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.
Recently, I was offered a 1997 Volkswagen Golf for the low, low price of free — assuming I could haul it away, as it suffered from a thoroughly borked automatic transmission. Being incapable of saying no to such an opportunity, I set about trailering the poor convertible home and immediately tore into the mechanicals to see what was wrong.
Alas, I have thus far failed to resurrect the beast from Wolfsburg, but while I was wrist deep in transmission fluid, I spotted something that caught my eye. Come along for a look at the nitty-gritty of transmission manufacturing!
Many dream of tooling around in a high performance sports car, but the cost of owning, maintaining, and insuring one of them make it a difficult proposition. While this LEGO version of the Corvette ZR1 might not be exactly like the real thing, it’s 4-speed manual and electronic gauge cluster can give you a taste of the supercar lifestyle without having to taken out a second mortgage.
Built by [HyperBlue], this desktop speedster has more going on under the hood (or more accurately, the roof) than you might expect. While it looks pretty unassuming from the outside, once the top is lifted, you can see all the additional components that have been packed in to motorize it. The functional gearbox takes up almost the entire interior of the car, but it’s not like you were going to be able to fit in there anyway.
But the motorized car is really only half of the project. [HyperBlue] has built a chassis dynamometer for his plastic ride that not only allows you to “start” the engine with realistic sights and sounds (recorded from an actual GM LT1 V8 engine), but put the mini ‘Vette through its paces. With a virtual dashboard powered by the Raspberry Pi, you can see various stats about the vehicle such as throttle position, RPM, and calculated scale speed; providing a real-world demonstration of how the transmission operates.
In the automotive world, change is a constant, and if you’re not keeping up, you’re falling behind. New technologies and methodologies are key to gaining an edge in the market, and companies invest billions each year trying to find the next big thing, or even the next minor incremental improvement.
In just such a quest, Ford Motor Company decided to explore an alternative to the traditional automatic gearbox, aiming for greater fuel efficiency in their small cars. On paper, there were gains to be had. Unfortunately, not everything went according to plan. Continue reading “Ford’s Powershift Debacle”→
It’s often been our experience that some of the most impressive projects are the passion builds, the ones where the builder really put in their all and obsessed over every detail. Even if they don’t always have a practical application, it’s impossible to look at the final product and not respect the accomplishment.
Case in point, this absolutely incredible 3D printed model of a sequential “dogbox” transmission created by [Indeterminate Design]. All of the STL files and a complete bill of materials are available for anyone brave enough to take on the challenge. It might never be mounted to a vehicle and driven around the track, but you can still flick through the gears and watch the complex gearing do its thing.
Even if you don’t want to necessarily build the model itself, [Indeterminate Design] takes you through the concepts behind this unique transmission and how it differs from the sort of gearboxes us lowly commuter drivers are familiar with. He’s even nice enough to explain what a dogbox is.
Put simply, this type of transmission allows the driver to simply move the gear change forward and backwards to step through the gears like in a video game. This prevents you from having to navigate an H-pattern gear shift while dealing with all the other stresses of competition driving. Watching it in action, you can certainly see the appeal.
If you prefer your printed gearboxes to be of the practical variety, we’ve certainly seen plenty of those as well. They’re perfect for next time you need to move an anvil around the shop.
What do you do if you want a robot with great mobility? Walking is hard, and wheels are good enough, especially if you use the ‘wheels within wheels’ Mecanum setup. But you need torque, too. That’s what makes this entry into the Hackaday Prize so fantastic. It’s a Mecanum wheel of sorts, with an integrated gear set that produces a phenomenal amount of torque using a small, cheap stepper motor.
The wheel itself if 3D printed and fully parametric, using nylon weed wacker filament for the treads. This allows the wheel to scoot back and forth like a Mecanum wheel, or at the very least like one of those hyper mobile wheeled robots you see from time to time. It goes backwards, forwards, and side to side, and also has a zero turn radius.
A 3D printed Mecanum wheel is great, but how on earth do you drive it? That problem is solved with this hybrid planetary/strain-wave 3D-printed gear set. [Daren] has created a very compact ‘single’ stage gear set that fits right on top of a stepper motor. It’s thin, flat, and has a gear reduction of about 66:1. That’s a lot of torque in a very small package. Both of these projects are combined, and together they represent a freaky wheel with a lot of torque.
Even though [Daren] doesn’t have a robot in mind for this build, these are most certainly the building blocks of a fantastic robot, and a great entry in the Hackaday Prize.
Cycloidal drives are fascinating pieces of hardware, and we’ve seen them showing up in part due to their suitability for 3D printing. The open source robot arm makers [Haddington Dynamics] are among those playing with a cycloidal drive concept, and tucked away in their August 2018 newsletter was a link they shared to a short but mesmerizing video of a prototype, which we’ve embedded below.
A cycloidal drive has some similarities to both planetary gearing and strain-wave gears. In the image shown, the green shaft is the input and its rotation causes an eccentric motion in the yellow cycloidal disk. The cycloidal disk is geared to a stationary outer ring, represented in the animation by the outer ring of grey segments. Its motion is transferred to the purple output shaft via rollers or pins that interface to the holes in the disk. Like planetary gearing, the output shaft rotates in the opposite direction to the input shaft. Because the individual parts are well-suited to 3D printing, this opens the door to easily prototyping custom designs and gearing ratios.
[Haddington Dynamics] are the folks responsible for the open source robot arm Dexter (which will be competing in the Hackaday Prize finals this year), and their interest in a cycloidal drive design sounds extremely forward-thinking. Their prototype consists of 3D printed parts plus some added hardware, but the real magic is in the manufacturing concept of the design. The idea is for the whole assembly to be 3D printed, stopping the printer at five different times to insert hardware. With a robot working in tandem with the printer, coordinating the print pauses with automated insertion of the appropriate hardware, the result will be a finished transmission unit right off the print bed. It’s a lofty goal, and really interesting advancement for small-scale fabrication.