Scrap a Hard Drive, Build a Rotary Encoder

There’s something to be said for the feel of controls. Whether it’s the satisfying snap of a high-quality switch or the buttery touch of the pots on an expensive amplifier, the tactile experience of the controls you interact with says a lot about a device.

[GreatScott!] knows this, and rather than put up with the bump and grind of a cheap rotary encoder, he decided to find an alternative. He ended up exploring hard drive motors as encoders, and while the results aren’t exactly high resolution, he may be onto something. Starting with a teardown of some old HDDs — save those magnets! — [Scott!] found that the motors fell into either the four-lead or three-lead categories. Knowing that HDD motors are brushless DC motors, he reasoned that the four-lead motors had their three windings in Wye configuration with the neutral point brought out to an external connection. A little oscilloscope work showed the expected three-phase output when the motor hub was turned, with the leading and lagging phases changing as the direction of rotation was switched. Hooked to an Arduino, the motor made a workable encoder, later improved by sending each phase through a comparator and using digital inputs rather than using the Nano’s ADCs.

It looks like [GreatScott!]’s current setup only responds to a full rotation of the makeshift encoder, but we’d bet resolution could be improved. Perhaps this previous post on turning BLDC motors into encoders will help.

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Low-Power Motor Can Run for Years on a Coin Cell

Can you run an electric motor for two years on a single lithium coin cell? [IamWe] figured out how to do it, and even though his donut motor doesn’t look like any motor we’ve ever seen before, it’s a pretty solid lesson in low-current design.

The donut motor is really just a brushless DC motor with a sign-pole stator and a multi-pole rotor. The frame of the motor is built from a styrofoam donut, hence the motor’s name. The rotor is a styrofoam sphere with neodymium magnets embedded around its equator. A sharpened bicycle spoke serves as an axle, and clever magnetic bearings provide near-zero friction rotation. The stator coil comes from an old solenoid and is driven by a very simple two-transistor oscillator. [IamWe]’s calculations show that the single CR2032 coin cell should power this motor for over two years. This one looks easy enough to whip up that it might make a nice project for a long winter’s night. Watch it spin in the video below.

This one seems like a perfect entry for the Coin Cell Challenge contest. Sure, it may not be a coin cell jump starter for your car, but our guess is this motor will still be spinning in 2020, and that’s no mean feat.

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Open Source Motor Controller Makes Smooth Moves with Anti-Cogging

Almost two years ago, a research team showed that it was possible to get fine motor control from cheap, brushless DC motors. Normally this is not feasible because the motors are built-in such a way that the torque applied is not uniform for every position of the motor, a phenomenon known as “cogging”. This is fine for something that doesn’t need low-speed control like a fan motor, but for robotics it’s a little more important. Since that team published their results, though, we are starting to see others implement their own low-speed brushless motor controllers.

The new method of implementing anti-cogging maps out the holding torque required for any position of the motor’s shaft so this information can be used later on. Of course this requires a fair amount of calibration; [madcowswe] reports that this method requires around 5-10 minutes of calibration. [madcowswe] also did analysis of his motors to show how much harmonic content is contained in these waveforms, which helps to understand how this phenomenon arises and how to help eliminate it.

While [madcowswe] plans to add more features to this motor control algorithm such as reverse-mapping, scaling based on speed, and better memory usage, it’s a good implementation that has visible improvements over the stock motors. The original research is also worth investigating if a cheaper, better motor is something you need.

Hoverboard Reborn For Electric Rollerblading

Rollerblading is fun, but who needs all that pesky exercise? Wouldn’t strapping on the blades be so much more tempting if you had an electric pusher motor to propel you along your way?

We have to admit that we raised a wary eyebrow as we first watched [MakerMan]’s video below. We thought it was going to be just another hoverboard hack at first, but as we watched, there were some pretty impressive fabrication skills on display. Yes, the project does start with tearing into a defunct hoverboard for parts, primarily one wheel motor and the battery pack. But after that, [MakerMan] took off on a metalworking tear. Parts of the hoverboard chassis were attached to a frame built from solid bar stock — we’ll admit never having seen curves fabricated in quite that way before. The dead 18650 in the battery pack was identified and replaced, and a controller from an e-bike was wired up. Fitted with a thumb throttle and with a bit of padding on the crossbar, it’s almost a ride-upon but not quite. It seems to move along at quite a clip, even making allowances for the time-compression on the video.

We’ve seen lots of transportation hacks before, from collapsible longboards to steam-powered bicycles, but this one is pretty unique.

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Smooth and Steady Cuts with an Improvised Power Feeder

Some woodworking operations require stock to be fed at a smooth, steady rate, for which purpose a power feeder is usually employed. They’re expensive bits of gear, though, and their cost can usually be borne only by high-output production shops. But when you need one, you need one, and hacking a power feeder from a drill and a skate wheel is a viable option.

It should come as no surprise that this woodshop hack comes to us from [Matthias Wandel], who never seems to let a woodworking challenge pass him by. His first two versions of expedient power feeders were tasked with making a lot of baseboard moldings in his new house. Version three, presented in the video below, allows him to feed stock diagonally across his table saw, resulting in custom cove moldings. The completed power feeder may look simple — it’s just a brushless drill in a wooden jig driving a skate wheel — but the iterative design process [Matthias] walks us through is pretty fascinating. We also appreciate the hacks within hacks that always find their way into his videos. No lathe? No problem! Improvise with a drill and a bandsaw.

Surprised that [Matthias] didn’t use some of his famous wooden gears in this build? We’re not. A brushless motor is perfect for this application, with constant torque at low speeds. Want to learn more about BLDC motors? Get the basics with a giant demo brushless motor.

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Open Source High Power EV Motor Controller

For anyone with interest in electric vehicles, especially drives and control systems for EV’s, the Endless-Sphere forum is the place to frequent. It’s full of some amazing projects covering electric skateboards to cars and everything in between. [Marcos Chaparro] recently posted details of his controller project — the VESC-controller, an open source controller capable of driving motors up to 200 hp.

[Marcos]’s controller is a fork of the VESC by [Benjamin Vedder] who has an almost cult following among the forum for “creating something that all DIY electric skateboard builders have been longing for, an open source, highly programmable, high voltage, reliable speed controller to use in DIY eboard projects”. We’ve covered several VESC projects here at Hackaday.

While [Vedder]’s controller is aimed at low power applications such as skate board motors, [Marcos]’s version amps it up several notches. It uses 600 V 600 A IGBT modules and 460 A current sensors capable of powering BLDC motors up to 150 kW. Since the control logic is seperated from the gate drivers and IGBT’s, it’s possible to adapt it for high power applications. All design files are available on the Github repository. The feature list of this amazing build is so long, it’s best to head over to the forum to check out the nitty-gritty details. And [Marcos] is already thinking about removing all the analog sensing in favour of using voltage and current sensors with digital outputs for the next revision. He reckons using a FPGA plus flash memory can replace a big chunk of the analog parts from the bill of materials. This would eliminate tolerance, drift and noise issues associated with the analog parts.

[Marcos] is also working on refining a reference design for a power interface board that includes gate drivers, power mosfets, DC link and differential voltage/current sensing. Design files for this interface board are available from his GitHub repo too. According to [Marcos], with better sensors and a beefier power stage, the same control board should work for motors in excess of 500 hp. Check out the video after the break showing the VESC-controller being put through its paces for an initial trial.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: Smart Electric Bike Controller

One of the more interesting yet underrated technological advances of the last decade or so is big brushless motors and high-capacity batteries. This has brought us everything from quadcopters to good electric cars, usable cordless power tools, and of course electric bicycles. For his Hackaday Prize project, [marcus] is working on a very powerful electric bicycle controller. It can deliver 1000 Watts, it’s got Bluetooth, and there’s even an Android app for some neat diagnostics.

The specs for this eBike controller are pretty much what you would expect. It’s able to deliver a whole Kilowatt, can use 48 V batteries, has regenerative braking, Hall sensors, and has a nifty Android app for settings, displaying speed, voltage and power consumption, diagnostics, and GPS integration.

How is the project progressing? [marcus] has successfully failed a doping test. He lives on the French Riviera, and the Col de la Madonne is a famous road cycling road and favorite test drive of [Lance Armstrong]. The trip from Nice to Italy was beautiful and ended up being a great test of the eBike controller.