Single Flex PCB Folds Into A Four-Wheel Rover, Complete With Motors

You’ve got to hand it to [Carl Bugeja] — he comes up with some of the most interesting electromechanical designs we’ve seen. His latest project is right up there, too: a single PCB that folds up into a four-wheel motorized rover.

The key to [Carl]’s design lies with his PCB brushless motors, which he has been refining since we first spotted them back in 2018. The idea is to use traces on the PCB for the stator coils to drive a 3D printed rotor containing tiny magnets. They work surprisingly well, even if they don’t generate a huge amount of torque. [Carl]’s flexible PCB design, which incorporates metal stiffeners, is a bit like an unfolded cardboard box, with two pairs of motor coils on each of the side panels. This leaves the other surfaces available for all the electronics, with includes a PIC, a driver chip, and a Hall sensor for each motor, an IMU and proximity sensor for navigation, and an ESP32 to run the show.

With machined aluminum rotors and TPU tires mounted to the folded-up chassis, it was off to the races, albeit slowly. The lack of torque from the motors and the light weight of the rover, along with some unwanted friction due to ill-fitting joints, added up to slow progress, especially on anything other than a dead flat surface. But with some tweaking, [Carl] was able to get the buggy working well enough to call this one a win. Check out the build and testing in the video below.

Knowing [Carl], this isn’t the last we’ll see of the foldable rover. After all, he stuck with his two-wheel PCB motor design and eventually got that running pretty well. We’ll be keeping an eye out for progress on this one.

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Old Robotic Vacuum Gets A New RC Lease On Life

To our way of thinking, the whole purpose behind robotic vacuum cleaners is their autonomy. They’re not particularly good at vacuuming, but they are persistent about it, and eventually get the job done with as little human intervention as possible. So why in the world would you want to convert a robotic vacuum to radio control?

For [Lucas], the answer was simple: it was a $20 yard sale find, so why not? Plus, he’s got some secret evil plan to repurpose the suckbot for autonomous room mapping, which sounds like a cool project that would benefit from a thorough knowledge of this little fellow’s anatomy and physiology. The bot in question is a Hoover Quest. Like [Lucas] we didn’t know that Hoover made robotic vacuums (Narrator: they probably don’t) but despite generally negative online reviews by users, he found it to be a sturdily built and very modular and repairable unit.

After an initial valiant attempt at reverse engineering the bot’s main board — a project we encourage [Lucas] to return to eventually — he settled for just characterizing the bot’s motors and sensors and building his own controller. The Raspberry Pi Zero he chose may seem like overkill, but he already had it set up to talk to a PS4 game controller, so it made sense — right up until he released the Magic Smoke within it. A backup Pi took the sting out of that, and as the brief video below shows, he was finally able to get the bot under his command.

[Lucas] has more plans for his new little buddy, including integrating the original sensors and adding new ones. Given its intended mission, we’d say a lidar sensor would be a good addition, but that’s just a guess. Whatever he’s got in store for this, we’re keen to hear what happens.

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Steampunk Brushless Motor Demo Pushes All The Maker Buttons

We’ll be honest right up front: there’s nothing new in [David Cambridge]’s brushless motor and controller build. If you’re looking for earth-shattering innovation, you’d best look elsewhere. But if you enjoy an aimless use of just about every technique and material in the hacker’s toolkit employed with extreme craftsmanship, then this might be for you. And Nixies — he’s got Nixies in there too.

[David]’s build started out as a personal exploration of brushless motors and how they work. Some 3D-printed parts, a single coil of wire, and a magnetic reed switch resulted in a simple pulse motor that performed surprisingly well. This morphed into a six-coil motor with Hall-effect sensors and a homebrew controller. This is where [David] pulled out all the stops on tools — a lathe, a plasma cutter, a welder, a milling machine, and a nice selection of woodworking tools went into making parts for the final motor as well as an enclosure for the project. And because he hadn’t checked off quite all the boxes yet, [David] decided to use the 3D-printed frame as a pattern for casting one from aluminum.

The finished motor, with a redesigned rotor to deal better with eddy currents, joined the wood and metal enclosure along with a Nixie tube tachometer and etched brass control plates. It’s a great look for a project that’s clearly a labor of self-edification and skill-building, and we love it. We’ve seen other BLDC demonstrators before, but few that look as good as this one does.

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Surgery Robot Is A Real Cut Up

A robot that performs surgery is a serious thing. One bug in the control system could end with disaster. Unless of course, you’re [Michael Reeves], in which case disaster is all part of the fun. (Video, embedded below.)

Taking inspiration from The da Vinci Surgical System, [Michael] set out to build a system that was faster, while still maintaining precision. He created a belt drive gantry system, not unlike many 3D printers, laser cutters, or woodworking CNC machines. Machines like this often use stepper motors. [Michael] decided to go with [Oskar Weigl’s] ODrive and brushless motors instead. The ODrive is on open source controller which turns off the shelf brushless motors — such as those found in R/C planes or hoverboards, into precision industrial servos. Sound familiar? ODrive was an entrant in the 2016 Hackaday Prize. [Michael] was even able to do away the ubiquitous limit switch by monitoring current draw with the ODrive.

It all adds up to a serious build. But this is [Michael “laser eye” Reeves] after all. The video is meant to be entertaining, with a hidden payload of education and inspiration. The fun starts when he arms the robot with a giant kitchen knife and performs “surgery” on a pineapple. If you want to know what happens when mannequins and fake blood enter the picture, then watch the video after the break.

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Amazing Open Source Quadruped Capable Of Dynamic Motion

The more we read about [Josh Pieper]’s quadruped, the mjbots quad A0, the more blown away we are by his year of progress on the design. Each part of the robot deserves its own article: from the heavily modified brushless motors (with custom planetary gears) to the custom motor driver designed just for this project.

[Josh], realized early on that the off-the-shelf components like an ODrive just weren’t going to cut it for his application. So he designed his own board, took it through four revisions, and even did thermal and cycle testing on it. He ended up with the compact moteus board. It can pump out 400 Watts of peak power while its 3Mbit control protocol leaves plenty of bandwidth for real time dynamic control.

The motors and gearboxes are also impressive. It took thorough experimenting and taking inspiration from other projects  before he arrived at a 8108 quad copter motor modified and upgraded so heavily its own mother wouldn’t recognize it. This is all packed into a leg unit with three degrees of freedom that puts even the fanciest servo based quadruped to shame.

Finally it’s all packed into a neat four-legged robot frame with batteries and a Pi. You can get a video summary of the robot here or after the break, and we recommend reading his blog for some more images and details.

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Jigsaw Motor Uses PCB Coils For Radial Flux

Electric motors are easy to make; remember those experiments with wire-wrapped nails? But what’s easy to make is often hard to engineer, and making a motor that’s small, light, and powerful can be difficult. [Carl Bugeja] however is not one to back down from a challenge, and his tiny “jigsaw” PCB motor is the latest result of his motor-building experiments.

We’re used to seeing brushless PCB motors from [Carl], but mainly of the axial-flux variety, wherein the stator coils are arranged so their magnetic lines of force are parallel to the motor’s shaft – his tiny PCB motors are a great example of this geometry. While those can be completely printed, they’re far from optimal. So, [Carl] started looking at ways to make a radial-flux PCB motor. His design has six six-layer PCB coils soldered perpendicular to a hexagonal end plate. The end plate has traces to connect the coils in a star configuration, and together with a matching top plate, they provide support for tiny bearings. The rotor meanwhile is a 3D-printed cube with press-fit neodymium magnets. Check out the build in the video below.

Connected to an ESC, the motor works decently, but not spectacularly. [Carl] admits that more tweaking is in order, and we have little doubt he’ll keep optimizing the design. We like the look of this, and we’re keen to see it improved.

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Robotic Cheetah Teaches A Motors Class

It seems like modern roboticists have decided to have a competition to see which group can develop the most terrifying robot ever invented. As of this writing the leading candidate seems to be the robot that can fuel itself by “eating” organic matter. We can only hope that the engineers involved will decide not to flesh that one out completely. Anyway, if we can get past the horrifying and/or uncanny valley-type situations we find ourselves in when looking at these robots, it turns out they have a lot to teach us about the theories behind a lot of complicated electric motors.

This research paper (gigantic PDF warning) focuses on the construction methods behind MIT’s cheetah robot. It has twelve degrees of freedom and uses a number of exceptionally low-cost modular actuators as motors to control its four legs. Compared to other robots of this type, this helps them jump a major hurdle of cost while still retaining an impressive amount of mobility and control. They were able to integrate a brushless motor, a smart ESC system with feedback, and a planetary gearbox all into the motor itself. That alone is worth the price of admission!

The details on how they did it are well-documented in the 102-page academic document and the source code is available on GitHub if you need a motor like this for any other sort of project, but if you’re here just for the cheetah doing backflips you can also keep up with the build progress at the project’s blog page. We also featured this build earlier in its history as well.