The SDRL is well underway and the Propnuts team are out as often as possible practicing messing about with our quads crashing into the DYS gates and Red Paddle flags.

As the Scottish weather turns and the days get shorter we will be headed back indoors to fly and the LED lights come back out, and this season brings interactive lighting with the help of the Team Blacksheep race trackers.

Skip to the end to find the instructions to build your own, but please read on to get a look behind the scenes and inside the race tracker cases.

Back in February 2017 while we were planning our first Depot race, VTX timing was fairly new and TBS brought out the personal race trackers (see our original article which recently earned us some shirts from TBS).

Solo tracking was great but for an event we would need more so we got four and a cheapo £20 android phone (now £15) to sit on the race directors table. Data crunching and multiple hardware eventually led us down the road of building our own Wizard Tracker (details can be found in Dan’s GitHub), and the trackers were relegated to the kit bags for the occasional lap timing of IbFrasey’s tracks.

June comes around with an exciting announcement from Trappy on the FPVlife #34 podcast.

From the TBS headquarters Trappy demonstrates their new tiny whoop led gates paired with the race tracker that has a scrolling effect and changes colour as the quad is detected. This is exciting stuff. Add to that the trackers can now log up to eight pilots and the trackers will see a whole new life.

So we joined the beta test for the TBS tracker app which contained the new firmware features, and I’m caught at the first step of flashing the tracker. It reboots into boot loader (purple display) and will not respond to the app update. Keiren’s flashed perfectly, so I left the tracker in boot loader hoping the battery would discharge and reset the system, after two days it was still going and my last chance at rescue was to open up the tracker and remove the battery, still in boot loader mode. The solution was to install the beta version of the TBS app on the cheapo phone, which connected and flashed the board in 45minutes.

While I was in there I took a few photos for future reference, the main board is well laid out and TBS have a nice, simple solution. The main components that make it all work on the front are the VRX module, single button/led display and the USB plug, and on the back the Bluetooth control module, 2.4ghz dipole antenna and a large capacity 18650 lithium cell.

A close up of the tracker expansion port gives a few hints at its function – a 6pin JST-sh socket with pin 1 connected to pin 2 through a resistor, pin 2 connected to a transistor and pin 3 connected to ground. Pins 4, 5 and 6 replicate 1, 2 and 3 with a second transistor.

TBS sell the gate interface adapter but also released the schematic and great news for us there are no smarts in the adapter just an interface for the tracker and LEDs with a power supply for the LEDs. The schematic confirms the pins in the expansion port; pins 1, 2 and 3 are test ports with pins 4, 5 and 6 for the led gates. Pin 4 is led v+ and acts a reference for the led signals, pin 5 is the led signal and pin 6 is ground and a common reference for the tracker and LEDs.

bench test video in folder

Initial tests with parts from the spares drawer are not perfect but have some results, Matek ws2812 5v led boards work but appear to be very sensitive to the heat of soldering, so some new led strip was ordered in and they work great.

So the part of the article you’ve all been waiting for – how to get your own.

The simplest way is to buy the TBS tiny whoop gate kit, which includes a tracker, LEDs and the interface, but where’s the fun in that? Or do you want full size gates?

Assuming you have a tracker already you can buy the adapter and some LEDs, or the way we went you can build your own adapter using an xt60, the expansion cable that comes with the tracker and the connections that come with the led strips.

Here’s the full parts list if you want to go from scratch

So far we have tried two setups the first replicates the TBS adapter.

The tracker and power supply are grouped together, which can be helpful if you needed to power the tracker. The xt60 here has parallel wiring +&- to the led strip and +&- to the tracker pins 4&6 with the signal from pin5 to the led.

The second solution is slightly simplified. The TBS expansion port connects directly to the led input +, sig and – and the LEDs are powered from the data output end with the xt60 connected to +&-

The last step and by far the longest to find a solution, was protecting the LEDs. The bare (waterproofed) strip holds up well to gate hits but not a direct quad hit which sliced clean through so I ordered some 12mm ID clear flexible PVC hose from a brewing supplier.

Inserting the LEDs was going to be a simple morning task, the first six inches slipped in perfectly then waterproofing silicone bound up on the inside of the hose, and took the rest of the day to get the three x 3m strips protected.

Ill jump past all the failed attempts and straight to the only successful solution, you will require a space twice as tall as the led strip you are trying to sheath. Using a hoover or some strong lungs draw a length of string through the tube, I tied one end to the LED strip using a heat shrink then the other end to the highest point you can, then straightening the LED and end of the tube with the help of gravity guide the LEDs into the tube. That’s it, but it’s harder than it sounds so take your time and prepare to be patient.

Good luck

Keep an eye out on the Propnuts Facebook page for more updates on the active LED gates and the new developments in the Wizard Tracker.

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