Using Motors As Encoders

If you have a brushless motor, you have some magnets, a bunch of coils arranged in a circle, and theoretically, all the parts you need to build a rotary encoder. A lot of people have used brushless or stepper motors as rotary encoders, but they all seem to do it by using the motor as a generator and looking at the phases and voltages. For their Hackaday Prize project, [besenyeim] is doing it differently: they’re using motors as coupled inductors, and it looks like this is a viable way to turn a motor into an encoder.

The experimental setup for this project is a Blue Pill microcontroller based on the STM32F103. This, combined with a set of half-bridges used to drive the motor, are really the only thing needed to both spin the motor and detect where the motor is. The circuit works by using six digital outputs to drive the high and low sided of the half-bridges, and three analog inputs used as feedback. The resulting waveform graph looks like three weird stairsteps that are out of phase with each other, and with the right processing, that’s enough to detect the position of the motor.

Right now, the project is aiming to send a command over serial to a microcontroller and have the motor spin to a specific position. No, it’s not a completely closed-loop control scheme for turning a motor, but it’s actually not that bad. Future work is going to turn these motors into haptic feedback controllers, although we’re sure there are a few Raspberry Pi robots out there that would love odometry in the motor. You can check out a video of this setup in action below.

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3D Printed RC Jet Boat Gets Up To Speed

In one of those weird twists of fate, there’s currently a very high chance that anyone who owns a 3D printer has made a boat with it. In fact, they’ve probably printed several of them, so many that they might even have a shelf filled with little boats in different colors and sizes. That’s because it’s a popular benchmark to make sure the printer is well calibrated. But if you’re going to spend hours printing out a boat, why not print one that’s got some punch?

This 3D printable jet boat designed by [Jotham B] probably isn’t a great print to check your desktop machine’s calibration on, in fact you’re going to want to make sure you’ve got everything dialed in before taking on this challenge. If the classic “Benchy” is the beginners boat, then this is certainly for the 3D printing veterans. But if you’ve got the skills to pull it off, and some RC gear laying around to outfit it with, this could be a great project to end your summer on.

Unless you’ve got an exceptionally tall printer, the 460mm long hull will need to be printed in several pieces and then grafted back together. You could potentially use glue, but something a bit more robust like welding the parts together with a soldering iron is a better bet to make sure your printed boat doesn’t do its best Titanic reenactment out on the lake.

[Jotham] recommends printing the impeller at 0.15mm layer height, as you’ll want all the detail you can muster to provide a smooth surface. You’ll also need to use supports, so expect to spend a fair bit of time cleaning it up post-print. The rest of the model can be printed at 0.3mm, which is going to save a lot of time on the hull. All told, it will take about half a roll of filament to print all the parts for the boat (assuming no mistakes), which puts the pre-electronics cost at around $10 USD.

Speaking of electronics, you’ll need a RC receiver, a servo for steering, an electronic speed controller (ESC), and a suitable motor. [Jotham] used a 3674 brushless motor with a 120A water-cooled ESC, but notes that the setup is way overpowered. In the video after the break you can see the boat spends as much time airborne as it does in the water, which might look cool, but isn’t exactly efficient.

If you want to round out your 3D PLA fleet, we’ve also seen a printed FPV lifeboat as well as a hydrofoil that “flies” through the water.

[Thanks to Aidan for the tip.]

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RC Boat Goes Brushless For Speed & Reliability

Remote control boats can be great fun, and come in all manner of forms. There are unpowered sailcraft, speedboats that scream under the power of internal combustion, and of course, those that move under electric power. The brushless motor revolution of the past 20 years in particular has proven capable of creating some exciting RC watercraft, and [Matt K] decided he wanted to get on board.

[Matt] had owned a Kyosho Jetstream 1000 for several years, but found the nitro engine to be temperamental and not the most fun for high-jinx down at the lake. An old-school brushed motor setup with mechanical speed control similarly failed to excite. However, after experiencing the power of brushless in RC planes, [Matt] knew what he had to do.

Using an online calculator, [Matt] determined that his earlier nitro powerplant was putting out roughly 900 watts. When it came to going brushless, he decided to spec a Turnigy powerplant with twice as much power, along with the requisite speed controller. There was some work to do to integrate the new motor with the original propeller driveshaft and water cooling system, but in the end [Matt] ended up with a much faster boat that is a lot less hassle to set up and run.

Perhaps though, your RC boat needs brains, over brawn? Perhaps it’s time to look at autonomy…

Video after the break.

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Friday Hack Chat: Motors Made Out Of PCBs

One of the most amazing technological advances found in this year’s Hackaday Prize is the careful application of copper traces turned into coils. We’ve seen this before for RFID tags and scanners, but we’ve never seen anything like what Carl is doing. He’s building brushless motors on PCBs.

All you need to build a brushless motor is a rotor loaded up with super powerful and very cheap magnets, and a few coils of wire. Now that PCBs are so cheap, the coils of wire are easily taken care of. A 3D printer and some eBay magnets finish off the rest. For this week’s Hack Chat, we’re talking with Carl about PCB motors.

Carl Bugeja is a 23-year old electronics engineer who is trying to design new robotics technology. His PCB Motor design won the Open Hardware Design Challenge and will be going to the Finals of the Hackaday Prize. This open-source PCB motor is a smaller, cheaper, and easier to assemble micro-brushless motor.

[Carl]’s main project, the PCB Motor is a stator that is printed on a 4-layer PCB board. The six stator poles are spiral traces wound in a star configuration. Although these coils produce less torque compared to an iron core stator, the motor is still suitable for high-speed applications. [Carl]’s been working on other PCB motor designs, like the Linear PCB motor which is a monorail on a PCB and the Flexible PCB actuator where the coils of wire are tucked inside Kapton.

During this Hack Chat, we’re going to be discussing:

  • The design and construction of brushless motors
  • How to drive these motors
  • PCB applications beyond standard circuitry
  • Building accessible robotics technology

You are, of course, encouraged to add your own questions to the discussion. You can do that by leaving a comment on the Hack Chat Event Page and we’ll put that in the queue for the Hack Chat discussion.join-hack-chat

Our Hack Chats are live community events on the Hack Chat group messaging. This week is just like any other, and we’ll be gathering ’round our video terminals at noon, Pacific, on Friday, August 10th. Need a countdown timer? You wouldn’t if we switched to universal metric time.

Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on

You don’t have to wait until Friday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.

Flat Pack Generators

We just wrapped up the Power Harvesting challenge in the Hackaday Prize, and with that comes some solutions to getting power in some very remote places. [Vijay]’s project is one of the best, because his project is getting power in Antarctica. This is a difficult environment: you don’t have the sun for a significant part of the year, it’s cold, and you need to actually get your equipment down to the continent. [Vijay]’s solution was to use one of Antarctica’s greatest resources — wind — in an ingenious flat pack wind turbine.

There are a few problems to harvesting wind power in a barren environment. The first idea was to take a standard, off-the-shelf motor and attach some blades, but [Vijay] found there was too much detent torque, and the motor would be too big anyway.

The solution to this problem was to wind his own motor that didn’t have the problems of off-the-shelf brushless motors. The design that [Vijay] settled on is a dual axial flux generator, or a motor with a fixed stator with magnets and two rotors loaded up with copper windings. Think of it as a flattened, inverted version of the motor on your drone.

One interesting aspect of this design is that it takes up significantly less space than a traditional motor, while still being able to output about 100 Watts with the wind blowing. Add in some gearing to get the speed of the rotor right, and you have a simple wind generator that can be set up in minutes and carried anywhere. It’s a great project, and we’re glad to see this make it into the finals of The Hackaday Prize.

A 3D-Printed Robot Actuator

Somehow, walking robots at our level never really seem to deliver on the promise that should be delivered by all those legs. Articulation using hobby servos is simple enough to achieve, but cumbersome, slow, and not very powerful. [Paul Gould] has a plan to make a better, 3D-printed articulated robot actuator.

His solution is both novel and elegant, a fairly conventional arm geometry that has at its joints a set of brushless motors similar to but a little larger than the kind you might be more familiar with on multirotors, paired with 3D-printed cycloidal gearboxes. Magnetic encoders provide the necessary positional feedback, and the result is a unit that is both compact and powerful.

With such a range of small brushless motor controllers on the market, it’s at first sight unexpected that he’s designed his own controller board. But this gives him complete control over his software, plus the CAN bus that ties everything together. He’s given us a video which we’ve placed below the break, showing the build process, the impressive capabilities of his system, and a selection of builds including a robot dog complete with tail. This is definitely a project to watch.

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3000W Unicycle’s Only Limitation Is “Personal Courage”

Electric vehicles are fertile ground for innovation because the availability of suitable motors, controllers, and power sources makes experimentation accessible even to hobbyists. Even so, [John Dingley] has been working on such vehicles since about 2009, and his latest self-balancing electric unicycle really raises the bar by multiple notches. It sports a monstrous 3000 Watt brushless hub motor intended for an electric motorcycle, and [John] was able to add numerous touches such as voice feedback and 1950’s styling using surplus aircraft and motorcycle parts. To steer, the frame changes shape slightly with help of the handlebars to allow the driver’s center of gravity to shift towards one or the other outer rims of the wheel. In a test drive at a deserted beach, [John] tells us that the bike never went above 20% power; the device’s limitations are entirely by personal courage. Watch the video of the test, embedded below.

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