Differential Drive Doesn’t Quite Work As Expected

Placing two motors together in a shared drive is a simple enough task. By using something like a chain or a belt to couple them, or even placing them on the same shaft, the torque can be effectively doubled without too much hassle. But finding a way to keep the torque the same while adding the speeds of the motors, rather than the torques, is a little bit more complicated. [Levi Janssen] takes us through his prototype gearbox that attempts to do just that, although not everything works exactly as he predicts.

The prototype is based on the same principles as a differential, but reverses the direction of power flow. In something like a car, a single input from a driveshaft is sent to two output shafts that can vary in speed. In this differential drive, two input shafts at varying speeds drive a single output shaft that has a speed that is the sum of the two input speeds. Not only would this allow for higher output speeds than either of the two motors but in theory it could allow for arbitrarily fine speed control by spinning the two motors in opposite directions.

The first design uses two BLDC motors coupled to their own cycloidal drives. Each motor is placed in a housing which can rotate, and the housings are coupled to each other with a belt. This allows the secondary motor to spin the housing of the primary motor without impacting the actual speed that the primary motor is spinning. It’s all a lot to take in, but watching the video once (or twice) definitely helps to wrap one’s mind around it.

The tests of the drive didn’t go quite as planned when [Levi] got around to measuring the stall torque. It turns out that torque can’t be summed in the way he was expecting, although the drive is still able to increase the speed higher than either of the two motors. It still has some limited uses though as he notes in the video, but didn’t meet all of his expectations. It’s still an interesting build and great proof-of-concept otherwise though, and if you’re not clear on some of the design choices he made there are some other builds out there that take deep dives into cycloidal gearing or even a teardown of a standard automotive differential.

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Harmonic Drive Uses Compliant Mechanism To Slim Down

[Levi Janssen] has a secret: he doesn’t like harmonic drives. But rather than abandon the torque-amplifying transmission completely, he decided to see about improving them using 3D-printed compliant mechanisms.

For the uninitiated, harmonic drives, also known as strain-wave gears, are a compact, high-torque gearbox that has become popular with “robotic dog” makers and other roboticists. The idea is to have a rigid, internally-toothed outer ring nested around an externally-toothed, flexible cup. A wave generator rotates within the inside cup, stretching it so that it meshes with the outer ring. The two gears differ by only a couple of teeth, meaning that very high gear ratios can be achieved, which makes them great for the joints of robot legs.

[Levi]’s problem with the harmonic drive is that due to the depth of the flexible spline cup, compactness is not among its virtues. His idea is to couple the flex spline to the output of the drive through a flat spring, one that allows flexion as the wave generator rotates but transmits torque efficiently. The entire prototype is 3D-printed, except for the wave generator bearings and stepper motor, and put to the test.

As the video below shows after the excellent introduction to harmonic drives, the concept works, but it’s not without its limitations. Even lightly loaded, the drive made some unpleasant crunching sounds as the PLA springs gave out. We could easily see that being replaced with, say, a steel spring, either machined or cut on a water-jet machine. That might solve the most obvious problem and make [Levi]’s dream of a compact harmonic drive a reality. Of course, we have seen pretty compact strain-wave gears before.

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This Classy But Chaotic Gear Clock Keeps You Guessing

There are a lot of ways to tell time, but pretty much all of them involve some sort of sequential scale — the hands sweeping across the face of an analog clock comes to mind, as does the incremental changes of a digital clock. Clocks are predictable by their very nature, and therefore somewhat boring.

This nonsequential gear clock aims to break that predictability and make for a timepiece that’s just a little bit different. It’s the work of [Tony Goacher], who clearly put a lot of work into it and pulled out nearly every tool in the shop while doing it. He started with a laser-cut plywood prototype to get the basics worked out — a pair of nested rings with internal gear teeth, each hanging on a stepper-driven pinion. The inner ring represents hours and the outer minutes, with the numbers on each randomly distributed — more or less, since no two sequential numbers are positioned more than five seconds of rotation apart.

The finished version of the clock is rendered in brass, acrylic, hardwood, and a smattering of aluminum, with a case reminiscent of the cathedral radios of yore. There are some really nice touches, like custom-made brass screws, a CNC-engraved brass faceplate with traditional clock art, and a Latin inscription on the drive cog for the hours ring that translates roughly to “Time rules all.” When we looked that up we found that “tempus rerum imperator” is the motto of the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers, the very existence of which we find pleasing in the extreme.

The clock runs through its initialization routine in the brief video below. We’re not sure we’d want this on our nightstand, but it’s certainly a unique and enjoyable way to show the passage of time. It sort of reminds us of this three-ringed perpetual calendar, but just a bit more stochastic.

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Homemade Gear Cutting Indexer Blends Art With Engineering

Ordinarily, when we need gears, we pop open a McMaster catalog or head to the KHK website. Some of the more adventurous may even laser cut or 3D print them. But what about machining them yourself?

[Uri Tuchman] set out to do just that. Of course, cutting your own gears isn’t any fun if you didn’t also build the machine that does the cutting, right? And let’s be honest, what’s the point of making the machine in the first place if it doesn’t double as a work of art?

[Uri’s] machine, made from brass and wood, is simple in its premise. It is placed adjacent to a gear cutter, a spinning tool that cuts the correct involute profile that constitutes a gear tooth. The gear-to-be is mounted in the center, atop a hole-filled plate called the dividing plate. The dividing plate can be rotated about its center and translated along linear stages, and a pin drops into each hole on the plate as it moves to index the location of each gear tooth and lock the machine for cutting.

The most impressive part [Uri’s] machine is that it was made almost entirely with hand tools. The most advanced piece of equipment he used in the build is a lathe, and even for those operations he hand-held the cutting tool. The result is an elegant mechanism as beautiful as it is functional — one that would look at home on a workbench in the late 19th century.

[Thanks BaldPower]

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Hackaday Links: May 17, 2020

Consider it the “Scarlet Letter” of our time. An MIT lab is developing a face mask that lights up to alert others when the wearer has COVID-19. The detection technology is based on sensors that were developed for the Ebola virus scare and uses fluorescently tagged DNA fragments freeze-dried onto absorbent strips built into the mask. The chemistry is activated by the moisture in the sputum expelled when the wearer coughs or sneezes while wearing the mask; any SARS-CoV-2 virus particles in the sputum bind to the strips, when then light up under UV. The list of problems a scheme like this entails is long and varied, not least of which is what would possess someone to willingly don one of these things. Still, it’s an interesting technology.

Speaking of intrusive expansions of the surveillance state, Singapore is apparently now using a Boston Dynamics Spot robot to enforce social-distancing rules in its public parks and gardens. The familiar four-legged, bright yellow dog-bot is carrying cameras that are relaying images of park attendees to some sort of image analysis program and are totally not capturing facial or personal data, pinky swear. If people are found to be violating the two-meter rule, Spot will bark out a prerecorded reminder to spread out a bit. How the system differentiates between people who live together who are out getting some fresh air and strangers who should be staying apart, and whether the operators of this have ever seen how this story turns out are open questions.

Those who lived through 9/11 in the United States no doubt remember the deafening silence that descended over the country for three days while every plane in the civil aviation fleet was grounded. One had no idea how much planes contributed to the noise floor of life until they were silenced. So too with the lockdown implemented worldwide to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, except with the sometimes dramatic reduction in pollution levels. We’ve all seen pictures where people suddenly realize that Los Angeles isn’t necessarily covered by an orange cloud of smog, and that certain mountain ranges are actually visible if you care to look. But getting some hard data is always useful, and these charts show just how much the pollution situation improved in a number of countries throughout the world after their respective lockdowns. For some cities, the official lockdown was a clear demarcation between the old pollution regime and the new, but for some, there was an obvious period before the lockdown was announced where people were obviously curtailing their activity. It’s always interesting pore over data like this and speculated what it all means.

While the in-person aspects of almost every conference under the sun have been canceled, many of them have switched to a virtual meeting that can at least partially make up for the full experience. And coming up next weekend is Virtually Maker Faire, in the slot where Bay Area Maker Faire would normally be offered. The call for makers ends today, so get your proposals in and sign up to attend.

And finally, there aren’t too many times in life you’ll get a chance to get to visualize a number so large that an Evil Empire was named for it. The googol, or 10100, was a term coined by the nine-year-old nephew of mathematician Edward Kasner when he asked the child for a good name for a really big number. To put the immensity of that number into perspective, The Brick Experiment Channel on YouTube put together an improbably long gear train using Lego pieces we’ve never seen before with a reduction ratio of 10103.4:1. The gear train has a ton of different power transmission elements in it, from plain spur gears to worm drives and even planetary gears. We found the 2608.5:1 harmonic gear particularly fascinating. There’s enough going on to keep even a serious gearhead entertained, but perhaps not for the 5.2×1091 years it’ll take to revolve the final gear once. Something, something, heat-death of the universe. [Ed note: prior art, which we were oddly enough thinking of fondly just a few days ago. Synchronicity!]

Simple Demo Shows The Potential Of Magnetic Gears

We’ve probably all used gears in our projects at one time or another, and even if we’re not familiar with the engineering details, the principles of transmitting torque through meshed teeth are pretty easy to understand. Magnetic gears, though, are a little less intuitive, which is why we appreciated stumbling upon this magnetic gear drivetrain demonstration project.

[William Fraser]’s demo may be simple, but it’s a great introduction to magnetic gearing. The stator is a block of wood with twelve bolts to act as pole pieces, closely spaced in a circle around a shaft. Both ends of the shaft have rotors, one with eleven pairs of neodymium magnets arranged in a circle with alternating polarity, and a pinion on the other side of the stator with a single pair of magnets. When the pinion is spun, the magnetic flux across the pole pieces forces the rotor to revolve in the opposite direction at a 12:1 ratio.

Watching the video below, it would be easy to assume such an arrangement would only work for low torque applications, but [William] demonstrated that the system could take a significant load before clutching out. That could even be a feature for some applications. We’ve got an “Ask Hackaday” article on magnetic gears if you want to dive a little deeper and see what these interesting mechanisms are good for.

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Can Lego Break Steel?

Betteridge’s Law of Headlines holds that any headline ending in a question mark can be answered with a resounding “No”. But as the video below shows, a Lego machine that twists steel asunder is not only possible, it’s an object lesson in metal fatigue. Touché, [Betteridge].

In pitting plastic against metal, the [Brick Experiment Channel] relied on earlier work with a machine that was able to twist a stock plastic axle from the Technics line of parts like a limp noodle. The steel axle in the current work, an aftermarket part that’s apparently no longer available, would not prove such an easy target.

Even after beefing up the test stand with extra Technics struts placed to be loaded in tension, and with gears doubled up and reinforced with extra pins, the single motor was unable to overcome the strength of the axle. It took a second motor and a complicated gear train to begin to deform the axle, but the steel eventually proved too much for the plastic to withstand. Round Two was a bit of a cheat: the same rig with a fresh axle, but this time the motor rotation was constantly switched. The accumulated metal fatigue started as a small crack which grew until the axle was twisted in two.

The [Brick Experiment Channel] is a fun one to check out, and we’ve featured them before. Along with destructive projects like this one, they’ve also got fun builds like this Lego playing card launcher, a Technic drone, and a Lego submarine.

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