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Intro to the Open Panzer Project - and a new Control Board

This forum relates to the Open Source Tank Control Board (TCB). Please read the sticky and visit the main site to find out all about the board and how to install it.

Postby LukeZ » Sat Jan 14, 2017 6:14 pm

I'd like to introduce two things to everyone: a project and a product.

First, the Open Panzer Project. This is an undertaking to create open source versions of all electronics used in RC tanks today, with quality and features second to none. Open source means all software, designs and even processes are freely available for examination, modification, and distribution. For the last many years this project has been comprised of one person, but from now on it belongs to and will be shaped by anyone able and willing to contribute. The advantages of an open source approach are numerous, but for one it allows the community to continuously build upon the efforts of those who came before rather than re-invent the wheel, and for another, it is not dependent on the success or failure of any single person or business but can persist and evolve even as people and enterprises come and go.

OpenPanzer.org is the online home for the Open Panzer project. The site includes a forum to discuss Open Panzer designs or any other open source RC undertaking. It's kind of a quiet place right now but in time we hope it will grow to a hive of activity.

The site also includes all the details of our designs and a comprehensive Wiki with instructions. This brings us to the second introduction: our Tank Control Board or TCB for short.

The TCB can do all the things tankers are used to, but with flexibility, ease and features unparalleled in the market today. The intent was to create a board that would let the user tank the way they wanted, while getting rid of annoying restrictions like TV remotes for programming, tiny jumpers to lose, or memorizing odd stick combos to perform actions. In a manner very similar to flight controllers used on modern quadcopters, The TCB is compatible with all hobby radio receivers that output PPM, SBus, or iBus signals and can read up to 16 radio channels with only a single cable to your receiver. Each channel can be assigned to scores of functions in any way you choose. All configuration is done with easy to use Windows software we call "OP Config." Connection to a computer is with a standard USB cable or wirelessly with an optional Bluetooth adapter. We encourage you to download OP Config now and see what you think.

The TCB is plug-and-play compatible with Tamiya turret motors, recoil units and IR equipment. Taigen recoil, Airsoft and flash units can be made to work with very minor re-wiring, and we have video instructions for each of them. Taigen smokers are plug and play. Additionally the TCB can control up to 5 servos and 5 lights.

There are two important things to note about the TCB - it can not drive track motors directly (at least in 1/16th scale or larger), and it has no on-board sound.

For track motors the TCB is compatible with all hobby speed controls (brushed or brushless), and a variety of serial motor controllers including all Dimension Engineering Sabertooth controllers as well as our own design Scout ESC. Every other segment of the RC hobby uses and always has used separate motor controllers, even Tamiya uses a distinct speed control box for their tanks. Although this necessitates another piece of equipment, it allows you to choose the controller that best meets your needs, and keeps the TCB smaller and less expensive. This also means the TCB can drive a 1/6th scale tank just as easily as 1/16.

As for sound - the TCB is plug and play compatible with the Benedini TBS Mini and Micro sound cards, and in fact you get even more control than you normally would without having to modify your transmitter. Compatibility can be added in the future for other sound devices, including an open source sound card of our own design (not yet complete at this time).

In terms of battle the TCB has been programmed to accept and fire all known IR protocols on the market today including all repair and MG protocols. Dipswitches on the board allow the user to select any of the three Tamiya weight classes or a custom class of your own definition.

Additionally, a great deal of effort and thought went into the most fundamental aspect of RC tanks - driving your model. Acceleration and deceleration constraints (often called "physics" by other manufacturers) are not only implemented but can be adjusted by the user in multitudes of ways, including on the fly. Multiple turn modes, selectable neutral turns, speed limits and much more are all features you can experiment with as well as manipulate from your transmitter, that will transform your tank from a toy to something that operates in a realistic manner.

I could go on, but if you want to learn more, please head over to the TCB Wiki, get a big cup of coffee, and spend an evening reading to your heart's content.

Where to buy: As of October 2017 the TCB is once again available for purchase from Hobby King, click here to buy. For project updates, please be sure to follow the Project Status thread.


Luke



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TCB_PreProduction.jpg
OP_Config.jpg
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Postby wibblywobbly » Sun Jan 15, 2017 12:06 am

Ok, well I am the inquisitive sort, so I have just spent a while reading through the site, the Github, the parts list etc. As a 3D printer owner, I understand the 2560 stuff, the IDE etc. My only concern would be that IDE 1.8 has changed what it will accept in terms of code. The syntax of various commands has changed and has caused a few headaches in the printer community as it throws up errors when it tries to compile. Using 1.6 or earlier will handle the old code.

Just mentioning it in case anyone writes using the earlier syntax but someone using the later IDE finds a bunch of compile errors. It will save a lot of newbies a lot of hassle if the code is written to comply with what 1.8 expects, as then everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet.

It's an interesting project, certainly unique, though I am guessing that most would rather buy a ready built board than solder one up themselves. How many people actually build their own Arduino boards when the Chinese sell them for $10 a time? Looking at that parts list it would take a superhuman effort to source them all.

This is where the price factor comes into play. How much are we talking for a pre built board. I am assuming that someone can buy the board, then download the firmware and flash the card, the same way that an Arduino works, If the TCB is priced in a similar way to the Arduino then it's a fantastic idea, but once you get to the £70 mark you are up against the Clark boards?

If a user has to buy a sound card and esc's the cost ramps up (excuse the pun), you are in a 'very' competitive market. The TCB is angling towards what an Elmod board does, but that has been developed over many years, and is top drawer in terms of programmability, sound quality etc. That's all on one board.

Don't get me wrong, I love the reprap community, I built my printer and have just ordered another kit, and if the TCB delivers similar savings over off the shelf tank boards it will get a lot of attention. It's a shame that the 2560 couldn't be utilised with a Ramps 1.4 for hook ups, it would have standardised everything and been available to all. Mind you, if my experience is anything to go by, magic smoke would have become a common occurrence as well.
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Postby LukeZ » Sun Jan 15, 2017 12:58 am

Hi wibbly, thanks for those comments. A few things:

  • Absolutely it is not expected that people will need to assemble these boards themselves, that is impractical even for those who would have the expertise and equipment to do so. But it is important the designs, bill of materials, etc. all be available for those that want to modify the existing version, create future variants, etc...
  • Hobby King has not yet made a final decision on price for the board, I will post here when we know. I agree with you price will be a crucial factor given the extra pieces of equipment that must also be factored in.
  • All Open Panzer code compiles with the latest version of the Arduino IDE (version 1.8.1 as of today).
  • Also - no one needs to know anything about code, let alone needs to compile any, to use this project. Boards come flashed with firmware from the factory and can be updated with the click of a button from the Windows interface. Once again - we are offering great freedom to those who wish to modify or improve the firmware, but for the average user such things do not need to be even thought about. Install the board in your tank the same as you would a Clark or any other, and go tanking. That's it.

I am not sure the TCB will deliver substantial savings over other units at the beginning, though I also do not think it will be more expensive. The advantage with the TCB is the unparalleled scope of features and flexibility already present, plus the possibilities limited only by the imagination of the community willing to improve it. Assuming it is mildly successful (a complete unknown at this point), the price can go nowhere but down in the long term. With success there is no way it can be ultimately be anything but the least expensive option on the market, because the only cost to this project is hardware. No one is taking a salary and no one is getting paid for writing software. All the boards available today are priced far beyond the expense of their component parts, because their developers are attempting to create income based on their efforts to develop a closed source code that will disappear some day when they exit the market. Nothing wrong with that, but it is not our business model.

We are taking the road less traveled (and in the RC tank hobby, untraveled before now).
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Postby Raminator » Sun Jan 15, 2017 5:05 am

Extremely interesting stuff, Luke. I actually happened across your project the other day while looking for something else, and it really took my fancy; an open-source approach offers an unparalleled level of customisation. As much as I like the IBU, there are things that I wish I could tweak or change but just can't. I'm really pleased you've been able to find a partner to help move forward, and I'll be keeping a close eye out on future development.

With regards to the extra expense of sound boards and ESCs, there are already plenty of cheap clones coming on the market. I'm sure it'd be easy enough for Hobby King to package them with the TCB if they so choose.
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Postby wibblywobbly » Sun Jan 15, 2017 11:37 am

Thanks for the info Luke, much appreciated. I wonder if the Chinese will latch on to this and manufacture the boards, they seem to be able to do this sort of thing overnight? :haha:

The exchange rate for $/$ isn't brilliant at the moment, and may play a factor in what the UK will pay. Let's hope that Hobby King can use their industrial muscle to get this to the market at a competitive price.

I've seen quite a few projects on the web where people have used Arduino boards to create some excellent and original tank control boards, and always wondered whether anyone would take it to the next level. Well done for getting this project off the ground, it could open doors that don't currently exist for many, I would be interested simply because I like tinkering. :/
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Postby B_Man » Mon Jan 16, 2017 11:12 am

Good luck. I really hope this project takes off as I can see potential for some great things to come from a strong open source community. :thumbup:
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Postby LukeZ » Mon Jan 16, 2017 9:27 pm

Thanks for the kind comments guys!
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Postby wibblywobbly » Tue Jan 17, 2017 2:01 pm

Luke, I have downloaded the firmware and took a look through it to see what this system will do. I think you have done a stunning job, the functions that you have described only scratch the surface of the potential of this set up, and how a tank will run. It is up there in the rankings just below the Elmod I reckon.

If a cheap alternative to the Benedini can be found, it will open doors. Never got my head around what a Benedini costs... :wave:
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Postby LukeZ » Tue Jan 17, 2017 5:13 pm

Thank you wibbly for taking the time to examine the project further. There is really no way I can describe all the features in a few posts, people have to explore it themselves. It takes time to grasp the potential of the approach we take, specifically the ability to map functions to actions. We've spent a lot of time on the documentation and the website, but someone still has to read it! It's gratifying when someone does, so again I thank you.

I agree with you about the sound. It is the big limitation in the hobby generally and for our project specifically. While Benedini is arguably the best system available today; I agree the cost is far too much. Indeed I have never heard a criticism of his product other than the expense of it. That is a testament to its quality, but at some point price does matter.

Because of that I believe it is only a matter of time before alternatives become available, open source and otherwise. It will be a while yet but in the end it is inevitable. Partly we will have Benedini to thank - if his board were not so expensive there would be no incentive to for anyone to develop an alternative!
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Postby Rad_Schuhart » Tue Jan 17, 2017 6:05 pm

LukeZ wrote: Benedini is arguably the best system available today; I agree the cost is far too much. Indeed I have never heard a criticism of his product other than the expense of it. That is a testament to its quality, but at some point price does matter.


Benedini, according to the web:
Soundquality 22KHz
16Mbit Soundmemory, enough for 93s of soundrecordings
Internal 1,2W amplifier at 8 Ohm speakers

Hundred euros, and you need to buy the programming cable, so 120 euros. If you add the amplifiers add another 60 euros. So we are sinking about 180 euros plus shipping for having 93 seconds of not a very good sound quality.


Asp 2 board:
CD quality 44.1k stereo or mono .wav files
20 watt onboard amplifier plus 2 x 3 watt
Unlimited sound memory (Well, limited only by your double sd cards)
The board plays literally hundreds of sounds for virtually unlimited time.

Price. 160 euros. Keep in mind that the ASP2 is a control board that has everything that you need.



So thats why I said in rc tanks universe forum that I dont see a success in this new board if we need to invest such a huge amount of dough in something clearly outdated and way way overpriced (im talking about the benedini here) specially when we already have another options. So again I encourage you in adding sound to your new board with such as promising software.
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Postby LukeZ » Tue Jan 17, 2017 9:58 pm

That comparison between the Asp and Benedini is neither completely fair nor comprehensive, but as I ultimately have no stake in either - and in order to avoid getting sidetracked - I will leave further defense of those products to their respective manufacturers and fanboys, in some other thread.

We certainly agree there is space for more sound options in this hobby and creating an open source version is a priority. What we need at this point are developers and community engagement. The decision was made to take Open Panzer public now and move forward using the Benedini for sound. The system is not to everyone's preference but it is complete and it does work, and to be honest one could do much worse. Hopefully this will be sufficient to attract other enthusiastic participants who together can take the project further.

In time all things are possible, but you have to start somewhere. This is where we start.
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Postby tao » Tue Jan 17, 2017 10:22 pm

The DBC/BARC is/was also used as an interface with the Benedini and the old RX 18. I do like the TBS for the sound quality and ease of programming. What are some of the advantages of this over that set up? I think all of the new options are always great and just reading about
how the IBU and Clark have improved so much..and how good they are now is great.

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Postby tomhugill » Tue Jan 17, 2017 10:25 pm

Here's the Chinese benedini tbs micro clone

http://m.banggood.com/Sound-Unit-for-Or ... 97656.html

£20 boom.

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Postby tao » Tue Jan 17, 2017 10:40 pm

The TBS mini is better though, correct?

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Postby LukeZ » Tue Jan 17, 2017 10:41 pm

tao wrote:The DBC/BARC is/was also used as an interface with the Benedini and the old RX 18. I do like the TBS for the sound quality and ease of programming. What are some of the advantages of this over that set up?

The DBC/BARC used the RX-18 essentially as the speed controller, the TCB also requires an external speed controller but lets you choose from basically any known to man. The RX-18 has poor proportional control and is extremely noisy due to the low frequency at which it operates; using aftermarket controllers eliminate these issues. The existence of controller such as the Sabertooths that combine dual brushed motor control onto a single board make them ideal for our purposes, but you have many options.

The BARC accepted inputs from a 4-channel hobby radio, eliminating the cheap Heng Long transmitter. The TCB also requires a hobby radio but can process up to 16 channels over a single cable using today's modern receivers, and with an easy-to-use Windows interface lets you assign any channel to any function, permitting you to control your tank the way you want without having to memorize a lot of stick combinations.

The BARC interfaced with the Benedini TBS as does the TCB. However the TCB can be made to interface with any sound system (for example the Beier), as well as sound systems that don't yet exist, as we have been discussing.

Beyond that the differences really amount to options and configurability, of which the TCB has a quantity too great to list here.

The final difference between the TCB and really all other systems - not relevant to all but important nonetheless - is that the TCB uses open source software and hardware, with all that entails and implies.
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Postby LukeZ » Tue Jan 17, 2017 10:50 pm

tomhugill wrote:Here's the Chinese benedini tbs micro clone

That clone comes pre-loaded with sounds suitable for the small RC truck for which it is sold. If you want any additional sound, including tank sounds, you will need to use the firmware which Thomas Benedini is no longer handing out for free, precisely because of this Chinese cloning issue. So the board will not be of much use to you unless you previously purchased a product from Benedini or are using what is essentially now pirated software.

We can all complain about the price of the Benedini cards, but we can also all agree Thomas has put a lot of work into them and as a person has contributed greatly to this hobby. Let's not disrespect him by promoting unauthorized copies that undermine his business. Tom I know that's now what you were trying to do but this needs to be said. Benedini is not an open source, volunteer, not-for profit enterprise. The Chinese clone is illegal. And if we support those who seek to run a fellow tanker out of business just because we don't like his prices, we will only hurt ourselves in the end. Not to mention this sets a terrible example to those who might wish to start their own business selling us tank things we might want.

If we want a cheaper sound card, we need to obtain it legitimately. At this point the only way I know to do that is build our own.
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Postby tao » Wed Jan 18, 2017 3:29 am

Luke..Curious I have a TBS/BARC set up..the Saber can be set up to bypass the RX ..but would there be anything noticeably different doing this? Running promax 480 motors in Tiger/KT/Panther with this set up. Thanks. tao

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Postby LukeZ » Wed Jan 18, 2017 3:49 am

I'm not sure I understood exactly your setup - but it sounds like perhaps you are already using a Sabertooth speed control, BARC for IR and other features like servo recoil, Benedini for sound, and RX-18 for standard functions (smoker, airsoft, etc). Frankly that pretty much covers your bases and creates a system not unlike the Open Panzer board.

The only reason you might want to change is if you wanted to use other functions like extra servos, lights, driving adjustments, and other optional gizmodry enabled by the TCB. You really have to read through our Wiki to get a sense of what all is available and decide whether any of it is something you need. But honestly it sounds to me like you have a perfectly good setup already and there would be no need to change unless you just like to tinker.

The BARC system was really quite innovative and probably underappreciated by most when compared to the flashier all-in-one aftermarket boards.
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Postby tao » Wed Jan 18, 2017 4:28 am

At the moment the RX 18 is controlling the 480 track motors and was wondering if using the Sabertooth speed control..I would notice any difference? Thanks :)

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Postby LukeZ » Wed Jan 18, 2017 4:42 am

The Sabertooth operates at ultrasonic frequencies, so as compared to the RX-18 will not have the annoying motor whine. The Sabertooth also permits much finer control than the RX-18 which I think has limited proportional speed (maybe about 10 steps). If you control the Sabertooth with the TCB you will further be able to take advantage of acceleration and deceleration constraints and a host of other driving adjustments you may or may not need, but even without the TCB a Sabertooth alone should give you an improvement in control.
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