• BJR_LOG_07 Central Control Circuit Block Diagram

    Tamas Feher12/02/2023 at 17:34 0 comments

    Let's look at the central control circuitry next.

    If we take a look at the subsystem breakdown in BJR_LOG_02, we can see the central control circuit already has it's inputs and outputs defined. The following figure is a context diagram, which shows the Control Circuit and it's interfacing blocks.

    Let's go over the interfaces and form them into requirements:

    1. The Central Control Circuit shall be powered by 24VDC power

    2. The Central Control Circuit shall control 3 stepper motors with 0.6A current per winding

    3. The Central Control Circuit shall listen to the input of 3 endstop NO (normally open) switches mounted at the end of the actuators.

    4. The Central Control Circuit shall listen to the input a user button

    5. The Central Control Circuit shall communicate with the plate through I2C protocol (It hasn't been established yet how the plate will communicate with the base, a later log will go into more details on the why and the hows.)

    The main component that controls the stepper motors is the TMC2209. It has been selected for it's StealthChop2 and CoolStep features which provides noise free operation at lower speeds and reduced current use in idle mode, which helps with heating of the actuators.

    The datasheet helps identifying the main interfaces of this device, which are:
    - Motor power in: 24VDC in our case

    - Logic power in: 3.3VDC in our case
    - Step/Dir: traditional stepper motor driver interface, where the motor executes a step every time a falling edge is detected on the Step line. The direction of the step is determined by the Dir input.

    - EN: shorts the motor coils, and disables the output. It's useful for the off state and initialisation.  

    - Diag: pin offers feedback to the controller if anything went wrong during operation.

    - UART: is a one pin serial interface to set the drivers internal registers.

    Now we have all the necessary components to devise a block diagram for the circuit:

    In this circuit a single microcontroller hosts all the computation needed. Based on the block diagram it needs to be capable of hosting:

    - 9 Digital outputs

    - 10 Digital inputs

    - 3 UART channels

    - An I2C bus

    - SWD programming

    Given these requirements I chose the STM32F446RE microcontroller. 

    There is no elaborate reason why I chose this one, I just had a couple of these lying around in a drawer.

    With this the Circuit is ready prototyping and the software to be started.

    If you're interested in the project, give it a like, and leave a comment on what part you would like to see next.

  • BJR_LOG_06 First assembly

    Tamas Feher11/21/2023 at 18:01 0 comments

    The biggest risk on the mechanical side of the project is backlash and flex in the assembly.

    Backlash is difficult to account for in control systems so it's better to tackle it at the source.

    To make the build I SLA resin printed all non standard parts, here you can see the results:

    There were no major issues with assembly, however there were some issues with backlash and flex. On the video you can see me stressing the assembly to see where the weak points are.

    I found the following issues:

    • The base of the assembly is not too sturdy, introducing a lot of flexing
    • The axle of the actuator mount is an M2 threaded rod, which has a slightly smaller outer diameter than 2mm (0.079 inches).

    • The M2 axle is not particularly rigid, so it introduces some amount of flex as well.
    • The plate holding bracket has some axial play introducing some backlash.

    Other observations:

    • The actuator could be mounted 180 degrees around, so that cabling wouldn't need to go around it to meet in the middle.
    • It's pretty and I'm very happy with it

    These issues will be tackled in the next version (BJR_02) but it's not severe enough to stop in my tracks to continue.

  • BJR_LOG_05 Actuator trade study

    Tamas Feher11/19/2023 at 15:41 0 comments

    Now there are enough requirements available to decide on the technology used for the linear actuators. Let's recap what are the relevant requirements:

    • The BJR shall be silent during the operation
    • The stroke length of the actuator shall be at the minimum of 13.5 mm ( 0.5315 inches)
    • The output force of the actuator shall be at the minimum of 4.9N (1.101 pounds)
    • The piston speed shall be at at the minimum 23.8 mm/s (0.937 in/s)

    Overall this project needs actuators that are fairly quick with low force output. This gives an ideal candidate to direct drive motors.

    Direct drive means no gear reduction involved in the drive train.  It's beneficial in the sense as well that gear inefficiencies usually add noise to the system, while this project is aimed to be silent.

    it's not enough to analyze the force and speed separately, as the actuator needs to be able to produce the prescribed force at the given speed.

    The figure above shows that even though a motor is capable of delivering the needed speed and force, it might not be suitable for the application.

    Let's see what technologies we would run up against each other in this trade study:

    Linear motors

    Linear motor technology has recently evolved a new form of motors, where the magnets are contained within a shaft, and the motor only contains the windings. 

    This technology enables very high-speed linear motion. The downside has been the technology did not break into the market yet, and the prices are still quite high. I was quoted over £400 (~498 USD) for a single unit.

    Captive linear stepper motors

    That's quite a mouthful, so let's break down how these elements describe the technology.

    A stepper motor is a type of motor that moves in precise, fixed steps in response to electrical signals. Linear means that the rotation is converted to linear motion, in this case with an ACME profile threaded rod.

    In order to make the threaded rod move linearly, its rotation needs to be prevented with something. In this case, it's a sliding mechanism.

    Captive in this case means that all the thread, the motor, the sliding mechanism is self contained within the motor assembly, outputting pure linear motion.

    An example video can be seen below:

    Stepper motors are famous for their silent operation. If you've ever seen a 3d printer in its works you'll see that it makes all kinds of noises.  The reason for this is the stepper motors. More specifically the control of the motors. They are not inherently noisy, just they are controlled with a choppy drive signal that causes a lot of harmonics.

    One product that helps us combat that is Trinamic SilentStepStick.
    Trinamic's StealthChop offers nearly noise-free running of stepper motors. 

    Linear DC motors:

    The linear DC motors work under the same principle as the captive stepper motors. This means they spin an acme threaded rod that's prevented from rotating to achieve linear motion. Often these motors contain a gear reduction, which usually injects some noise into the system. However, they are very cost efficient and easy to work with.

    Similarly to BJR_LOG_03, I'll be using a decision matrix to decide which technology to use.

    Using the same Measures of performance as before:

    - Cost

    - Time to prototype

    - Visual (or audible) appeal

    The evaluation looks like the following:

    So moving forward I'll continue the design using Captive linear stepper motors for the actuator.

    A quick word on position sensing of these devices.

    Steppers can be run open loop without a feedback encoder. The only issue is at startup they have no recollection of where the output actually is. To combat that a homing procedure needs to be executed, where the motor goes towards an end position, and an external switch registers when the output has arrived. For this, I'll be using a micro switch mounted at the bottom of the motor. I'll be experimenting with the stepper controller's StallGuard feature, which...

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  • BJR_LOG_04 Dynamics analysis

    Tamas Feher11/15/2023 at 13:55 0 comments

    In the next log, I will choose the motor for the actuator. To be able to do so, I will need to set some requirements. Mostly:

    • Maximum stroke length
    • Maximum output force
    • Maximum velocity

    My way of figuring this out spawns from quadcopters (Bear with me on this).

    A general (often wrong) rule of thumb when sizing the motors for a quad is to have twice the amount of thrust that's needed to hover. Why is that?

    It boils down to control authority. Which means how much can you influence your controlled variable. 

    For your system to be effective, there needs to be enough control authority to perform the intended action, and some more to be able to compensate for disturbances. Going back to the quadcopter example: If the motors are producing a 100% thrust just to hover, they don't have enough headroom to control the tilt of the craft. Any small breeze would send it spinning, making it unstable.

    That's why the output thrust is chosen to be what's needed, and some more on top of that.

    Doubling the value is an easy guesstimate that can be tuned further once the prototype is ready.

    In this case, we can start the analysis by looking at the most demanding use case, which is the fast circling of the ball.

    The speed of circling is 200 Deg/s, and the diameter of the scribed circle is 130mm.

    The linear velocity (blue arrow) of the ball can be seen changing direction, but not magnitude.

    The change in velocity direction is due to centripetal acceleration (red arrow). To calculate the magnitude of this acceleration we can use this formula:


    • a is the centripetal acceleration
    • omega is the angular velocity
    • r is the radius of rotation.

    Plugging the values into the equation we get a = 0.792 [m/s^2]

    The ability to exert acceleration on the ball is our control authority. So this is the value we will double to give enough headroom. Giving us a = 1.584 [m/s^2]

    The next topic is about how can we influence the acceleration of the ball through tilting of the plate.  I will not go into the breakdown of the dynamics of a sphere rolling on a slope, but here is the formula:

    • g is the gravitational acceleration g = 9.8067 m/s^2
    • phi is the tilt angle of the plate

    Rearranging the formula we can get the maximum plate angle needed, which is 13.069 degrees.

    So now we've got a requirement: The plate needs to be able to tilt +- 13.069 degrees.

    Next we can analyse how fast we need to be able to tilt the plate. The plate can tilt in pitch and roll directions. 

    If we look at the plate from the side, we can see that during motion it tilts in a sinusoidal wave.

    We can express the plate motion through this formula:

    Through derivation, we can express the plate tilt angular velocity:

    The upper limit of this function is where cos equals 1, meaning our maximum plate speed is the maximum plate tilt times ball angular velocity, which is 0.796 rad/s

    To get the maximum plate angular acceleration, we can derivate once again:

    Once again expressing the maximum value of this function by replacing sin with 1:

    Plugging in the values for the equation above, we get the maximum plate angular acceleration: 2.779 rad/s^2

    Now we are finished with analyzing the plate, and we can move on to analyzing the linear actuator capabilities.

    Now moving on to evaluating the needed stroke length for the linear motor. for this, we need to do geometric evaluation.
    We can consider the center of the plate being pinned in space, and tilting around it.
    The first variable we need to figure out is where the piston attaches to the plate. you can imagine a lever here
    If it attaches close to the center, the stroke length will be shorter, but larger forces need to be applied and if it's closer to the edge, the stroke length is higher, with lower forces involved. 

    For visual appeal, I chose a radius of 30 mm, but that can be tuned for the motor selected.

    Another important factor is the minimum internal tilt...

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  • BJR_LOG_03 Plate subsystem breakdown

    Tamas Feher11/12/2023 at 18:09 0 comments

    In the earlier log, I broke down the project into smaller subsystems. This time let's analyze the first subsystem, the "Plate" 

    Let's narrow our options by specifying some requirements:
    • The whole assembly needs to fit in a 20cm diameter cylinder, so this is true for the plate as well. 
    • The sensing of the ball needs to have a high enough resolution that it can sense at least 100 marks in each direction. This is a control system good practice. With too low resolution the ball would jitter instead of holding the target. The earlier requirement set up a 20 cm diameter, so we can say that it needs to be able to detect within the accuracy of around +- 2 mm
    • The sensing method should have a high enough refresh rate that it would achieve smooth operation. My usual rule of thumb is to use at least a 100 Hz refresh rate for mechanical control systems. This means anything that involves F=m*a.

    Given the requirements, I started researching touch-based sensing technologies. I selected 3 touch-based technologies that I would like to run up against each other:

    • Resistive touch sensing:

    In a resistive touch screen, there are 2 conductive films separated by a thin layer of air gap. Once something applies pressure to the top film, the contact is made by the 2 conductive surfaces. opposing edges of the films are connected to electrodes, so if a voltage is applied across them, with the contact point it forms a voltage divider. The voltage can be measured and from there the touch location can be interpreted.

    How Does A Touch Screen Respond To Touch? » Science ABC

    The benefit of this technology is that it is very simple to control and widely available. However the downside so far I've only seen rectangular units being produced, and the ball needs to be heavy enough to overcome the stiffness of the top surface.

    • Capacitive touch sensing:

    In this case, we are interested in a capacitive touch array instead of individual touch buttons.

    Capacitive touch arrays operate on the principle that a finger (or a conductive material) would disrupt the electrostatic field around the electrode, and change the capacitance between the TX and RX electrodes. This change in capacitance is recorded as a touch input.

    Projected Capacitive Touch Screen | Capacitive Touch SensorThis is the technology used in smartphones to detect user input.

    The benefit of this technology is that it can be all self-contained on a PCB, allowing any form factor. However, the downsides are that the ball needs to be conductive, and it requires more advanced PCB design.

    • Infrared touch sensing:

    On the edge of the touch surface, rows of infrared emitters and receivers are populated at the position of the touch, the beams are blocked by the object, registering a touch point. 

    Infrared touch screen technology | Reju TechnologyThe benefit of this technology is that it does not impose any major restrictions neither on the surface, nor on the ball. The downside is that it requires a border around the perimeter of the plate, which would be visually unappealing.

    • Optical tracking.

    As a last technology, I chose to evaluate machine vision, as it's a common technique in ball-balancing projects.
    Unfortunately, it means a camera needs to be mounted high above the plate. this would impose aesthetic issues, also restricting the material selection for both the plane and the ball.

    I won't go into other touch-sensing technologies such as Surface acoustic waves, or projected capacitance methods, as they go over my head way too far for me to understand them.

    Now that we've set up the contesting technologies, a decision needs to be made on which one to pursue further. My usual method for this is using the decision-matrix method.

    In this method, measures of performance (MoP for short) are assigned to the technologies. In this case, I chose a scale from 1 to 5, where 1 is the worst performance and 5 is the best.

    Once the ratings are established for all technologies and all MoPs, the scores can be summed together. The highest-scoring technology wins.
    The choice of MoPs is individual to the project and the environment, so choose your own MoPs if you would like to try this method. 
    I chose:...

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  • BJR_LOG_02 Subsystem breakdown

    Tamas Feher11/09/2023 at 19:09 0 comments

    Once a set of high-level requirements was allocated, the next step is to start breaking down the project into subsystems. The next diagram shows the high level block definition diagram of the system.

    Once we have the high level Items declared, the next step is to define how they interact with each other. This is usually done through the introduction of ports and connections.

    I will not represent fastened connections on this diagram as it just makes the view cluttered.
    The ports are represented as coloured flags attached to the blocks. 
    Red color means mechanincal connecitons, and blue color means electrical connections.
    This view will help us when we narrow our focus to each of these elements.

    The kinematic arrangement I'm using is called the  3-RPS parallel manipulator
    The 3-RPS parallel manipulator. | Download Scientific Diagram

    Shout out to Aaed Musa for the great video he published on a ball balancing robot using the same arrangement. The video can be found here.

  • BJR_LOG_01 Requirements gathering

    Tamas Feher11/08/2023 at 23:17 0 comments

    Every good project I had started with taking a moment to consider the requirements.
    I know it's not the most riveting content, but it will help to set the stage for later decisions

    My usual approach is to identify the stakeholders and think about how they would interact with the device.

    The main stakeholder is the person who would own this device, so let's start with that one.

    The user would operate, observe, update, and touch the device.

    The operation can be broken down into 3 other use cases:

    • Starting up
    • Shutting down
    • Cycling operation mode

    Next, we can assign requirements to the use cases.

    Starting with the Observe use case, the high-level requirements are:

    The visual intent of this project is to have a silhouette similar to this shape:

    There are 4 Main operating modes:

    • Keep at center
    • Circle slowly (20 deg/sec)
    • Circle rapidly (200 deg/sec)
    • Trace a triangle

    The user can cycle these operating modes by pressing the button on the device.

    To start/shut it down, the user must long press the button. 

    When the device finishes the start-up procedure it shall visually signal it to the user.
    When the device receives a shutdown command it shall safely discard the ball from the plate if it's present. Otherwise, it would just roll off from the plate.

    Let me know if you prefer more architecture building logs or want me to jump into the hardware build.