Is TouchDRO Rightfor You?
Commercial DRO displays haven't changed much in the decades since they appeared on the market. Majority of them still use the 7-segment displays and physical keyboards. More expensive models have moved to black-and-white LCD displays, and only top-of-the line units come with color touch-enabled displays. These DROs are more than adequate for a traditional machine shop where manual machines are used for simple one-off jobs.
TouchDRO, on the other hand, is designed for home shop machinists, makers and small prototyping shops, who have very different demands and workflows. Hobbyists and makers have different and diverse experiences and backgrounds. They usually have to make do with smaller lighter machines and limited tooling but frequently need to create parts that a commercial machine shop would not even consider machining manually. Since TouchDRO is a software application that runs on modern Android hardware, it can provide features and functionality that is not available even from high-end digital readouts. Being a do-it-yourself project, TouchDRO has many benefits, but there are also some important tradeoffs. In order to decide if TouchDRO is a right choice for your particular needs, let's look at the key benefits and downsides of the system.
Since TouchDRO is not constrained by a physical display or keypad, the user interface can be easily reconfigured. Things like the number of axis readouts, display font, readout format, function buttons, and many other aspects of the display can be easily changed from within the application with just a few clicks. Moreover, the scale interface adapter hardware is modular and completely decoupled from the display functionality. This enabled TouchDRO to work with most modern glass and magnetic scales, the vast majority of capacitive scales, and many specialized encoders. As a result, the TouchDRO system is infinitely more flexible and versatile than a traditional DRO and can be adapted to almost any machine configuration.
Ease of Use
TouchDRO's user interface is not limited to a small display and a set of a physical keypad, so it can offer much better usability and workflow. Screens and dialogs are designed to be self-explanatory and put the most frequently used functionality at the user's fingertips. Moreover, thanks to the availability of graphical layout preview, complex layouts can be visually verified before any material is removed. Consequently, the user interface is very task-centric and helps to speed up mundane tasks, simplify complex operations, improve efficiency, and overall reduce the chance of human error.
Even a modest Android tablet has factors of magnitude more processing power, memory, and storage than even the most advanced traditional digital readout. This enabled TouchDRO to offer functionality that is not possible on a traditional DRO. For instance, the application can store a practically unlimited number of saved coordinates or predefined tools and do advanced calculations on the fly without losing precision or introducing rounding errors.
Great Value for Every Budget
Many of the features and functionality that TouchDRO offers can be found only on the high-end DRO units that cost thousands of dollars. Being a DIY project, TouchDRO can offer this functionality at a fraction of the cost. Someone on a tight budget can put together a powerful digital readout for $200 or less, especially if they already own an old Android phone or tablet. A TouchDRO setup using glass scales can be put together for not much more than the cost of a cheap no-name Chinese DRO.
TouchDRO application's user interface is built with accessibility in mind. Things like button size spacing, readout font and many other aspects of the user interface are designed to make the application accessible to people with impaired motor skills and/or poor vision. Combined with a large bright tablet display and Androids built-in accessibility feature, TouchDRO can enable more people to do what they love.
Unfamiliar User Interface
TouchDRO's user interface is different from any other DRO on the market and can be unfamiliar to someone who is used to a traditional digital readout display. Lack of tactile feedback and multi-touch display might feel unnatural, especially if you don't use a smartphone or a tablet day-to-day. This means that one will need to adjust to the new way of doing things and possibly unlearn some old habits.
Requires More Effort to Build
TouchDRO is fundamentally a do-it-yourself project, even though some adapter models are sold as fully assembled boards. This means that you will be responsible for building an adapter, finding an appropriate enclosure, installing and configuring the application, etc. While those individual steps are not complicated if you follow the instructions on this site, building a working DRO will require more effort and time than unboxing an off-the-shelf unit.
Potential Compatibility Issues
The communication protocol of many capacitive scales is regarded as a closely guarded secret by the scale manufacturers. In order for TouchDRO to support the particular scale model, the protocol had to be reverse-engineered. Since there is nothing that is stopping the manufacturer from changing the protocol without notice, there is always a risk that the scales you purchased for a TouchDRO build are no longer compatible.
No Professional Support Network
TouchDRO is not backed by a large company with professional sales staff and technical support. Being a hobby project, TouchDRO relies on self-service and community support. This means that if things go wrong, you will not be able to get a technician to come to your shop and sort them out. Ultimately, it will be up to you to troubleshoot the issue and find a solution.
TouchDRO was designed for a completely different audience than a traditional digital readout unit. Being a DIY project that offers modern touch-based graphical user interface and runs on commodity Android hardware, the system has many benefits. It can do much more than a traditional DRO at a fraction of the cost of comparable unit. On the other hand, it comes with some tradeoffs and might not be a good choice for some people.
If you use your manual milling machine or lathe for simple operations and are looking to add simple readout to it without much fuss, TouchDRO will likely be overkill for you. An inexpensive Chinese DRO off eBay or AliExpress might be a better choice. On the other hand, if you frequently push the limits of your manual machines by making complex parts and are not afraid of learning new things, TouchDRO is likely a good fit for you. It will streamline many of the mundane tasks, help you easily switch between jobs, create and store many complex layouts, and overall make the shop time more enjoyable.