like “FRS text.” Although that term undersells the overall capabilities of the goTenna, is is very descriptive for those who could use it to substitute for much of the work done by means of voice in model railroading.
Anyway, that’s it in a nutshell and breakfast is cooking, so all for right now. I’ll be back to flesh out the concept some more, plus will be posting up info about goTenna on a popular hobby forum a little later to introduce them to how the goTenna can add to authentic operations.