Designing Tiny Motors Right Into The Robot’s Circuit Board

Motors are not overly complex, but this one is downright simple. Carl Bujega has been working on a motor design that heavily relies on the capabilities of the printed circuit board (PCB) fabrication processes. His talk at the 2018 Hackaday Superconference covers how he built a brushless DC motor and speed controller into a PCB. You can watch the newly published video after the break.

There are two main parts of an electric motor; the stator is stationary while the rotor spins on bearings. Electromagnetic forces are used to cause that spinning action. In this case, Carl has built the electromagnets as coils on a 4-layer circuit board (six coils on each layer). When electrified, a magnetic field is generated that pushes against the rare-earth magnets housed in the rotor.

A couple of things are really interesting here. First, those coils are usually made of “magnet wire” (enamel covered wire that is very thin) wrapped around an iron core. Using the circuit board instead saves both physical space, and the time and expense of wrapping coils of wire in the traditional way. Second, Carl has been designing with manufacture in mind; you can see in the image show that his motor design is dead-simple to assemble by inserting a 3mm bearing in the PCB, inserting magnets into the plastic rotor and snapping it into place. The end goal is to make robot actuators that are part of the circuit board itself.

The genesis of this idea came from Carl’s interest in drone design, in fact, he jumped right into a drone startup immediately after finishing his EE. The company didn’t last, but his thirst for interesting designs is ongoing. When looking at reducing the total parts necessary to build a quadcopter he happened on the idea of PCB-based coils and he’s followed it to this motor design, and beyond to some very interesting flexible-PCB robot design work which you can check out on his Hackaday.io page, YouTube, and Twitter.

There are of course some trade-offs to this. The motor is low torque since it uses an air core and not an iron core. And he’s had trouble implementing a sensor-less Electronic Speed Controller (ESC) as the back-EMF from the coils appears to be too weak. Not to fret, he added a hall sensor and has succeeded in designing an ESC that measures just 14mm by 8mm. In fact, he’s holding up the ESC and motor in the image at the top of this article!

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Brushless Motor Thrust Stand Provides Useful Data

When designing model aircraft of any shape or size, it’s useful to know the performance you can expect from the components chosen. For motors and propellers, this can be difficult. It’s always best to test them in combination. However, with the numbers of propeller and motor combinations possible, such data can be tough to come by. [Nikus] decided it would be easier to just do the testing in-house, and built a rig to do so.

The key component in this build is the strain gauge, which comes already laced up with an Arduino-compatible analog-digital converter module. Sourced for under $10 from Banggood, we can’t help but think that we’ve got it easy in 2018. A sturdy frame secures motor and propeller combination to the strain gauge assembly. An ATMEGA328 handles sending commands to the motor controller, reading the strain gauge results, and spitting out data to the LCD.

It’s a cheap and effective build that solves a tricky problem and would be a useful addition to the workshop for any serious modeler. We’ve seen other approaches in this area too, for those eager to graph their motor performance data. Video after the break.

[Thanks to Baldpower for the tip!]

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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 Hackaday.io 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 Hackaday.io.

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.