Adding Position Control To An Open Source Brushless Motor Driver

Brushless motors are everywhere now. From RC planes to CNC machines, if you need a lot of power to spin something really fast, you’re probably going to use a brushless motor. A brushless motor requires a motor controller, and for most of us, this means cheap Electronic Speed Controllers (ESC) from a warehouse in China. [Ben] had a better idea: build his own ESC. He’s been working on this project for a while, and he’s polishing the design to implement a very cool feature – position control.

We’ve seen [Ben]’s work on his custom, homebrew ESC before. It is, by any measure, a work of art. It’s capable of driving brushless and brushed motors with a powerful STM32F4 microcontroller running ChibiOS that’s able to communicate with other microcontrollers through I2C, UART, and CAN bus. If you want to build anything with a motor – from a CNC machine to an RC helicopter to an electric long board – this is the motor controller for you.

[Ben]’s latest update considers position encoders. Knowing how fast a motor is turning is very important to knowing how fast a wheel is turning, how much torque the motor is generating, and an awesome step in building the finest motor controller ever made.

Like the last update, [Ben] demonstrates the great control program written for this ESC. This GUI programs the microcontroller on the controller, with protection from high and low voltages and currents, high RPMs, duty cycle changes, and support for regenerative braking.

Thanks [Dudelbert] for sending this one in.

Continue reading “Adding Position Control To An Open Source Brushless Motor Driver”

Ford Explorer Lives again as a Jurassic Truck

After Jurassic World came out and interest in Jurassic Park took off, [Voicey] decided he just had to make his very own Jurassic Park tour vehicle. Only problem? He lives in the UK and Ford Explorers aren’t exactly common there.

Wanting to keep it as movie-accurate as possible, he knew he had to get a first generation Explorer, and luckily, he managed to find one on an American car Facebook page. He bought it and got to work.

The first step was building custom bumper and brush guards, which he re-purposed from a Land Rover. Then he had a lot of painting to do. A lot.

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Why No Plane Parachutes? And Other Questions.

This week I was approached with a question. Why don’t passenger aircraft have emergency parachutes? Whole plane emergency parachutes are available for light aircraft, and have been used to great effect in many light aircraft engine failures and accidents.

But the truth is that while parachutes may be effective for light aircraft, they don’t scale. There are a series of great answers on Quora which run the numbers of the size a parachute would need to be for a full size passenger jet. I recommend reading the full thread, but suffice it to say a ballpark estimate would require a million square feet (92903 square meters) of material. This clearly isn’t very feasible, and the added weight and complexity would no doubt bring its own risks.

Continue reading “Why No Plane Parachutes? And Other Questions.”

32C3: Dieselgate — Inside the VW’s ECU

[Daniel Lange] and [Felix Domke] gave a great talk about the Volkswagen emissions scandal at this year’s Chaos Communication Congress (32C3). [Lange] previously worked as Chief architect of process chain electronics for BMW, so he certainly knows the car industry, and [Domke] did a superb job reverse-engineering his own VW car. Combining these two in one talk definitely helps clear some of the smog around the VW affair.

[Lange]’s portion of the talk basically concerns the competitive and regulatory environments that could have influenced the decisions behind the folks at VW who made the wrong choices. [Lange] demonstrates how “cheating” Europe’s lax testing regime is fairly widespread, mostly because the tests don’t mimic real driving conditions. But we’re not sure who’s to blame here. If the tests better reflected reality, gaming the tests would be the same as improving emissions in the real world.

As interesting as the politics is, we’re here for the technical details, and the reverse-engineering portion of the talk begins around 40 minutes in but you’ll definitely want to hear [Lange]’s summary of the engine control unit (ECU) starting around the 38 minute mark.

[Domke] starts off with a recurring theme in our lives, and the 32C3 talks: when you want to reverse-engineer some hardware, you don’t just pull the ECU out of your own car — you go buy another one for cheap online! [Domke] then plugged the ECU up to a 12V power supply on his bench, hooked it up, presumably to JTAG, and found a bug in the firmware that enabled him to dump the entire 2MB of flash ROM into a disassembler. Respect! His discussion of how the ECU works is a must. (Did you know that the ECU reports a constant 780 RPM on the tacho when the engine’s idling, regardless of the actual engine speed? [Domke] has proof in the reverse-engineered code!)

The ECU basically takes in data from all of the car’s sensors, and based on a number of fixed data parameters that physically model the engine, decides on outputs for all of the car’s controls. Different car manufacturers don’t have to re-write the ECU code, but simply change the engine model. So [Domke] took off digging through the engine model’s data.

Long story short, the driving parameters that trigger an emissions reduction exactly match those that result from the EU’s standardized driving schedule that they use during testing — they’re gaming the emissions tests something fierce. You’ve really got to watch the presentation, though. It’s great, and we just scratched the surface.

And if you’re interested in our other coverage of the Congress, we have quite a collection going already.

An Actual Working Hoverboard

What with 2015 being the apparent “year of the hoverboard”, we have a final contender before the year ends. It’s called the ArcaBoard from ArcaSpace, A private space company. And it doesn’t use magnets, or superconductors, or any smoke and mirrors — just a whole lot of ducted fans.

Thirty-six of them to be precise. The ArcaBoard uses 36 electric motors with an apparent 7.55HP each, powered by a massive bank of lithium ion batteries. Together, they produce 430 pounds of thrust, which allows most riders to float around quite easily. Even with that huge power drain, it apparently lasts for a whole 20 minutes, which is pretty impressive considering its size.

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Self-Driving Acura, Built in a Garage

[George Hotz], better known by his hacker moniker [GeoHot], was the first person to successfully hack the iPhone — now he’s trying his hand at building his very own self-driving vehicle.

The 26-year-old already has an impressive rap sheet, being the first to hack the PS3 when it came out, and to be sued because of it.

According to Bloomberg reporter [Ashlee Vance], [George] built this self driving vehicle in around a month — which, if true, is pretty damn incredible. It’s a 2016 Acura ILX with a lidar array on its roof, as well as a few cameras. The glove box has been ripped out to house the electronics, including a mini-PC, GPS sensors, and network switches. A large 21.5″ LCD screen sits in the dash, not unlike the standard Tesla affair.

Oh, and it runs Linux. Continue reading “Self-Driving Acura, Built in a Garage”

Alleged Hit-and-Run driver Arrested After Her Car Rats Her Out

We had to giggle at this one when it came down the tips line. Last week, a woman involved in a hit-and-run fled the scene — only to have her car call 911 for her.

The woman hit two vehicles and then attempted to drive home when her Ford vehicle called 911 using the Sync Emergency Assistance Technology. When asked by the dispatcher if everything was okay she lied about being in the accident — but the dispatcher did not believe her. After all, the sync feature only calls if the car has seen significant damage, and in this case, the air bag had been deployed. Continue reading “Alleged Hit-and-Run driver Arrested After Her Car Rats Her Out”