Electric Longboard Quick Build Using Off-The-Shelf Components.

Building cool things completely from scratch is undeniably satisfying and makes for excellent Hackaday posts, but usually involve a few unexpected speed humps, which often causes projects to be abandoned. If you just want to get something working, using off-the-shelf modules can drastically reduce frustration and increase the odds of the project being completed. This is exactly the approach that [GreatScott!] used to build the 3rd version of his electric longboard, and in the process created an excellent guide on how to design the system and selecting components.

Previous versions of his board were relatively complicated scratch built affairs. V2 even had a strain gauge build into the deck to detect when the rider falls off. This time almost everything, excluding the battery pack, was plug-and-play, or at least solder-and-play. The rear trucks have built in hub motors, the speed controllers are FSESC’s (VESC software compatible) and the remote control system is also an off the shelf system. All the electronics were housed in 3D printed PETG housing, and the battery pack is removable for charging. We just hope the velcro holding on the battery pack doesn’t decide to disengage mid-ride.

The beauty of this video lies in the simplicity and how [GreatScott!] covers the components selection and design calculations in detail. Sometimes we to step back from a project and ask ourselves if reinventing is the wheel is really necessary, or just an excuse to do some yak shaving. Electric long boards are extremely popular at the moment, you can even make a deck from cardboard or make a collapsible version if you’re a frequent flyer.

Gutted Hoverboard Becomes Formidable Track-Drive Robot

When “hoverboards” first came out, you may have been as disappointed as we were that they did not even remotely fulfill the promises of Back to the Future II. Nothing more than a fancified skateboard, hoverboards are not exactly groundbreaking technology. That doesn’t mean they’re not useful platforms for hacking, though, as this hoverboard to track-propelled robot tank conversion¬†proves.

Most of the BOM for this build came from the junk bin – aluminum extrusions, brackets, and even parts cannibalized from a 3D-printer. But as [pasoftdev] points out, the new-in-box hoverboard was the real treasure trove of components. The motors, the control and driver electronics, and the big, beefy battery were all harvested and mounted to the frame. To turn the wheels into tracks, [pasoftdev] printed some sprockets to fit around the original tires. The tracks were printed in sections and screwed to the wheels. Idlers were printed in sections too, using central hubs and a clever method for connecting everything together into a sturdy wheel. Printed tank tread links finished the rolling gear eventually; each of the 34 pieces took almost five hours to print. The dedication paid off, though, as the 15-kg tank is pretty powerful; the brief video below shows it towing an office chair around without any problems.

We noticed that [pasoftdev] found the assembly of the tread links a bit problematic. These 3D-printed links that are joined by Airsoft BBs might make things a little easier next time.

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Spinning ESP32 Display Puts The Customer First

Most of the projects we feature on Hackaday are built for personal use; designed to meet the needs of the person creating them. If it works for somebody else, then all the better. But occasionally we may find ourselves designing hardware for a paying customer, and as this video from [Proto G] shows, that sometimes means taking the long way around.

The initial task he was given seemed simple enough: build a display that could spin four license plates around, and make it so the speed could be adjusted. So [Proto G] knocked a frame out of some sheet metal, and used an ESP32 to drive two RC-style electronic speed controllers (ESCs) connected to a couple of “pancake” brushless gimbal motors. Since there was no need to accurately position the license plates, it was just a matter of writing some code that would spin the motors in an aesthetically pleasing way.

Unfortunately, the customer then altered the deal. Now they wanted a stand that could stop on each license plate and linger for a bit before moving to the next one. Unfortunately, that meant the ESCs weren’t up to the task. They got dumped in favor of an ODrive motor controller, and encoders were added to the shafts so the ESP32 could keep track of the display’s position. [Proto G] says he still had to work out some kinks, such as how to keep the two motors synchronized and reduce backlash when the spinner stopped on a particular plate, but in the end we think the results look fantastic. Now if only we had some license plates we needed rotisseried…

If [Proto G] knew he needed precise positioning control from the start, he would have approached the project differently and saved himself a lot of time. But such is life when you’re working on contract.

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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 Montr√©al, 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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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.

An Open Source ESC For Brushless Motors

For something basic like a brushed DC motor, speed control can be quite simple, and powering up the motor is a simple matter of just applying voltage. Brushless motors are much more demanding in their requirements however, and won’t spin unless driven just right. [Electronoobs] has been exploring the design of a brushless speed controller, and just released version 1.0 of his open-source ESC design.

The basic design is compact, and very similar to many off-the-shelf brushless ESCs in the low power range. There’s a small PCB packing a bank of MOSFETs to handle switching power to the coils of the motor, and a big capacitor to help deal with current spikes. The hacker staple ATMEGA328 is the microcontroller running the show. It’s a sensorless design, which measures the back EMF of the motor in order to determine when to fire the MOSFETs. This keeps things simple for low-torque, low-power applications.

It’s a tidy build, and the latest revision shows a lot of polish compared to the earlier prototypes. If you’re interested to learn more, try building it yourself, or consider building a thrust testing rig for your bench at home. Video after the break.

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