Automating RC Motor Efficiency Testing

Small brushless motors and LiPo batteries are one of the most impressive bits of technology popularized in recent years. Just a few years ago, RC aircraft were powered by either anemic brushed motors or gas. Quadcopters were rare. Now, with brushless motors, flying has never been easier, building electric longboards is simple, and electric bicycles are common.

Of course, if you’re going to make anything fly with a brushless motor, you’ll probably want to know the efficiency of your motor and prop setup. That’s the idea behind [Michal]’s Automated RC Motor Efficiency Tester, his entry to the 2016 Hackaday Prize.

[Michal]’s project is not a dynamometer, the device you should use if you’re measuring the torque or power of a motor. That’s not really what you want if you’re testing brushless motors and prop configurations, anyway; similarly sized props can have very different thrust profiles. Instead of building a dyno for a brushless motor, [Michal] is simply testing the thrust of a motor and prop combination.

The device is very similar to a device sold at Hobby King, and includes a motor mount, microcontroller and display, and a force sensor to graph the thrust generated by a motor and prop. Data can be saved to an SD card, and the device can be connected to a computer for automatic generation of pretty graphs.

Brushless motors are finding a lot of uses in everything from RC planes and quadcopters, to robotics and personal transportation devices. You usually don’t get much of a data sheet with these motors, so any device that can test these motors will be very useful.

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Home-Made Solenoid Motor

Want to really understand how something works? Make one yourself. That’s the approach that Reddit user [Oskarbjo] took with this neat electric motor build. He made the whole thing from scratch, using an Arduino, 3D printing, and ample quantities of wire to create a solenoid motor. This transforms the linear force of a solenoid, where a magnet is moved by a magnetic field, into rotary force. It’s rather like an internal combustion engine, but driven by electricity instead of explosions. Hopefully.

[Oskarbjo]’s engine seems to work, including a rather neat mechanism to detect the rotation of the shaft and relay that back to the controller. He hasn’t posted much detail in the build process, unfortunately, but did say that “If you’d want to build something similar I can probably help you out a bit, but half the fun is coming up with your own solutions.” Amen to that. We’ve seen a few neat solenoid motor builds, but this one wins points for starting from scratch. There is an Instagram video of the motor running after the break.

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Brushed DC Servo Drive

Brushless DC motors, and their associated drive electronics, tend to be expensive and complicated. [Ottoragam] was looking for a cheaper alternative and built this Brushed DC motor servo controller and the results look pretty promising. Check out the video after the break.

He needed a low cost, closed loop drive for his home-brew CNC. The servo drive is able to supply a brushed DC motor with up to 7 A continuous current at up to 36 V which works out to about 250 W or 1/3 HP. It does closed loop control with feedback from a quadrature encoder. The drive accepts simple STEP and DIRECTION signals making it easy to interface with micro controllers and use it as a replacement for stepper motors in positioning applications. All of the control is handled by an ATmega328P. It takes the input signals and encoder data, does PID control, and drives the motor via the DRV8701 full bridge MOSFET driver. There’s also some error detection for motor over-current and driver under-voltage. Four IRFH7545 MOSFETs in H-bridge configuration form the output power stage.

This is still work in progress, and [Ottoragam] has a few features pending in his wish list. The important ones include adding a serial interface to make it easy to adjust the PID parameters and creating a GUI to make the adjustment easier. The project is Open Source and all source files available at his Github repository. The board is mostly surface mount, but the passives are all 0805, so it ought to be easy to assemble. The QFN footprint for the micro controller could be the only tricky one. [Ottoragam] would love to have some beta testers for his boards, and maybe some helpful comments to improve his design.

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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.

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There Is No Spoon; Automatic Self Stirring Mug

Sometimes it’s helpful to realize the truth that there is no spoon. At least, not with [Ronaldo]’s automatic self-stirring mug. At first it was just a small propeller in the bottom of the mug that turned on by pushing a button in the handle, but this wasn’t as feature-rich as [Ronaldo] hoped it could be, so he decided to see just how deep the automatic beverage-mixing rabbit hole goes.

The first thing to do was to get a microcontroller installed to handle the operation of the motor. The ATtiny13a was perfect for the job since it’s only using one output pin to control the motor, and can be configured to only draw 0.5 microamps in power-saving mode. This ensures a long life for the two AAA batteries that power the microcontroller and the motor.

As far as operation goes, the motor operates in different modes depending on how many times the button in the handle is pushed. It can be on continuously or it can operate at pre-determined intervals for a certain amount of time, making sure to keep the beverage thoroughly mixed for as long as the power lasts. Be sure to check out the video below for a detailed explanation of all of the operating modes. We could certainly see some other possible uses for more interesting beverages as well.

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“Who is John Galt?” Finally Answered

For those who haven’t read [Ayn Rand’s] philosophical tome Atlas Shrugged, there’s a pretty cool piece of engineering stuffed in between the 100-page-long monologues. Although fictional, a character manages to harness atmospheric static electricity and convert it into kinetic energy and (spoilers!) revolutionize the world. Harnessing atmospheric static electricity isn’t just something for fanciful works of fiction, though. It’s a real-world phenomenon and it’s actually possible to build this motor.

who-is-john-galt-thumbAs [Richard Feynman] showed, there is an exploitable electrical potential gradient in the atmosphere. By suspending a tall wire in the air, it is possible to obtain voltages in the tens of thousands of volts. In this particular demonstration, a hexacopter is used to suspend a wire with a set of needles on the end. The needles help facilitate the flow of electrons into the atmosphere, driving a current that spins the corona motor at the bottom of the wire.

There’s not much torque or power generated, but the proof of concept is very interesting to see. Of course, the higher you can go the more voltage is available to you, so maybe future devices such as this could exploit atmospheric electricity to go beyond a demonstration and do useful work. We’ve actually featured the motor that was used in this demonstration before, though, so if you’re curious as to how a corona motor works you should head over there.

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Open Source ESC Developed for Longboard Commute

For electric and remote control vehicles – from quadcopters to electric longboards – the brains of the outfit is the Electronic Speed Controller (ESC). The ESC is just a device that drives a brushless motor in response to a servo signal, but in that simplicity is a lot of technology. For the last few months, [Ben] has been working on a completely open source ESC, and now he’s riding around on an electric longboard that’s powered by drivers created with his own hands.

esc-for-longboardThe ESC [Ben] made is built around the STM32F4, a powerful ARM microcontroller that’s able to do a lot of computation in a small package. The firmware is based on ChibiOS, and there’s a USB port for connection to a sensible desktop-bound UI for adjusting parameters.

While most hobby ESCs are essentially black boxes shipped from China, there is a significant number of high performance RC pilots that modify the firmware on these devices. While these new firmwares do increase the performance and response of off-the-shelf ESCs, building a new ESC from scratch opens up a lot of doors. [Ben]’s ESC can be controlled through I2C, a UART, or even a CAN bus, greatly opening up the potential for interesting electronic flying machines. Even for ground-based vehicles, this ESC supports regenerative braking, sensor-driven operation, and on-board odometry.

While this isn’t an ESC for tiny racing quadcopters (it’s complete overkill for that task) this is a very nice ESC for bigger ground-based electric vehicles and larger aerial camera platforms. It’s something that could even be used to drive a small CNC mill, and certainly one of the most interesting pieces of open source hardware we’ve seen in a long time.

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