Mechaduino- Closed Loop Stepper Servos For Everyone

Is it something in the water, or have there been a lot of really cool servo projects lately? Mechaduino is a board that sits on a regular stepper motor and turns it into a servo with a closed loop control of 0.1degree.

Whenever we post something about using cheap brushless motors for precision control, someone comments that a stepper is just a brushless motor with a lot of poles, why not just control it like one. That’s exactly what the Mechaduino does. They also hint at doing something very clever with a magnetic encoder on the board which allows them, after a calibration routine, to get the accuracy they’ve promised.

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Compact Controllers Automate Window Blinds

Commercially available motorized window blinds are a nice high-end touch for today’s automated home, but they tend to command a premium price. Seems silly to charge so much for what amounts to a gear motor and controller, which is why [James Wilcox] took matters into his own hands and came up with this simple and cheap wireless blind control.

[James] started his project the sensible way, with a thorough analysis of the problem. Once COTS alternatives were eliminated – six windows would have been $1200 – he came up with a list of deliverables, including tilting to pre-determined positions, tilt-syncing across multiple windows, and long battery life. The hardware in the head rail of each blind ended up being a Moteino on a custom PCB for the drivers, a $2 stepper motor, and a four-AA battery pack. The Moteino in one blind talks to a BeagleBone Black over USB and wirelessly to the other windows for coordinated control. As for battery life, [James] capitalized on the Moteino’s low-power Listen Mode to reduce the current draw by about three orders of magnitude, which should equate to a few years between battery changes. And he did it all for only about $40 a window.

Window blinds seem to be a tempting target for hacking, whether it’s motorizing regular blinds or interfacing commercial motorized units into a home automation system. We like how compact this build is, and wonder if it could be offered as an aftermarket add-on for manual blinds.

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Simple Robot Arm With Steppers Has Pleasingly Smooth Motion

The usual go-to when building a simple robot arm is the ever-pervasive hobby servo. However, these devices are not precise, and are typically jerky and unreliable. They have their advantages, but if strength is not needed a stepper motor would provide much better motion in the same price range.

Those are the lines along which [Bajdi] was thinking when he forked the Mearm project, and adapted it for small stepper motors. First he tried printing out the servo version on thingiverse. It worked, but the parts were not ideal for 3D printing, and he didn’t like the movement.

So he purchased some 28BYJ-48 motors. These are tiny little geared steppers that tend to show up in the odd project. He modified and simplified the files in FreeCAD. With the addition of a CNC shield and an Arduino he had every thing he needed for the upgrade. A servo is now only used for the gripper.

The robot is almost certainly weaker in its payload ability, but as you can see in the before and after videos after the break, it is dramatically smoother and more accurate.

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Robotic Pets Test an Automatic Pet Door

Lots of people get a pet and then hack solutions that help them care for their new friend, like an automatic door to provide access to the great outdoors. Then again, some people build the pet door first and then build the pets to test it.

It’s actually not quite as weird as it sounds. [Amir Avni] and his wife attended a recent GeekCon and entered the GeekCon Pets event. GeekCon is a cooperative rather than competitive hackathon that encourages useless builds as a means to foster community and to just have some fun. [Amir] and his wife wanted to build a full-featured automatic pet door, and succeeded – with NFC and an ESP8266, the stepper-powered door worked exactly as planned. But without any actual animal companions to test the system, they had to hack up a few volunteers. They came up with a 3D-printed dog and cat perched atop wireless cars, and with NFC tags dangling from their collars, the door was able to differentiate between the wandering ersatz animals. The video below the break shows the adorable plastic pals in action.

It’s clear from all the pet doors and automatic waterers and feeders we’ve seen that hackers love their pets, but we’re pretty sure this is the first time the pet itself was replaced by a robot. That’s fine for the test environment, but we’d recommend the real thing for production.

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Get Really Basic With Steppers and Eight Buttons

[Kevin Darrah] put together a good video showing how to control a stepper motor with, not a motor driver, but our fingers. Taking the really low-level approach to do this sort of thing gave us a much better understanding about the features of our stepper driver chips. Such as, for example, why a half step needed twice the current to operate.

[Kevin] starts with the standard explanation of coils, transistors, and magnets that every stepper tutorial does. When he hooks up simple breadboard with passives and buttons, and then begins to activate the switches in sequence is when we had our, “oh,” moment. At first even he has trouble remembering the correct sequence, but the stepper control became intuitive when laid out with tactile switches.

We set-up our own experiment to see if we remembered our lessons on the subject. It was a fun way to review what we already knew, and we learned some more along the way. Video after the break.

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Trash Can CNC Gets a Stepper Upgrade

[HomoFaciens] is back at the bench again and working on improvements to his cheap and simple CNC machine.

The video below will no doubt remind you about previous versions of [HomoFaciens]’ CNC builds, which we’ve covered in depth. With an eye to spending as little as possible on his builds, most parts are recovered from e-waste, with a fair amount of Dumpster diving thrown in. For this upgrade, the salvaged brushed DC motors with their signature gap-toothed encoder disks are replaced with genuine bipolar steppers. The primary intention of his build is to learn (and teach) as much as possible, so he spends a good amount of time going over steppers and their control – how to determine phase wiring, how to wire up the not-salvaged-but-still-cheap drivers, directional control, and half-stepping. The mechanics are decidedly dodgy, but there are clever expedients aplenty – we especially like the oil cup fabricated from a brass tube and a bolt with a hole drilled in it. Everything just works, and the results to expense ratio is hard to beat.

While we appreciate the upgrades here, we’re still keen to see how junky his other trash can CNC can get. And we’re still waiting on the paper clip and cardboard challenge.

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Old School Gauges Let You Know Which Way the Wind Blows

When your passion is a sport that depends on Mother Nature’s cooperation, you need to keep a close eye on weather conditions. With this in mind, and not one to let work distract him from an opportunity to play, [mechanicalsquid] decided to build a wind-monitoring gauge with an old-school look to let him know when the wind is right for kitesurfing.

old-school-meter-for-windBeing an aficionado of big engineering helped [mechanicalsquid] come up with a style for his gauge – big old dials and meters. We hesitate to apply the “steampunk” label to every project that retasks old technology, but it sure looks like a couple of the gauges he used could have been for steam, so the moniker probably fits here. Weather data for favorite kitesurfing and windsurfing locales is scraped from the web and applied to the gauges to indicates wind speed and direction. [mechanicalsquid] made a valiant effort to drive the voltmeter coil directly from the Raspberry Pi, but it was not to be. Servos proved inaccurate, so steppers do the job of moving the needles on both gauges. Check out the nicely detailed build log for this one, too.

For more weather station fun be sure to check out this meter-based weather station with a slightly more modern look. And for another build in the steampunk style, this vintage meter and Nixie power display is sure to impress.