Remote control of the dispatching screen is easily accomplished using one of many screen sharing and control options: LogMeIn, TeamViewer, or Skype Screen Sharing are just a few examples. On the Mighty MKT, we use TeamViewer. It's free, robust, and generally lag-free over Wi-Fi. The remote dispatcher sees the same screen as a local dispatcher would, and can the mouse (to select staging tracks) and keyboard commands (to log trains) just as if he/she were sitting behind the dispatcher's desk in my basement.
To communicate during operating sessions, we use FRS handheld radios. For years, I have been looking for workable solution for remote audio, that would allow a dispatcher, sitting at his remote computer, to communicate with the operators in the layout room. It took a lot of searching, but I think I've found the workable solution. We use a device from DingoTel, called the 2Way. It seems that DingoTel is no longer in business, but the devices are still around - we recently purchased one on eBay for less than $10. The 2Way device is a USB dongle, with a special cable (it comes included with the dongle).
The dongle plugs into the computer with on end of the cable connected, The other end of the cable plugs into a FRS handheld radio, with VOX (voice on demand) enabled and set to the highest sensitivity. This radio becomes the "base station", and will listen in to the local (layout room) radio traffic and transmit/receive to/from the remote dispatcher.
We use the 2Way dongle on a Mac computer, and it was truly Plug-and-Play - no drivers were required. I intend to try it on a PC soon.
We have tried several software options for the voice connection, including Skype and the chat function of TeamViewer. Both work well and provide reasonable radio quality. It takes a bit of getting used to talking with the VOX enabled…the first syllable is often clipped off. We teach the dispatcher to speak slowly and clearly, and that usually is sufficient to trigger the VOX on the base station radio.
In order to use the cable supplied with the 2Way device and to make the magic happen, you need a radio with two features:
- A single jack for the combined headphone/microphone plug.
- VOX control
The single plug was not particularly problematic. It turns out that the newer Cobra FRS radios have the correct multi-use plug, with the correct diameter to fit the 2Way cable. Most of radios on the Mighty MKT use the relatively common two plug system (like the Midway radios), but a quick search on the Google provided many options. I settled on the Cobra CX312A-1 ($18 on Amazon). This particular radio had an adjustable VOX setting, which turned out to be useful. Set the VOX to the most sensitive setting for best results. Plus, the radio comes in MKT Red, which is always a plus!
Setup is almost comically simple:
- Plug the 2Way dongle into the computer
- Plug the 4 pole end of the supplied cable into the dongle
- Plug the 3 pole end of the cable (marked RADIO) into the combined headphone/microphone of the Base Station radio
- Turn Base Station radio on and enable VOX. Set the VOX to the most sensitive setting (Level 5 on the Cobra)
- Launch the Skype or TeamViewer program. Make sure that the both the headphone and speaker settings are set for the 2Way device (listed as "C_audio USB Headphone Control" on my Mac)
- Establish the connection to the remote dispatcher
That's it! Just tell your dispatcher to talk slowly and plainly and you will be golden.