What is the PFx Brick?
The PFx Brick is an electronic brick element designed to offer three major functions for your LEGO® creations: 1) Motor control, 2) Lighting effects and 3) Sound effects. These functions are controlled using any LEGO® Power Functions™ InfraRed (IR) remote control. The actions the PFx Brick performs are configured using the PFx App software. The App is also used to load sound files on to the PFx Brick. Once configured, the PFx Brick can be built into your LEGO® creation transforming it with the magic of light, sound, and animation!
Why do we need another motor control brick?
Well, the PFx Brick is a lot more than just a motor control brick! We LEGO® fans are lucky that we have a thriving ecosystem of alternative electronic controllers such as the awesome SBrick and BuWizz. These controllers are aimed specifically at motor control applications where multiple motor channels and radio control via Bluetooth technology was a priority. The PFx Brick on the other hand, was designed to offer two new capabilities that we believe have been missing from LEGO® models: advanced Lighting and Sound effects. Futhermore, we wanted these features to be super-easy to use. Therefore, we chose Power Functions™ IR remote control rather than Bluetooth radio technology. We believe the simplicity of instantly using your existing Power Functions™ remote controls instead of depending on a smart-phone or tablet based control app has a lot of appeal to many users. Furthermore, we exploit much more control possibilities from these remotes than a standard LEGO® IR receiver.
Is the PFx Brick just for LEGO® Technic models?
Not at all! In fact, the PFx Brick was initially designed to bring advanced control features for use with LEGO® trains. We realized very quickly that the PFx Brick was in fact suitable for just about any LEGO® theme or model. We have successfully built demo models for LEGO® themes such as Trains, City, Technic, Space, and even themes like Nexo Knights™ and Friends™! We’ve spent a great deal of engineering effort to make the PFx Brick as compact and discreet as possible so that it can be successfully installed into models of all shapes and sizes.
How does the PFx Brick work?
Fundamentally, the PFx Brick works just like your LEGO® Power Functions IR receiver. It receives messages from the IR remote control which tell the PFx Brick to perform actions like activating a motor. However, unlike the LEGO® IR receiver, you get to tell the PFx Brick what actions to perform for any remote control event. Also it doesn’t have to be one action performed in response to an IR message, it can be a combination of actions involving motors, lights, and sound. Your Power Functions™ IR remote is transformed into a powerful control device, capable of initiating limitless actions involving not only motor control, but lighting and sound effects too! Furthermore, the PFx Brick can be told to perform certain actions everytime it starts up. This is useful for models where particular lighting and sound effects are run continuously but don’t require you to turn them on or off.
How do I set up the PFx Brick?
Easy! Connect the PFx Brick via USB to any Windows or Mac computer and use the free PFx App. The PFx Brick does not require any special drivers or operating system configuration and works completely Plug-n-Play. The App allows you to customize your PFx Brick settings such as its name, power-saving modes, audio settings, and much more. Each motor channel can be customized and tuned for speed profiles, acceleration, braking, and many other features. Audio files can be loaded and organized on to the brick. And lastly, you can customize what the PFx Brick will do for any IR remote control event, such as pressing a button or rotating a wheel. You can customize different events for every IR channel 1 to 4 giving you dozens of potential control options. Once you’re happy with your configuration, save it to the PFx Brick and it will be permanently stored until you decide to change it again later. You can also save your configuration or “profile” to your computer file system for backup, sharing with others, or for use on another PFx Brick.
Can I change the PFx Brick setup anytime?
Yes! Connect your PFx Brick to your computer and use the PFx App to change its setup or profile as many times as you want. Your setup will remain securely on the PFx Brick until you decide to change it again.
What if I have more than one PFx Brick, can I set them up at the same time?
Yes! You can connect as many PFx Bricks as your computer has available USB ports. The PFx App will enumerate all connected PFx Bricks and allow you to configure each one separately. Since you can name each PFx Brick, you can tell them apart by their assigned names in much the same way as the Apple iTunes App will show all discovered iPod, iPhone, etc. devices with their respecive names.
What happens if you have multiple PFx Bricks together, won’t they all respond to the same IR remotes?
When multiple LEGO® IR receivers are operated together, the channel selector switch can be used to isolate control for up to 4 IR remote sources. With the PFx Brick, you can achieve the same isolation by assigning actions to a specific IR channel in the same way. Also, unlike the LEGO® IR receiver, the PFx Brick will further distinguish between the dual jog-wheel remote and the dual joystick remote—offering up to 8 unique control sessions. Lastly, the PFx Brick has a special IR lockout mode which can be activated at any time either with a special button sequence or configured IR event. When in IR lockout mode, the PFx Brick will ignore all IR messages including ones that it has been configured to respond to. This allows it operate among other PFx Brick or LEGO® IR receivers without interference. Similarly, the PFx Brick can be commanded to leave IR lockout mode at any time in the same way. For example, a train layout with multiple PFx Brick fitted trains can be operated with a single remote. Trains out of use can be parked on a siding, put into IR lockout mode, yet still maintain active lighting and sound effects while parked and without interference from trains currently under control. Any parked train can be brought out of IR lockout mode and then resume interactive control.
What LEGO® devices does the PFx Brick support?
Just about everything we can test it with! The PFx Brick supports the entire LEGO® Power Functions™ device range including battery boxes, motors, lights, and remote controls. It even supports the Mindstorms EV3 IR remote control (including the beacon button) since it uses the same Power Functions™ IR remote control protocol. Support for legacy 9V devices has been tested including the 9V power regulator as a power source, 9V motors and lights.
What about LEGO® patents and Fair Play?
Fx Bricks respects the intellectual property rights of the LEGO® group and we want to clearly state that the PFx Brick is not officially endorsed or supported by the LEGO® Group and is not an officially supported Power Functions™ compatible device.
The Power Functions™ system is a registered trademark of the The LEGO® Group. Therefore, items such as the Power Functions™ compatible connectors on the PFx Brick are visually different from the LEGO® group implementation (similar to the Power Functions™ connectors on the SBrick and BuWizz products). Furthermore, the electrical design of the PFx Brick connectors is different in that we support a wider range of operating voltages, arbitrary use of the signal pins (both for input and output), and use gold plated hardened nickel pins rather than folded tin-plated tabs.
The infrared protocol used by the LEGO® Power Functions™ system is publicly documented and use of the protocol as described is prohibited for commercial use. However, the PFx Brick does not use the LEGO® Power Functions™ infrared protocol as described. Rather, the PFx Brick is agnostic of infrared protocol detail in much the same way as other universal IR remote control devices such as the Logitech Harmony universal IR remotes. The PFx Brick is capable of operating with a wide range of IR protocols and carrier frequencies. The PFx Brick supports the use of LEGO® brand IR remotes because it has passively recorded the IR signature of each IR action—even from IR remotes not documented by the LEGO® group. This signature is used to trigger arbitrary actions. The protocol detail within the message signature is completely irrelevant and is not even processed by the PFx Brick. The benefit of this approach is the ability to support a wide variety of IR remote control devices. Obviously, our priority is to support LEGO® brand IR remotes since the PFx Brick is focused primarily on the needs of LEGO® builder community.
How do I connect lights to the PFx Brick?
The short answer is anyway you want! The long answer is we didn’t want to confine the PFx Brick to one particular lighting system, product or standard. Instead, we offer several types of accessories which let you connect a variety of different lighting products. The PFx Brick has a discrete flush-mounted light docking connector. You can plug any one of our PFx Light Accessory Boards (LABs) into the docking connector in order to connect lighting products of your choice. For example, we have LABs which are compatible with the Brickstuff pico and micro connector allowing you to use lights, wires, and branching boards from the Brickstuff product range. We have LABs which expose standard 0.1” pin headers for connecting individual LEDs from commercial sources or for DIY applications. In future, we may extend the range of LABs to include the Woodland Scenics Just Plug® system, RGB strip lights, and much more! Lastly, we didn’t forget the LEGO® Power Functions™ 8870 lights! They can be plugged into any one of the PFx Brick Power Functions™ output connectors to enjoy the same full range of special lighting effects as the dedicated light channels—including brightness control, flickering, strobing, glowing, etc.—not just on on/off control!
What sounds come with PFx Brick? Can I get more?
Actually, the PFx Brick does not come pre-installed with any sounds! Unlike sound products with pre-loaded sounds that can’t be changed, the PFx Brick allows you to choose sounds and music from any source. Using the PFx App, you can import sound files in a variety of supported formats (e.g. wav, au, gsm, ogg, etc.) and load them on to the PFx Brick. To help users get started, the Fx Bricks web site has a conveniently arranged sound library where you are free to browse and download specially mastered sound effects files. The internet also has many sources of free and royalty-free sound effects and music files. For advanced users, we recommend using tools such as Audacity to fine-tune sound files by trimming their length, adjusting levels, removing noise, etc. for optimum reproduction and versatility.
How do I connect speakers to the PFx Brick?
As with lighting, we offer a variety of options for speakers. All speakers connect via a discrete 2-pin connector on the top of the PFx Brick. Any 4 or 8 ohm impedance speaker can be used but low-profile 100 ohm speakers or headphones are not supported. The biggest challenge with integrating a speaker is finding the space and mounting it securely. Furthermore, for optimum sound fidelity, all speakers should be mounted in an enclosed sound box behind the speaker cone. Much of the speaker’s performance depends on having this enclosed space to maximize sound projection from the speaker cone. To start with, we offer two fully integrated speaker options: the M and XL speakers. Each speaker is mounted into a custom designed enclosure which acts as the sound box and is designed to standard LEGO® stud geometry with anti-stud mounting tubes on the bottom. This allows the speaker to be conveniently and securely mounted anywhere in your model or layout. The M and XL speakers come with a short wire harness and 2-pin mating speaker connector. In future, we intend to broaden the range of integrated brick-compatible speaker options to suit applications of all shapes and sizes.
Can the PFx Brick be upgraded?
Yes. The PFx Brick has been designed to be upgraded securely and easily from the PFx App. Any new capabilities we develop for the PFx Brick platform, we intend to make available to existing PFx Brick users. The upgrade process is secure and robust. All PFx Brick firmware is downloaded exclusively from our secure deployment server via encrypted channels. Firmware is also transferred to the PFx Brick encrypted and is fully validated by the PFx Brick itself before it is installed for use. If for any reason, the new firmware is corrupted or invalid, the PFx Brick will continue to use its existing firmware. As a last resort, any PFx Brick can be put into “recovery” mode and have its firmware restored. It is highly unlikely that a PFx Brick can be “bricked”!
Since the PFx Brick can be connected by USB, can USB be used as a power source?
Yes. Any USB compatible power source including AC adapters, phone chargers, and battery packs can be used to power the PFx Brick. For most applications, USB is a very convenient and suitable power source. However, for applications which involve simulataneous use of motors, sounds and active lighting effects, we recommend the use of a USB power source that can provide +5V with a current rating of at least 1 A. For all applications using motors, the motor top speed will be limited by the lower voltage output of USB at +5V compared to using a higher voltage +9V or +7.5V Power Functions™ battery source. You can also simultaneously connect the PFx Brick via USB and battery. The PFx Brick will automatically source energy from the best combination of the two sources or fall back completely to one source should one be removed.
Can USB also be used for control?
Currently, control of the PFx Brick via USB is only available to the PFx App. This control is used as a means of configuring the PFx Brick rather than full time operational control. However, we have designed a comprehensive USB messaging API for the PFx Brick in order for the PFx App to be developed. This same API could be used to develop a variety of host software applications, including ones dedicated to continuous operational control of the PFx Brick. Our intention is to release the documentation for this USB messaging API to allow third party developers and hobbyists to develop their own PFx Brick software applications. This opens up the ability to integrate a group of PFx Bricks into a consolidated control application for advanced model control, layouts, site installations, etc. The release of this API will be dependent on PFx Brick market factors such as the number of users, user demand, and our ability to put together a useful developer package of documentation, source code, utilities, and licensing terms.
What accessories will be available for the PFx Brick?
Accessories are useful tools to help you integrate the PFx Brick into your creations. Accessories make integration easier, faster, and more flexible so that you can get the most out of your PFx Brick. There will be four main types of accessories: 1) IR sensors, 2) Light Accessory Boards (LABs), 3) Speakers and, 4) extension cables. IR sensor options include tethered sensors which allow the IR sensor to be located remotely from the PFx Brick in a more convenient and visible location. LABs let you connect LEDs from a wide variety of LED product suppliers. Speaker Bricks make the installation of sound easier by natively attaching to LEGO® studs. Our intention is make a variety of Speaker Bricks in different sizes so that sound can be integrated into models of different shapes and sizes. Extension cables can help integration of the PFx Brick into larger models where wiring needs to span greater distances. Extension cables will be available for IR sensors, speakers and the lighting dock connector.
Will there be other products from Fx Bricks besides the PFx Brick?
We hope so! In the process of developing the PFx Brick, we realized that we developing much more than just a Brick; we were developing a platform. We can already forecast several useful derivatives of the PFx Brick such as a PFx Brick with four motor output channels, a lower-cost PFx Brick used exclusively for lighting, RF based remote control via Bluetooth, Zigbee, or WiFi, PFx Bricks with sensor inputs for reactive control, PFx Bricks with Mindstorms NXT/EV3 compatible connectors for integration with the Mindstorms robotics platform, and much more. Clearly, any possibility of developing this ambitious product roadmap will depend on success of the first PFx Brick product and the feedback we receive from users.
Where can I buy the PFx Brick?
The PFx Brick is currently a mature pre-production prototype product. It is not available for sale yet. We want to bring the PFx Brick to market as soon as we can. In order to finance this effort, we will be reaching out to fans and potential customers via a KickStarter campaign. This campaign will help us cover the costs involved in manufacturing the PFx Brick as well as obtaining the relevant and required legal certifications such as European CE mark, US FCC Part 15, and Canadian ICES-003. We want to share not only the advanced capabilities of the PFx Brick but also the discovery and fun that we’re having building the PFx Brick into our models! Lastly, the Fx Bricks website will be opening an online store to sell not only PFx Bricks, but also a range of accessory products to work with your PFx Brick.
How much will the PFx Brick cost?
The final price of the PFx Brick has not yet been determined. It will depend on factors such as manufacturing costs, certification costs, and of course consumer demand. If you consider the range of price and capability for other LEGO® compatible control products, you have the LEGO® IR receiver which retails for $15 USD, the SBrick at $60 USD, BuWizz at $120 USD and finally the LEGO® Mindstorms EV3 brick at $190 USD. Another very similar product to the PFx Brick is a model train Digital Command Control (DCC) sound decoder. These decoders offer motor, lighting, and sound control for model trains and typically retail between $120 to $150 USD. We estimate that PFx Brick will retail between $100-150 USD depending on configuration as well as how we bundle the PFx Brick with accessories. We believe the eventual price of the PFx Brick will be consistent with its technical performance and the value it offers to its users.