An Open Source ESC For Brushless Motors

For something basic like a brushed DC motor, speed control can be quite simple, and powering up the motor is a simple matter of just applying voltage. Brushless motors are much more demanding in their requirements however, and won’t spin unless driven just right. [Electronoobs] has been exploring the design of a brushless speed controller, and just released version 1.0 of his open-source ESC design.

The basic design is compact, and very similar to many off-the-shelf brushless ESCs in the low power range. There’s a small PCB packing a bank of MOSFETs to handle switching power to the coils of the motor, and a big capacitor to help deal with current spikes. The hacker staple ATMEGA328 is the microcontroller running the show. It’s a sensorless design, which measures the back EMF of the motor in order to determine when to fire the MOSFETs. This keeps things simple for low-torque, low-power applications.

It’s a tidy build, and the latest revision shows a lot of polish compared to the earlier prototypes. If you’re interested to learn more, try building it yourself, or consider building a thrust testing rig for your bench at home. Video after the break.

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A Pet Robot, Just Like Boston Dynamics Makes

Every few months or so, a new video from Boston Dynamics will make the rounds on the Internet. This is their advertising, because unless the military starts buying mechanical mules, Boston Dynamics is going to be out of business pretty soon. You’ll see robots being kicked down the stairs, robots walking through doors, and robots acting like dogs. If a hundred or so highly skilled and highly educated roboticists, technologists, and other experts can put together a walking dog robot in a decade, obviously one person can cut through the cruft and build one in a basement. That’s what [Misha] is doing. It’s the Dizzy Wolf, a robotic wolf, or dog, or cat, we don’t actually know because there’s no fur (or head) yet. But it is interesting.

The key component for any quadruped robot is a high-torque, low-noise servo motor. This isn’t a regular ‘ol brushless motor, and for this application nine gram servos go in the trash. This means custom made motors, or DizzyMotors. You’re looking at a big brushless motor with a planetary gearset, all squished into something that could actually fit into the joint of a robotic wolf’s leg.

There’s a driver for these motors, strangely not called the DizzyDriver, that turns a BLDC into a direct drive servo motor. It is effectively a smart servo, that will move to a specific rotation, receive commands over RS-485, and write back the angular position. It also applies constant torque. Of course, there is a video of the DizzyMotor and servo driver below.

Building a robotic dog that will walk around the house is one of the hardest engineering challenges out there. You’ve got fairly crazy kinematics, you’ll need to think about the strength of the frame, control systems, and eventually how to fit everything in a compact design. This project is hitting all the marks, and we can’t wait to see the Dizzy Wolf do a backflip or chase a ball.

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Retired Rideshare Scooter Skips the Reverse Engineering to Ride Again

[Adam Zeloof] (legally) obtained a retired electric scooter and documented how it worked and how he got it working again. The scooter had a past life as a pay-to-ride electric vehicle and “$1 TO START” is still visible on the grip tape. It could be paid for and unlocked with a smartphone app, but [Adam] wasn’t interested in doing that just to ride his new scooter.

His report includes lots of teardown photos, as well as a rundown of how the whole thing works. Most of the important parts are in the steering column and handlebars. These house the battery, electronic speed controller (ESC), and charging circuitry. The green box attached to the front houses a board that [Adam] determined runs Android and is responsible for network connectivity over the cellular network.

To get the scooter running again, [Adam] and his brother [Sam] considered reverse-engineering the communications between the network box and the scooter’s controller, but in the end opted to simply replace the necessary parts with ones under their direct control. One ESC, charger, and cheap battery monitor later the scooter had all it needed to ride again. With parts for a wide variety of electric scooters readily available online, there was really no need to reverse-engineer anything.

Ridesharing scooter startups are busy working out engineering and security questions like how best to turn electric scooters into a) IoT-connected devices, and b) a viable business plan. Hardware gets revised, and as [Adam] shows, retired units can be pressed into private service with just a little work.

The motors in these things are housed within the wheels, and have frankly outstanding price-to-torque ratios. We’ve seen them mated to open-source controllers and explored for use in robotics.

Teardown Shows Why Innovative Designs Sometimes Fail

Some ideas are real head-scratchers from a design standpoint: Why in the world would you do it that way? For many of us, answering that question often requires a teardown, which is what [Ben Katz] did when this PCB motor-powered weed whacker came across his bench. The results are instructive on what it takes to succeed in the marketplace, or in this case, how to fail.

The unit in question comes from an outfit called CORE Outdoor Power. The line trimmer was powered by a big lithium-ion battery pack, but [Ben] concentrated on the unique motor for his teardown. After a problematic entry into the very sturdy case at the far end of the trimmer’s shaft, he found what looks like a souped-up version of [Carl Bugeja]’s PCB brushless motors. The rotors, each with eight large magnets embedded, are sandwiched on either side of a very thick four-layer PCB with intricately etched heavy copper traces. The PCB forms the stator, with four flat coils. The designer pulled a neat trick with the Hall-effect sensors needed for feedback; rather than go with surface-mount sensors, which would add to the thickness of the board, they used through-hole packages soldered to surface pads, with the body of the sensor nestled in a hole in the board. The whole design is very innovative, but sadly, [Ben]’s analysis shows that it has poor performance for its size and weight.

Google around a bit and you’ll see that CORE was purchased some years back by MTD, a big player in the internal combustion engine outdoor power market. They don’t appear to be a going concern anymore, and it looks as though [Ben] has discovered why.

[Jozef] tipped us off to this one. Thanks!

Can You 3D-Print a Stator for a Brushless DC Motor?

Betteridge’s Law holds that any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered with a “No.” We’re not sure that [Mr. Betteridge] was exactly correct, though, since 3D-printed stators can work successfully for BLDC motors, for certain values of success.

It’s not that [GreatScott!] isn’t aware that 3D-printed motors are a thing; after all, the video below mentions the giant Halbach array motor we featured some time ago. But part of advancing the state of the art is to replicate someone else’s results, so that’s essentially what [Scott!] attempted to do here. It also builds on his recent experiments with rewinding commercial BLDCs to turn them into generators. His first step is to recreate the stator of his motor as a printable part. It’s easy enough to recreate the stator’s shape, and even to print it using Proto-pasta iron-infused PLA filament. But that doesn’t come close to replicating the magnetic properties of a proper stator laminated from stamped iron pieces. Motors using the printed stators worked, but they were very low torque, refusing to turn with even minimal loading. There were thermal issues, too, which might have been mitigated by a fan.

So not a stunning success, but still an interesting experiment. And seeing the layers in the printed stators gives us an idea: perhaps a dual-extruder printer could alternate between plain PLA and the magnetic stuff, in an attempt to replicate the laminations of a standard stator. This might help limit eddy currents and manage heating a bit better. Continue reading “Can You 3D-Print a Stator for a Brushless DC Motor?”

Rewound and Rewired BLDC Makes a Half-Decent Generator

What’s the best way to turn a high-powered brushless DC motor optimized for hobby use into a decent low-RPM generator? Do you take a purely mechanical approach and slap a gearbox on the shaft? Or do you tackle the problem electrically?

The latter approach is what [GreatScott!] settled on with his BLDC rewinding and rewiring project. Having previously explored which motors have the best potential as generators, he knew the essential problem: in rough terms, hobby BLDCs are optimized for turning volts into RPMs, and not the other way around. He started with a teardown of a small motor, to understand the mechanical challenges involved, then moved onto a larger motor. The bigger motor was stubborn, but with some elbow grease, a lot of scratches, and some destroyed bearings, the motor was relieved of both its rotor and stator. The windings were stripped off and replaced with heavier magnet wire with more turns per pole than the original. The effect of this was to drive the Kv down and allow better performance at low RPMs. Things looked even better when the windings were rewired from delta to wye configuration.

The take-home lesson is probably to use a generator where you need a generator and let motors be motors. But we appreciate [GreatScott!]’s lesson on the innards of BLDCs nonetheless, and his other work in the “DIY or buy?” vein. Whether you want to make your own inverter, turn a hard drive motor into an encoder, or roll your own lithium battery pack, he’s done a lot of the dirty work already.

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Tilt-Rotor Plane Needs Flight Controller Hack to Get Airborne

Part of the charm of quadcopters is the challenge that building and flying them presents. In need of complex sensors and computational power to just get off the ground and under tremendous stresses thanks to their massively powerful motors, they often seem only barely controlled in flight. Despite these challenges, quadcopter flight has been reduced to practice in many ways, leaving hobbyists in search of another challenge.

[Tom Stanton] is scratching his creative itch with this radio-controlled tilt-rotor airplane that presents some unique problems and opportunities. Tilt-rotor planes are, as the name implies, able to swivel their propellors and transition them from providing forward thrust to providing verticle lift. With the rotors providing lift, the aircraft is able to hover and perform vertical take-off and landing (VTOL); switched to thrust mode, wings provide the lift for horizontal flight.

[Tom]’s realization of this design seems simple – a spar running through the wing holding BLDC motors and props is swiveled through 90° by a servo to transition the aircraft. Standard control surfaces on the wings and tail take care of horizontal flight. Actually getting an off-the-shelf flight controller to deal with the transitions was tricky. [Tom] ended up adding an Arduino to intercept the PWM signals the flight controller normally sends directly to the servos and speed controls to provide the coordination needed for a smooth transition. Full details in the video below, and some test flights which show that an RC VTOL is anything but a beginner’s plane.

[Tom] is proving himself to be quite the Renaissance man these days. Between air-powered piston engines, over-balance trebuchets, and popping the perfect wheelie, he seems to have covered all the bases and done his best to keep our tip line stocked.

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