Watch This Tiny Dome Auto-open and Close into a Propeller

Careful planning and simulation is invaluable, but it can also be rewarding to dive directly into prototyping. This is the approach [Carl Bugeja] took with his Spherical Folding Propeller design which he has entered into the Open Hardware Design Challenge category of The 2018 Hackaday Prize. While at rest, the folding propeller looks like a small dome attached to the top of a motor. As the motor fires up, centrifugal forces cause the two main halves of the dome to unfold outward where they act as propeller blades. When the motor stops, the assembly snaps shut again.

[Carl] has done some initial tests with his first prototype attached to a digital scale as a way of measuring thrust. The test unit isn’t large — the dome is only 1.6 cm in diameter when folded — but he feels the results are promising considering the small size of the props and the fact that no simulation work was done during the initial design. [Carl] is looking to optimize the actual thrust that can be delivered, now that it has been shown that his idea of a folding dome works as imagined.

Going straight to physical prototyping with an idea can be a valid approach to early development, especially nowadays when high quality components and technologies are easily available even to hobbyists. Plus it can be great fun! You can see and hear [Carl]’s prototype in the short video embedded below.

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Analyzing Hobby Motors with an Oscilloscope

We always like finding new excuses reasons to use our test equipment, so we couldn’t help but be intrigued by this tip from [Joe Mosfet]. He uses the ever-popular Rigol DS1054Z to demonstrate the differences between a handful of brushless motors when rotated by his handheld drill at a constant RPM. Not only is he able to identify a blown motor, but it allows him to visualize their specifications which can otherwise seem a bit mystifying.

One wire from each motor is used as the ground, and channels one and two are connected to the remaining wires. Despite the DS1054Z having four channels, [Joe] is actually only using two of them here. The third channel being displayed is a virtual channel created by a math function on the scope.

After wiring them up, each motor got put into the chuck of his drill and spun up to 1430 RPM. The resulting waveforms were captured, and [Joe] walks us through each one explaining what we’re seeing on the scope.

The bad motor is easy to identify: the phases are out of alignment and in general the output looks erratic. Between the good motors, the higher the Kv rating of the motor, the lower voltage is seen on the scope. That’s because Kv in the context of brushless motors is a measurement of how fast the motor will spin for each volt. The inverse is also true, and [Joe] explains that if he could spin his 2450Kv motor at exactly 2450 RPM, we should see one volt output.

Beyond demonstrating the practical side of Kv ratings, [Joe] also theorizes that the shape of the wave might offer a glimpse into the quality of the motor’s construction. He notes his higher end motors generate a nice clean sine wave, while his cheaper ones show distortion at the peaks. An interesting note, though he does stress he can’t confirm there’s a real-world performance impact.

Last year we featured a similar method for identifying bad brushless motors using a drill press and an oscilloscope, but we liked that [Joe] went through the trouble of testing multiple motors and explaining the differences in their output.

[via /r/multicopter]

Here’s Why Hoverboard Motors Might Belong In Robots

[madcowswe] starts by pointing out that the entire premise of ODrive (an open-source brushless motor driver board) is to make use of inexpensive brushless motors in industrial-type applications. This usually means using hobby electric aircraft motors, but robotic applications sometimes need more torque than those motors can provide. Adding a gearbox is one option, but there is another: so-called “hoverboard” motors are common and offer a frankly outstanding torque-to-price ratio.

A teardown showed that the necessary mechanical and electrical interfacing look to be worth a try, so prototyping has begun. These motors are really designed for spinning a tire on the ground instead of driving other loads, but [madcowswe] believes that by adding an encoder and the right fixtures, these motors could form the basis of an excellent robot arm. The ODrive project was a contender for the 2016 Hackaday Prize and we can’t wait to see where this ends up.

Gorgeous Engineering Inside Wheels of a Robotic Trail Buddy

Robots are great in general, and [taylor] is currently working on something a bit unusual: a 3D printed explorer robot to autonomously follow outdoor trails, named Rover. Rover is still under development, and [taylor] recently completed the drive system and body designs, all shared via OnShape.

Rover has 3D printed 4.3:1 reduction planetary gearboxes embedded into each wheel, with off the shelf bearings and brushless motors. A Raspberry Pi sits in the driver’s seat, and the goal is to use a version of NVIDA’s TrailNet framework for GPS-free navigation of paths. As a result, [taylor] hopes to end up with a robotic “trail buddy” that can be made with off-the-shelf components and 3D printed parts.

Moving the motors and gearboxes into the wheels themselves makes for a very small main body to the robot, and it’s more than a bit strange to see the wheel spinning opposite to the wheel’s hub. Check out the video showcasing the latest development of the wheels, embedded below.

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Testing Brushless Motors with a Scope (or a Meter)

Brushless motors have a lot of advantages over traditional brushed motors. However, testing them can be a bit of a pain. Because the resistance of the motor’s coils is usually very low, a standard resistance check isn’t likely to be useful. Some people use LC meters, but those aren’t as common as a multimeter or oscilloscope. [Nils Rohwer] put out two videos — one two years ago and one recently — showing how to test a brushless motor with a multimeter or scope. Oh, you do need one other thing: a drill.

You don’t have to drill into the motor, instead you use the drill to spin the motor’s shaft. Since a motor and a generator are about the same thing, you can read the voltages produced by the spinning motor and determine if it is good or not. The first video shows the technique and the second, more recent video shows a scope reading a bad motor. You can see both videos, below.

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Electric Longboard with All-New Everything

We love [lolomolo]’s Open Source electric longboard project. Why? Because he completely re-engineered everything while working on the project all through college. He tackled each challenge, be it electronic or mechanical as it came, and ended up making everything himself.

The 48″ x 13″ deck is a rather unique construction utilizing carbon fiber and Baltic birch. In testing the deck, [lolomol] found the deflection was less than an inch with 500 lbs. on the other end. He modified the Caliber II trucks to add four 2250W Turnigy Aerodrive brushless outrunners driving the wheels with the help of belts. The motors are controlled by VESC, an Open Source speed controller. There are a lot of fun details, like the A123 lithium cells equipped with custom battery management system PCBs.

The board sports 5W RGBW headlights that are so bright he can only run them at 10% PWM, plus RGB LED underlighting. All of it is controlled by an onboard Linux box. You can check out [lolomolo]’s GitHub repository for code, schematics, and CAD files. His Instructable for this project also has more design notes and thoughts.

If sweet longboards are your bag, check out the 3D-printed longboard and the long-distance electric longboard we published previously.

Scrap Bin Mods Move Science Forward

A first-time visitor to any bio or chem lab will have many wonders to behold, but few as captivating as the magnetic stirrer. A motor turns a magnet which in turn spins a Teflon-coated stir bar inside the beaker that sits on top. It’s brilliantly simple and so incredibly useful that it leaves one wondering why they’re not included as standard equipment in every kitchen range.

But as ubiquitous as magnetic stirrers are in the lab, they generally come in largish packages. [BantamBasher135] needed a much smaller stir plate to fit inside a spectrophotometer. With zero budget, he retrofitted the instrument with an e-waste, Arduino-controlled magnetic stirrer.

The footprint available for the modification was exceedingly small — a 1 cm square cuvette with a flea-sized micro stir bar. His first stab at the micro-stirrer used a tiny 5-volt laptop fan with the blades cut off and a magnet glued to the hub, but that proved problematic. Later improvements included beefing up the voltage feeding the fan and coming up with a non-standard PWM scheme to turn the motor slow enough to prevent decoupling the stir bar from the magnets.

[BantamBasher135] admits that it’s an ugly solution, but one does what one can to get the science done. While this is a bit specialized, we’ve featured plenty of DIY lab instruments here before. You can make your own peristaltic pump or even a spectrophotometer — with or without the stirrer.

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