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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Can You 3D-Print a Stator for a Brushless DC Motor?

Betteridge’s Law holds that any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered with a “No.” We’re not sure that [Mr. Betteridge] was exactly correct, though, since 3D-printed stators can work successfully for BLDC motors, for certain values of success.

It’s not that [GreatScott!] isn’t aware that 3D-printed motors are a thing; after all, the video below mentions the giant Halbach array motor we featured some time ago. But part of advancing the state of the art is to replicate someone else’s results, so that’s essentially what [Scott!] attempted to do here. It also builds on his recent experiments with rewinding commercial BLDCs to turn them into generators. His first step is to recreate the stator of his motor as a printable part. It’s easy enough to recreate the stator’s shape, and even to print it using Proto-pasta iron-infused PLA filament. But that doesn’t come close to replicating the magnetic properties of a proper stator laminated from stamped iron pieces. Motors using the printed stators worked, but they were very low torque, refusing to turn with even minimal loading. There were thermal issues, too, which might have been mitigated by a fan.

So not a stunning success, but still an interesting experiment. And seeing the layers in the printed stators gives us an idea: perhaps a dual-extruder printer could alternate between plain PLA and the magnetic stuff, in an attempt to replicate the laminations of a standard stator. This might help limit eddy currents and manage heating a bit better. Continue reading “Can You 3D-Print a Stator for a Brushless DC Motor?”

Plug Your Ears And Hop On This Jet-Powered eBike

Ah, the simple pleasures of a bike ride. The rush of the wind past your ears, the gentle click of the derailleurs as you change gears, the malignant whine of the dual electric jet turbines pushing you along. Wait, what?

Yes, it’s a jet bike, and its construction was strictly a case of “Why not?” for [Tech Ingredients]. They recently finished up a jet engine build using a hybrid design with electric ducted fans as compressors and fueled with propane. It was quite a success, and pretty spectacular, but left an embarrassment of riches upon its passing in terms of spare parts. The ducted fans, monstrous 90-mm 12s beasts, along with dual 150A ESCs found their way onto a mountain bike by way of a rear luggage rack. Pannier bags on each side hold the batteries, and a quick control panel went on the handlebar. The video below shows the build details and a couple of test rides, which show just how fast you can go with this setup. It may not be very practical compared to a more traditional hub motor, but it’s nowhere near as cool. Just be sure to wear your hearing protection.

Is this the first jet engine on a bike we’ve featured? Of course not. But for an impromptu build, it’s pretty impressive. Continue reading “Plug Your Ears And Hop On This Jet-Powered eBike”

Tilt-Rotor Plane Needs Flight Controller Hack to Get Airborne

Part of the charm of quadcopters is the challenge that building and flying them presents. In need of complex sensors and computational power to just get off the ground and under tremendous stresses thanks to their massively powerful motors, they often seem only barely controlled in flight. Despite these challenges, quadcopter flight has been reduced to practice in many ways, leaving hobbyists in search of another challenge.

[Tom Stanton] is scratching his creative itch with this radio-controlled tilt-rotor airplane that presents some unique problems and opportunities. Tilt-rotor planes are, as the name implies, able to swivel their propellors and transition them from providing forward thrust to providing verticle lift. With the rotors providing lift, the aircraft is able to hover and perform vertical take-off and landing (VTOL); switched to thrust mode, wings provide the lift for horizontal flight.

[Tom]’s realization of this design seems simple – a spar running through the wing holding BLDC motors and props is swiveled through 90° by a servo to transition the aircraft. Standard control surfaces on the wings and tail take care of horizontal flight. Actually getting an off-the-shelf flight controller to deal with the transitions was tricky. [Tom] ended up adding an Arduino to intercept the PWM signals the flight controller normally sends directly to the servos and speed controls to provide the coordination needed for a smooth transition. Full details in the video below, and some test flights which show that an RC VTOL is anything but a beginner’s plane.

[Tom] is proving himself to be quite the Renaissance man these days. Between air-powered piston engines, over-balance trebuchets, and popping the perfect wheelie, he seems to have covered all the bases and done his best to keep our tip line stocked.

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Building an Electric Scooter That’s Street Legal, Even in Germany

Sometimes a successful project isn’t only about making sure all the electrons are in the right place at the right time, or building something that won’t collapse under its own weight. A lot of projects involve a fair amount of social engineering to be counted as a success, especially those that might result in arrest and incarceration if built as originally planned. Such projects are often referred to as “the fun ones.”

For the past few months, we’ve been following [Bitluni]’s DIY electric scooter build, which had been following the usual trajectory for these things – take a stock unpowered scooter, replace the rear wheel with a 250 W hub motor, add an ESC, battery, and throttle, and away you go. Things took a very interesting turn, however, when his street testing ran afoul of German law, which limits small electric vehicles to a yawn-inducing 6 kph. Unwilling to bore himself to death thus, [Bitluni] found a workaround: vehicles that are only assisted by an electric motor have a much more reasonable speed limit of 25 kph. So he added an Arduino with a gyro and accelerometer module and wrote a program to only power the wheel after the rider has kicked the scooter along a few times – no throttle needed. The motor stops after a bit, needing another push or two to kick it back on. A brake lever kills the motor, as does laying the scooter on its side. It’s quite a clever design, and while it might not keep the Polizei at bay, you can’t say he didn’t try.

[Bitluni] has quite a range of builds, from software-defined television to bad 3D-scanners to precision wine glass whacking. You should check out his stuff. Continue reading “Building an Electric Scooter That’s Street Legal, Even in Germany”

Putting a Motor Inside a Speed Controller

One of the more interesting hacks we’ve seen this year is [Carl]’s experimentations with making motors out of PCBs. Honestly, it’s surprising no one has done this before — a brushless motor is just some coils of wire and a few magnets; anyone can turn some coils into traces and make a 3D print that will hold a few magnets. This latest advancement is something else entirely. It’s a motor and an electronic speed controller all in one.

This project is a continuation of [Carl]’s PCB motor project, which started with him routing coils for a brushless motor as traces in a circuit board. Previously, we’ve seen [Carl]’s motor spinning on its own with the help of a small hobby ESC / motor controller meant for model planes and drones. This time, we’ve got something different. It’s an entire controller and motor, integrated into one single PCB.

This is a very, very small motor and ESC combo. The motor driver is a 3x3mm QFN package, and most of the other components are 0201. The main parts are a very tiny triple half-bridge motor driver and a PIC16F microcontroller. This PIC reads a hall sensor to detect the speed of the motor, and with just three pins — power, ground, and a PWM pin — this motor can spin at a set speed.

The future goals of this project are to make it work just like any other hobby ESC — just plug it into a servo controller and let ‘er rip. Since this motor with an integrated PCB requires only three connections, we’re looking at a great tool to add motion and rotation to any project. It’s fantastic, and we can’t wait to see something like this in robots, toys, and other home goods.

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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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