Astrometric's smart-SkyWalker functional status
This site provides and introduction to, and status on, the present functionality of Astrometric Instrument's smart-SkyWalker products.
Last update: 21-June-2006
Contents of this web page:
Introduction to "smart-SkyWalker"
Smart-SkyWalker is the term used to describe the new line of SkyWalker telescope control systems that Astrometric Instruments is releasing.
Smart-SkyWalker provides Windows XP and 2000 functionality, full "stand-alone" capability (i.e. no PC) with our up-coming HP2 handpaddle, and
other advanced features over the old SkyWalker/SkyGuide combination.
The S-Box is an electronic accessory that that converts an existing SkyWalker-Servo, SkyWallker1 or SkyWalker2 into a smart-SkyWalker.
The S-Box is a small unobtrusive "black box" that attaches in-line with SkyWalker's HP1 handpaddle. The S-Box has no displays, buttons or switches:
Here is a picture of an S-Box connected to an old (non-smart) SkyWalker2.
Please see the Smart-SkyWalker in more detail section below for further information on what smart-SkyWalker
is and how it functions.
Smart-SkyWalker products and shipping status
We have achieved a major milestone in that we are now shipping S-Box units in volume. This represents a big step forward for our product
line as we move away from reliance upon a PC, running older versions of Microsoft Windows, to full stand-alone operation and/or support from all
versions of Microsoft Windows.
The S-Box price is $325 + shipping as of 16-Feb-2011.
To order an S-Box, please send email to email@example.com. We will contact you for payment information.
Note: the S-Box is being sold at cost. Why? Because S-Box customers have already invested in a SkyWalker system and largely
need the S-Box to enable operation under WindowsXP. Of course, the S-Box enables much additional functionality as described below.
Smart-SkyWalker product support
We have updated our support web pages to include support for the S-Box (free firmware download) and our PC-based smart-SkyWalker Client software Maestro
(free upgrade download) in addition to the preexisting support material for all SkyWalker models and our older SkyGuide software. These new support
web pages include:
Of course, we will continue to support SkyGuide-based SkyWalker systems for those who choose to not upgrade with the S-Box.
Smart-SkyWalker in more detail
Smart-SkyWalkers are modularly designed where each SkyWalker has a "brain" that takes the smarts from the PC
software (i.e. SkyGuide in previous generation SkyWalker systems) and puts it in hardware; specifically, in a hardware module called a UTC (Universal
Telescope Control module). The UTC has a 32-bit RISC microprocessor along with ample up-gradable/up-dateable Flash memory (for code and database). There
are various options including free PC control software (named Maestro), our standard HP1 handpaddle, our new HP2 handpaddle for stand-alone use, and the
S-Box accessory that converts older SkyWalker/SkyGuide systems into smart-SkyWalker systems.
Here is a close-up of a UTC module.
The first smart-SkyWalker product, the S-Box, very straightforwardly graffs into an exsisting (older) SkyWalker. The S-Box has not switches or buttons:
only connectors and status LEDs.
Here is a close-up of an S-Box.
The S-Box connections are as follows:
AutoGuider, HighDrive, Encoder and Motor connections are provided from the old SkyWalker identical to the way they are without an S-Box.
- Two "Old HP1/SW" connectors allow the S-Box to be attached in-line with the old HP1. The S-Box links into the old SkyWalker's power
supply and communications via this connection.
- Two "New HP/SW" connectors allow connection of HP2, or other telescope control accessories, to the S-Box. The S-Box can actually be
operated with both an old HP1 and a new HP2 simultaneously.
- The "Com" connector provides an RS232 connection to the PC that is compatible with existing SkyWalker communication cables but also
provides 12v for future port-powered communications accessories (e.g. direct Ethernet connection). Note: smart-SkyWalker (and the S-Box)
work great with low-cost USB-to-RS232 converters providing for use with laptops that include only USB ports but no RS232 serial ports
(SkyWalker/SkyGuide do not work reliably with USB-to-RS232 converters).
Other smart-SkyWalker options:
PC Control Software: Our SkyGuide Telescope Control System Software is replaced with a new program called Maestro. Maestro
has many similarities to SkyGuide but many enhancements as well. As is the case with SkyGuide, Maestro is freeware with updates available for
download from our support web page.
Here is a picture of Maestro and its Virtual Telescope display.
HP2: We will be offering a new handpaddle which we are calling HP2. It has an 8-line by 22-character display with numeric keypad and provides a
PC-less interface (i.e. full stand-alone) to the new smart-SkyWalkers (or to old SkyWalkers with an S-Box). HP2 is optional for smart-SkyWalker system
operation. One can instead use our existing (lower cost) HP1 handpaddle and a PC (running Maestro or other SkyWalker client software) to interface to
HP1: We will continue to offer our standard HP1 handpaddle as a lower cost alternative to the new HP2. With an HP1 and Maestro running on a
Windows-base PC, a smart-SkyWalker system will be functionally similar to older SkyWalkers running with SkyGuide under Windows 95/98/ME.
If you own an old SkyWalker and want to make your system PC-less you will need an S-Box and a HP2.
If you own an old SkyWalker, and want your system to work with Windows 2000 or XP, you will need an S-Box and can continue to use your HP1 handpaddle.
The HP2 handpaddle is only necessary for stand-alone operation.
If you purchase a new smart-SkyWalker (when they become available) and want to make your system PC-less you will need to substitute an HP2 for the
standard HP1 that will continue to be, by default, shipped with smart-SkyWalkers. No S-Box is necessary with new smart-SkyWalker systems (as the UTC
functionality is built-into them).
Functional enhancements in smart-SkyWalker (as compared to old SkyWalker/SkyGuide)
- Stand-alone operation with HP2 (i.e. no PC necessary).
- When a PC running Maestro is attached to the system: works with all versions
of Microsoft Windows, Win98 and later.
- No need for the Sustain mode provided in old SkyWalkers to support CCD camera control software that "locks up" the PC.
All smart-SkyWalker control system functionality is in the hardware and is unaffected by belligerent PC software. Only the optional (and free)
Maestro user interface software is on the PC and is tolerant of PC lock up.
- Preliminary alignment from starting position. This allows the user to place the telescope in one of many pre-defined starting
positions and achieve a preliminary alignment with one button click. There is a large list of available starting positions
including horizontal (e.g. due North, East, South, West), vertical (Zenith) or Pole (and, of course, parked position as available in SkyGuide).
Once preliminary alignment is achieved, smart-SkyWalker will automatically select suggested optimal final alignment stars and GoTo them.
- Default settings for common telescope setups (e.g. SkyWalker-Servo on G-11, SkyWalker2 on CI700, etc.).
- A very rich telescope control protocol available for independent software developers. The protocol includes hundreds of commands
that provide access to nearly all of smart-SkyWalker's features. This protocol is called the Astrometric Telescope Control Language (ATCL).
A large sub-set of ACL (LX200 (TM) variant) is also supported.
- Alt/Az alignment and GoTo (to apparent or observed Alt/Az coords). With this feature, smart-SkyWalker can control any arbitrary telescope,
not just celestial versions.
- Instantly starts in Land-mode. No StartUp-mode.
- Ability to view all settings independent of the "mode".
- Ability to change any setting, in any mode, with sensible consequences. Examples include:
- Can change velocity and acceleration settings on the fly.
- Can change limits settings (e.g. Meridian Avoidance) while aligned. This allows the user to, for example, extend the tracking by
changing a limit on-the-fly.
- Periodic Error correction without the use of a GearIndex (if motor-to-worm coupling is no-slip and motor is only moved under SkyWalker control).
- In smart-SkyWalker, all of the performance-sensitive "real time" control is done in SkyWalker's on-board microprocessor. With SkyGuide this
"real time" control was done in a Windows device driver. Consequently, these problems with SkyGuide are eliminated:
- The SkyGuide approach was vulnerable to Microsoft's changes of architecture at the device driver level. Microsoft has been much less
inclined to maintain Windows version-to-version compatibility at the device driver level (compared to the user-interface level). This forced
us into expensive and time consuming upgrades as a function Microsoft's tides. The smart-SkyWalker system uses Windows only for its user
interface; i.e. Maestro. It is expected that Maestro will port much easier to new Windows versions than would SkyGuide.
- The SkyGuide approach was at the mercy of the performance and processing latency of the attached PC. If the PC was slow, or experienced
a transient "hiccup", then SkyWalker's "real time" control was interrupt. Besides necessitating much complexity to get around this (i.e.
Sustain mode... see above) SkyGuide was limited in its long term reliability and "up time". Smart-SkyWalker is designed for indefinite "up time"
regardless of the reliability (or lack there of) of the PC used to interface to SkyWalker.
- SkyGuide would only work with Windows operating systems. Smart-SkyWalker will work with any user interface that "talks" either Meade LX200 (TM)
or Astrometric Instrument's ATCL.
Smart-SkyWalker products beyond the S-Box
In the near term we will be refreshing the SkyWalker-Servo and SkyWalker1 models to include smart-SkyWalker functionality built-in. This is a high-
priority item for us since all present SkyWalker models require an S-Box (added expense) to support smart-SkyWalker features.
After release of new (smart) SkyWalker models we will release our HP2 handpaddle.
Present list of SkyGuide features missing in latest (version 0.20.000) S-Box firmware or Maestro release (more/less in order they will be ported)
Note: pre-release versions of S-Box firmware and Maestro software are occasionally available from our
firmware and software pre-release page.
- Alignment for other than Polar-aligned instruments
- Polar alignment calibration (PolarAlignRefine)
- Automatic selection of suggested optimal final alignment stars (not a SkyGuide feature)
- TrackingCorrection diagnostics available from Status/Diagnostics/TrackingCorrection Menu Page
Known problems with latest S-Box firmware (v.0.20.000)
Additional (minor) issues are listed in the SkyWalker firmware release
notes on the Software Upgrades web page.
- If an illegal value is entered in the Instrument Display Edit Box an
unfriendly "Client Syntax Error" can result when a more friendly
error describing the illegality of the value should be presented.
- For PCs with high-loading, high-latency communications connections, or some problematic USB-to-RS232 converters, firmware
upgrade may not work. Check our FAQ
entry on using the alternative Flash upgrade software, SW_Firmup, for
a possible work-around approach.
- Some messages are reported multiple times rather than just once. For example, when alignment
is voided it is reported 3 times.
- Occasionally there can be a "Client Syntax error" with an
unknown command that is shown as 3 characters rather than the standard 4
characters for all ATCL commands. SkyWalker firmware is loosing a communications character from time to time.
This is a non-fatal error and system operation should not be effected however occasionally, this bug causes down-
stream problems (e.g. ASCOM clients not getting a reply and disconnecting).
The incidence of this error was dramatically reduced starting with firmware version 0.11.002.
Known problems with latest Maestro (v.0.20.000)
Additional (minor) issues are listed in the Maestro release
notes on the Software Upgrades web page.
- The following problems have been reported when installing Maestro:
- Before installing a new full release (i.e. not a patch) of Maestro it
is necessary to uninstall any previous version of Maestro. This is because,
for some reason, the new installation does not over-write the old Maestro.exe
- If you are informed that the RICHED32.DLL is newer on your system, I
kept it instead of allowing the installer to overwirite it.
- If you encounter an error "registering" the MSINFO.DLL file click "Ignore"
and the installation should properly complete.
Copyright 2004-2006 Astrometric Instruments, Inc.