Adjust Brightness

Many of you were asking to adjust the LED brightness on your boards. It is important to some of you late at night when you don’t want to be blinded in a dark room, or others when using boards in bright rooms.

Brightness controls are enabled on all products released since the beginning of 2020, so this is all products except for the original square (100mm x 100mm) Boston MBTA board.

To adjust the brightness on your board head to your Traintrackr dashboard, click on your board, then look for the brightness button at the top of the page.

Click the brightness button and you’ll see a popup asking you to select a new brightness level. Once you select a new brightness level we’ll send it to the board and you’ll see the change reflected within a minute. Any changes made to brightness levels when a board is not running will be sent as soon as the board reconnects again.

Live MBTA Data

Our Large MBTA boards are an update to our first MBTA board in many ways, they are larger, show the whole network, and have moved away from updates every minute, to updates every second.

Updating the board every minute is easy, we just make a vehicle location request to the MBTA API, displaying that data on the board’s LEDs. Updating every second is much more complicated, we can’t use vehicle locations anymore (they only update once a minute), so we have to use departure predictions.

We pull departure predictions from the MBTA API, and then cycle through each one, adjusting the LEDs as the trains are predicted to depart from each station. This make the movement on the board look much more fluid and natural, but does have it’s drawbacks.

  • Trains can go faster or slower than predicted, so the LEDs can jump when the next set of predictions come in.
  • Predictions aren’t available outbound for the last stop on the line, as there aren’t any public departures.
  • We don’t know where vehicles are, just when they are supposed to arrive/leave. Because of this we don’t show trains waiting to depart from their first stop, until they are scheduled to depart.

Despite these limitations, being able to see the trains move around the network in real time is much more engaging, and we think it’s a big improvement.

Reprogramming Your Trackr

We designed our trackr boards to connect to our servers, access our processed data, and then display that on the onboard LEDs.  Collecting this data in most cases isn’t easy, so we’ve done the hard work for you. All you need to do is enter your setup code (which comes with each board) + WiFi password and you’re away.

However as hackers ourselves, we realize that some of you may want to take matters into your own hands when it comes to the data, especially if you want to display something different, or data of your own.  So we’ve made it easy for you to reprogram the board, allowing you to display whatever you want.

One option is to use the Arduino IDE, with ESP8266 Core installed.  This will allow you to program the ESP8266, which is the main microcontroller on the board.  

Standard 0805 LEDs

Some of our boards come with standard 0805 LEDs driven by the HT16K33 LED driver chip, to drive this you’ll need to use a suitable library.

Addressable WS2812-mini LEDs

If you are trying to reprogram one of our boards with onboard RGB LEDs (WS2812-mini) you’ll need a library that can speak to those LEDs.

The hardware side of programming your board is easy, we’ve included a USB to UART chip (CP2104) onboard, so all you need (apart from your computer and the board itself) is the USB cable that came in the box. 

Programming Steps

  • Write your code in the Arduino IDE and make sure it compiles
  • In the board manager select ESP8266
  • Holding the onboard ‘Flash’ button, connect your board to your computer via USB
  • Release the flash button
  • Make sure you have the correct port selected, it will look something like SLAB_USBtoUART
  • Upload to your board

We’ve put together a very simple Arduino sketch to get you started with the basics, it’s then up to you to write some code and make something amazing.

Schematics and basic firmware can be found here: https://github.com/Traintrackr/board_files

Let us know how you get on with your boards, we’d love to see what you do with them.