Perfect Coach Lighting XL Is Smart ESP32-Based Lighting Controller for Your O/I Scale Model Trains

Fire off clever animations via DCC or smartphone control, and bring life to your trains — or any individual carriage.

French model railway enthusiasts Laurent and Sébastien Grenier are launching an add-on designed to offer realistic lighting animation for O and I scale trains — using a universal controller built around an Espressif ESP32 microcontroller module and featuring a smartphone interface.

"Our first product, named Perfect Coach Lighting, is an animation controller for HO/OO scale passenger coaches," Grenier explains of his company's history. "It provides realistic animations & effects in each part of the coach, bringing the appropriate light in each compartment, corridor, rest room, and so on. Provided animations include : night fall, conductor passing through the coaches to check tickets, passengers going to the rest room at some moments, van switching on during a station stop and turning off when the train left the station, and many more other features."

Perfect Coach Lighting XL aims to make building animated lighting into O/I scale model trains a cinch. (📹: Ultimate Models)

The company's customers were pleased — but found a need for the same smart lighting control in larger O and I scale carriages, at least eight times bigger than the HO/OO scale train previously targeted. Add in a demand for lighting up live stream trains, which lack support for the DCC control system and rail-based power required by the Perfect Coach Lighting system, and it's clear something new was required.

The move to a larger scale has brought with it a shift in design paradigm, too: Rather than building custom boards for particular carriage shapes, the team's Perfect Coach Lighting XL is a single compact circuit board based on an ESP32 module to which the buyer will wire their own lights.

The project builds on the earlier Perfect Coach Lighting, designed for smaller-scale models. (📹: Ultimate Models)

"We decided to build a universal controller that will fit in any coach," Grenier explains, "instead of a wide range of dedicated products. The result is a small circuit of no more than 54×29mm (around 2.13×1.14") providing ready to solder power outputs but with no embedded LEDs. Each output can drive several LEDs for up to 20mA. All outputs are protected against overload by an internal current limitation. LEDs voltage can be of up to 3.2 Volts, the power source providing 3.3 Volts."

As with the previous design, the board supports DCC for both power and control - but can also work independently with any power source from 6-24V AC or DC. For live steam trains, which lack electronic control, a companion smartphone app allows for wireless control of the settings and animations — and can trigger changes per-train or per-coach.

Finally, an optional add-on power pack is designed to solve the problem of DCC interruptions due to switches or dirty tracks resetting the microcontroller — and thus cancelling an in-progress animation.

More details on the project are available on the Kickstarter campaign page, where physical rewards are available starting at €80 (around $91) with delivery expected in March next year.

Gareth Halfacree
Freelance journalist, technical author, hacker, tinkerer, erstwhile sysadmin. For hire:
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