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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Tinijet — Affordable Waterjet Cutting At Home

While laser cutting remains the dominant force for rapid prototyping anything made of plastic, MDF or wood, the real holy grail is the ability to cut metal — something most laser cutters are just not capable of.

In the industry, this is done using extremely high-powered laser cutters, plasma cutters, or water jet cutters. All of which are very pricey equipment for a hacker. Until now anyway. Introducing the Tinijet, the missing tool for affordable water jet cutting.

We first covered this project a few years ago when it was just a university research project called Hydro — it’s since evolved immensely, and will be available for sale very soon.

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Learn How A Radial Engine Works or Gawk at Amazing Wood Model

[Ian Jimmerson] has constructed a detailed model of a radial engine out of wood and MDF for an undisclosed reason. Rather than just delivering the wooden engine to wherever wood engines go, [Ian] decided to take the time to film himself disassembling and reassembling his engine, explaining in detail how it works as he goes. He starts by teaching about the cylinder numbering and the different possible cylinder configurations. It only gets better after that, and it’s worth watching the full 20 minutes of video. You’ll leave with a definite understanding of how radial engines work, and maybe build something neat with the knowledge.

Our only complaint is the lack of build photos or construction techniques. It’s a real feat to build something with this many moving parts that can run off an electric drill. Was a CNC involved, or was he one of those hardcore guys who manage to get precision parts with manual methods? Part 1 and 2 after the break.

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The USB Type-C Cable That Will Break Your Computer

USB has been on our desktops and laptops since about 1997 or so, and since then it has been the mainstay of computer peripherals. No other connector is as useful for connecting mice, keyboards, webcams, microcontroller development boards, and everything else; it’s even the standard power connector for phones. The latest advance to come out of the USB Implementers Forum is the USB Type-C connector, a device with gigabits of bandwidth and can handle enough current to power a laptop. It’s the future, even if Apple’s one-port wonder isn’t.

Ground is red, V is Black. Photo: Benson Leung
Ground is red, V is black. Photo: Benson Leung

The cable of the future is, by default, new. This means manufacturers are still figuring out the port, and how to wire it up. You would think remembering ‘red = power, black = ground’ is easy, but some manufacturers get it so terribly wrong.

[Benson Leung] is a Google engineer who works on the Chromebook Pixel products, a huge proponent of the USB Type-C connector, and a very prolific reviewer of USB Type-C connectors on Amazon. The latest cable he tested destroyed his test equipment, including a $1500 Chromebook Pixel 2. How did a cable manage to do this? The manufacturer switched black and red.

The cable in question was a SurjTech 3M cable that has thankfully been taken down from Amazon. Swapping GND and Vbus weren’t the only problem – the SuperSpeed wires were missing, meaning this was effectively only a USB 2 cable with a Type-C connector. The resistor required by USB spec was the wrong value, and was configured as a pull-down instead of a pull-up.

This isn’t an issue of a cable not meeting a design spec. Ethernet cables, specifically Cat6 cables, have been shown to work but fail to meet the specs for Cat6 cables. That’s shady manufacturing, but it won’t break a computer. This is a new low in the world of computer cables, but at least the cable has disappeared from Amazon.

This is How You Run a Hackathon: Tech Valley Center of Gravity

What’s not to love about a hackathon? The junk food and caffeine that fuel the weekend; the highs that come with success and the lows that come when the blue smoke is released; the desperate search for inspiration as the clock ticks away; nerve-wracking pitches to the judges, hoping against hope that everything works in the demo. Hackathons are the contact sport of the hacker world, bringing in top competitors and eager upstarts, and when done well you just might attract interested “civilians” and other newbies that will catch the hacking bug from what they witness.

Such was the scene at the Tech Valley Center of Gravity in Troy, NY over the last weekend of January. New for 2016, the CoG is hosting a series of four hardware hackathons this year, each with a different theme. This event’s theme was “Internet of Things”, and the call went out to any and all to come compete for bragging rights and over $1,000 in prizes. Incentives to compete included some big name corporate sponsors, like AT&T, and judging and mentoring provided by the likes of SparkFun’s [Jeff Branson]. There was also a steady stream of food and drink, saturation coverage by local media outlets, and your humble Hackaday writer and his son, who made the trip up to Troy with a small passel of Hackaday swag and a curiosity to see how the CoG has fared since our last visit at the grand opening of their glorious new home. We were not disappointed.

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Pimp My Scope: Touchscreen Edition

Do you have a touch-screen oscilloscope? Neither do we. But how cool would that be to pan left and right or expand either axis just like you do on your cellphone screen? [Igor] did just that, and the results (in the video below the break) look fantastic.

We’ve covered [Igor]’s previous round of hacking on his Siglent scope, where he bricked it by flashing the wrong firmware, and then fixed it by Frankensteining the screen into the box that the firmware wanted. But once he’d gotten the scope-hacking bug, he couldn’t quit.

A brief overview: an Arduino Nano reads the touchscreen and sends the commands to the scope to act accordingly. [Igor] initially wanted to simply use the COM port on the back to control, but his previous mis-flashing of the firmware had rendered that moot. Instead, he went after the data bus that interfaces with the keyboard unit, reverse engineered its protocol, and spoofed keypresses with custom code in the AVR.

As a side effect of all this, [Igor] could also write a script that controls the scope from his computer, and he ended up re-housing it all in the nice wooden front panel that you see now. It’s more than a step up from the previous covered-in-electrical-tape look, and the new functionality is very very cool. Kudos.

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A Better Way to Plug a CPLD into a Breadboard

If you read my first post about a simple CPLD do-it-yourself project you may remember that I seriously wiffed when I made the footprint 1” wide, which was a bit too wide for common solderless breadboards. Since then I started over, having fixed the width problem, and ended up with a module that looks decidedly… cuter.

To back up a little bit, a Complex Programmable Logic Device (CPLD) is a cool piece of hardware to have in your repertoire and it can be used to learn logic or a high level design language or replace obsolete functions or chips. But a CPLD needs a little bit of support infrastructure to become usable, and that’s what I’ll be walking you through here. So if you’re interested in learning CPLDs, or just designing boards for them, read on!

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