Ten Robot Mechanisms For Your Design Toolbox

The convergence of mechanics and electronics in robotics brings with it a lot of challenges. Thanks to 3D printing and low cost components, it’s possible to quickly and easily experiment with a variety of robotics mechanism for various use cases. [Paul Gould] has been doing exactly this, and is giving us a taste of ten designs he will be open sourcing in the near future. Video after the break.

Three of the designs are capstan mechanisms, with different motors and layouts, tested for [Paul]’s latest quadruped robot. Capstan mechanisms are a few centuries old, and were originally used on sailing ships to give the required mechanical advantage to tension large sails and hoist cargo.

Two of the mechanisms employ GUS Simpson Drives, which use a combination of belts and a rolling joint. These were inspired by the LIMS2-AMBIDEX developed at the University of Korea. The ever-popular cycloidal gearbox also makes and appearance in the form of a high torque dual disk linked, two stage, NEMA17 driven gearbox.

[Paul] also built a room sized skycam-like claw robot for his daughter, suspended by four ball chain strings reeled in by four brushless motors with ESP32 powered motor controllers. We are looking forward to having a close look at these designs when [Paul] releases them, and to see how his quadruped robot will turn out.

[Thanks TTN for the tip!]

How To Improve A Smart Motor? Make It Bigger!

Brushless motors can offer impressive torque-to-size ratios, and when combined with complex drive control and sensor feedback, exciting things become possible that expand the usual ideas of what motors can accomplish. For example, to use a DC motor in a robot leg, one might expect to need a gearbox, a motor driver, plus an encoder for position sensing. If smooth, organic motion is desired, some sort of compliant mechanical design would be involved as well. But motors like the IQ Vertiq 6806 offered by [IQ Motion Control] challenge those assumptions. By combining a high-torque brushless DC motor, advanced controller, and position sensing into an integrated device, things like improved drone performance and direct-drive robotic legs like those of the Mini Cheetah become possible.

IQ Vertiq 6806 brushless DC motor with integrated controller, driver, and position sensing.

First, the bad news: these are not cheap motors. The IQ Vertiq 6806 costs $399 USD each through the Crowd Supply pre-order ($1499 for four), but they aren’t overpriced for what they are. The cost compares favorably with other motors and controllers of the same class. A little further than halfway down the Crowd Supply page, [IQ Motion Control] makes a pretty good case for itself by comparing features with other solutions. Still, these are not likely to be anyone’s weekend impulse purchase.

So how do these smart motors work? They have two basic operating modes: Speed and Position, each of which requires different firmware, and which one to use depends on the intended application.

The “Speed” firmware is designed with driving propeller loads in mind, and works a lot like any other brushless DC motor with an ESC (electronic speed control) on something like a drone or other UAV. But while the unit can be given throttle or speed control signals like any other motor, it can also do things like accept commands in terms of thrust. In other words, an aircraft’s flight controller can communicate to motors directly in thrust units, instead of a speed control signal whose actual effect is subject to variances like motor voltage level.

The “Position” mode has the motor function like a servo with adjustable torque, which is perfect for direct drive applications like robotic legs. The position sensing also allows for a few neat tricks, like the ability to use the motors as inputs. Embedded below are two short videos showcasing both of these features, so check them out.

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Take A 3D Printed Brushless Motor Demo For A Spin

It used to be a staple of junior high physics class to build some sort of motor with paperclips or wire. A coil creates a magnetic field that makes the rotor move. In the process of moving, brushes that connect the coil to the rest of the circuit will reverse its polarity and change the magnetic field to keep the rotor turning. However, brushless motors work differently. The change in magnetic field comes from the drive controller, not from brushes. If you want to build that model, [Rishit] has you covered. You can see his 3D printed model brushless motor running in the video below.

Usually, you have a microcontroller determining how to drive the electromagnets. However, this model is simpler than that. There are two permanent magnets mounted to the shaft. One magnet closes a reed switch to energize the coil and the other magnet is in position for the coil to attract it, breaking the current. As the shaft turns, eventually the second magnet will trip the reed switch, and the coil will attract the first magnet. This process repeats over and over.

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Hoverboard Grows Up, Becomes Magnetic Drill Press

If you need to drill metal in tight places, the magnetic drill press, or mag drill is your BFF. The idea here is that a drill press with an electromagnetic base can go anywhere, and even drill horizontally if need be. If you don’t need to use one often, but want one anyway, why not build one out of e-waste?

[DIY KING 00] built this mag drill starting with the motor from a hoverboard. While these three-phase brushless motors have a lot of torque to offer reuse projects like this, they’re not designed to be particularly fast.

He was able to make it about three times faster by cutting the windings apart and reconnecting them in parallel instead of series. He designed a simple PCB to neatly tie all the connections back together and added an electronic speed control (ESC) from an R/C car.

Reluctant to give up the crown, he made his own three-coil electromagnetic base, using a drill to wind magnet wire around temporary chuck-able cores. The coils are then potted in epoxy to keep out dust and drilling debris. Everything runs from two large LiPo batteries, and he can get about 15 minutes of high-torque drilling done before they’re dead. Can you feel the electromagnet pulling you past the break to check out the build and demo video?

Depending on what you’re doing, you might get away with a magnetic vise instead.

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Car Alternators Make Great Electric Motors; Here’s How

The humble automotive alternator hides an interesting secret. Known as the part that converts power from internal combustion into the electricity needed to run everything else, they can also themselves be used as an electric motor.

The schematic of a simple automotive alternator, from US patent 3329841A filed in 1963 for Robert Bosch GmbH .
The schematic of a simple automotive alternator, from US patent 3329841A filed in 1963 for Robert Bosch GmbH.

These devices almost always take the form of a 3-phase alternator with the magnetic component supplied by an electromagnet on the rotor, and come with a rectifier and regulator pack to convert the higher AC voltage to 12V for the car electrical systems. Internally they have three connections to the stator coils which appear to be universally wired in a delta configuration, and a pair of connections to a set of brushes supplying the rotor coils through a set of slip rings. They have a surprisingly high capacity, and estimates put their capabilities as motors in the several horsepower. Best of all they are readily available second-hand and also surprisingly cheap, the Ford Focus unit shown here came from an eBay car breaker and cost only £15 (about $20).

We already hear you shouting “Why?!” at your magical internet device as you read this. Let’s jump into that.

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Watch Legged Robot Run Circles Around Its Bigger Brethren

[Ben Katz] posted about bringing the Mini Cheetah (center, above) robot to the 2019 International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA) held in Montréal, where it shared the floor with others for a workshop focusing on real-world deployment of legged robots. Those of you who haven’t been keeping up with legged robots may find yourselves delightfully surprised at the agility and fluid movements of this robot. Mini Cheetah may lack the effectors or sensors of the bigger units, but its nimbleness is undeniable.

[Ben] shared some footage of the robots together, and at about 7:22 in this video Mini Cheetah can be seen showing off a bit of flexing, followed by running around a larger unit. Another, shorter video is embedded below where you can see all the attendees moving about in a rare opportunity see them all together. You can even see the tiny one-legged hopping robot Salto if you watch closely!

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Testing Brushless Motors With A Little Help From The ESC

These days, brushless motors are the go-to for applications requiring high power in a compact package. It’s possible to buy motors in all manner of different configurations off the shelf, and the range available is only getting better. However, sometimes getting something truly optimal requires a bit of customization. With motors, this can involve swapping magnets or hand-winding coils. In these cases, it can be useful to test the modified motor to determine its performance. [JyeSmith]’s ESC tester is capable of just that.

Fundamentally, the ESC tester is a simple piece of hardware. It uses a microcontroller to speak the Dshot protocol. This protocol is typically used to communicate between multi-rotor flight controllers and ESCs. In this case, the Dshot telemetry is instead displayed on a small OLED screen. This enables the user to read off KV values, as well as other useful data such as current draw and RPM. This can help quantify the effects of any modifications made to a motor, as well as prove useful for learning about parts of spurious origins.

It’s a device that should prove useful to those trying to eke out every last drop of performance from their multi-rotor builds. We expect to see more similar projects emerge as drone racing continues to increase in popularity. If you’re still trying to learn the theory behind the technology, you can always build your own brushless motor. Video after the break.

[Thanks to Keegan for the tip!]

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