With the r4.8 release of moteus, a not-yet-announced feature was included — the ability to have an off-board primary encoder! It didn’t get announced at the time, because the connectors necessary to populate the board were not obtainable. In fact, that is still the case, but I’ve located a substitute part which works well enough, so here we go!
The moteus controller uses an absolute magnetic encoder to determine the relationship between the rotor and stator of the motor at each given instant. That allows it to produce torque in the motor at any speed, from standstill to the maximum possible speed. Until now, the only magnetic encoder that was supported is the one mounted to the backside of the board. This is largely acceptable, as moteus is intended to be used in integrated applications.
However, some users like the moteus form factor and capabilities, but don’t have room to put the entire board right next to the sense magnet. Now the pads on the back can be used for just that:
These pads contain SPI signals that can be optionally configured to enable an external primary encoder. As of now, the only encoder IC supported is the same one that is mounted on the board, the AS5047P (or anything with an identical SPI protocol).
To use this mode, you need to connect the external AS5047P IC to the pads on the back of moteus. You can do that with either connectors, or by soldering bare wires to the pads. The following connector set is in stock at Digi-Key as of 2022-03-07 and is compatible:
To use this, you need to position the jumper to connect the 3.3V supply as the primary source. In my example here, I pulled out the pins and soldered a bridge across it so it could fit flush against a motor.
Finally, you need to enable the external encoder in configuration:
encoder.mode – Set to 1 for an external AS5047 SPI compatible encoder
At this point, the motor can be calibrated as usual.
As moteus uses a high bit-rate for SPI (12Mhz), the allowable connection length is short, <20cm is recommended. The wires will be somewhat sensitive to interference, so the allowable length may be even shorter for environments with large amounts of EMI.
While encoders other than the AS5047 may be supported in the future, the possibilities are somewhat limited due to the way moteus samples the encoder currently.
The most recent moteus firmware release, 2021-12-03, added not one, but two new control modes for less common applications. Previously, mentioned was the “voltage_control_mode” for using gimbal style high resistance motors without changing the sense resistors. In this post, I’ll describe a similarly named, but very different mode “fixed voltage mode” for operating brushless motors as if they were a stepper motor.
For some applications, you don’t care about torque control, or about power consumption at all. Traditionally you would use a stepper motor in those applications, with a correspondingly less expensive stepper motor driver. However, in some cases you may still want to have high rate trajectory control, CAN based telemetry, or have already standardized on moteus controllers for other moving parts of your solution. There are two new options that can be used in such situations:
servo.fixed_voltage_mode: When this is non-zero, the primary encoder is not used for control at all. Instead, positioning is performed entirely in the electrical phase space, with a fixed voltage applied always to the phase windings.
servo.fixed_voltage_control_V: The fixed voltage to apply to the phase windings.
When this new mode is active, the controller will continually burn power in the windings of the motor and uses no feedback from the motor at all. As mentioned above, this makes it operate like a micro-stepping stepper motor, or an inexpensive gimbal motor controller. If the externally applied torque is greater than that produced by the fixed voltage, the motor will “skip” and lose track of its position.
The moteus brushless controller can drive many motors out of the box, but until now it has been challenging to use with gimbal style brushless motors. They are wound with thin wire so that they have a very high winding resistance, and thus can be driven by inexpensive low current controllers. Using something like moteus with a gimbal motor isn’t absolutely necessary, but does give benefits in terms of high performance trajectory tracking and torque control.
The primary challenge when using moteus with high winding resistance motors is the mechanism moteus uses to sense current through the motor phases. It has a set of 3 current sense shunts, basically resistors, that have a small voltage induced across them proportional to the amount of current flowing. When commanding a specific current, moteus continually adjusts the voltage on each of the phase windings until the desired current is achieved. These resistors are sized so that moteus has reasonable resolution up to its 100A maximum current rating. When used with a motor that has a maximum current of 1A though, almost all of this resolution is wasted.
In the past I have replaced the sense resistors on moteus boards in order to drive gimbal motors. That is the optimal solution, as it allows moteus to continue to sense the current through the windings and provide accurate torque control. But not everyone is set up to perform surface mount soldering, and accurate torque control at all speeds and temperatures is not required in many applications.
Voltage mode control
As of release 2021-12-03, moteus now has a new configurable option, called “voltage_mode_control”. In this mode, torque commands no longer use the current sense resistors for feedback. Instead, they use the calibrated phase resistance of the motor to derive what voltage would be necessary to achieve a given torque.
The downsides of this approach are that there are many factors that will make the mechanical output torque not match what was intended. For instance, the back EMF if the motor is moving at non-zero velocity, changes in the winding resistance due to temperature, or inductive coupling between the quadrature frames at non-zero velocity. All of these factors will reduce the accuracy of the torque command, so that the mechanical torque output will not match what was commanded. However, for many applications, the motor is not spinning quickly and precise torque control is not required.
Since this control mode takes effect only at the end of the normal moteus control loop, it means that all of the “position” mode control works as before. Thus the constant velocity mode, stop position, and the “within” mode can all be used without regard to whether the controlled motor is running in the normal “current mode control” mode, or in the new “voltage mode control”.
With the new moteus_tool calibration mechanism, this means that gimbal motors can be used in a basic fashion out of the box with moteus by tweaking only a single configurable value: servo.voltage_control_mode. Here’s a video showing how that works with a real motor.
The initial implementation of auxiliary encoders for moteus supported exactly one encoder, the AS5048B. The hardware can support any I2C based encoder, so supporting additional encoders has always been on the TODO list.
I’m excited to announce, that as of firmware release 2021-12-03, AS5600 encoders are now supported as well. They are a lot cheaper than the AS5048 as they have a much lower update rate and resolution, but that isn’t necessarily a problem if it is only used to disambiguate a modest gear reduction.
To use the moteus brushless controller with a motor, you first have to calibrate it with moteus_tool (for history, see “Encoder autocalibration” and “Auto-tuning current control loops“). This calibration process is primarily used to measure the mapping between electrical phases and the encoder, but as a secondary parameters also measures the winding resistance and Kv of the motor and determines the parameters necessary to set the current control bandwidth.
To date, this process can be used with any motor, but making it work can involve fiddling with a number of inscrutably named command line parameters to moteus_tool. --cal-power, --cal-voltage, and --cal-speed are all there, however they don’t really do what you think based on their name, but it is necessary to adjust them to make many motors work.
I went to address this and make the calibration process more robust across a range of motor types, from small high speed motors, to large low Kv ones, high winding resistance, and low winding resistance. All of these can now be handled with mostly no additional options required.
The new process
In the new world, with no additional options, moteus_tool gradually eases up the voltage applied when measuring resistance and when measuring speed, so that it can be safely used with many motors with no additional tweaks. The power expended in the windings is limited to roughly 5W, which is about the only remaining necessary configurable parameter. You’d only need to change that for a very small motor for which 5W would unnecessarily heat it up.
The existing parameters all get new names which more precisely describe what they do. You rarely need to specify any of them anymore, but you can if for some reason you don’t want to trust the auto-detection mechanism.
What it does?
The voltage used when spinning the motor open loop for encoder calibration.
Speed in electrical revolutions per second when spinning the motor open loop for encoder calibration.
The voltage used when measuring the winding resistance.
The voltage used when measuring the Kv parameter.
This new parameter controls how much power is dissipated in the windings when performing the encoder and inductance calibration with a default of 5W.
This new parameter controls how fast the motor is spun when measuring Kv with a default of 6Hz.
The old parameter names will continue to work for now and just emit a deprecation warning. Even so, the new parameters should now only very rarely be needed, as every motor I have tested works fine without specifying anything at all.
How to get it?
Just update your moteus python package to at least 0.3.30 and you’ll get all the new features in moteus_tool!
This new release makes minor improvements to support for r4.8 moteus boards, notably it makes the Kv and winding resistance calculation more closely match that measured by r4.5 and decreases audible noise when controlling to 0 current or torque.
A motor driver like moteus switches power to the phases of a brushless motor using a set of 6 (or possibly more), MOSFETs. The typical topology involves 3 high side N channel MOSFETs and 3 low side N channel MOSFETs arranged in 3 half bridges like this:
Since the gates of these FETs need to be driven with potentially high voltages, and you never want the high side and low side to be on at the same time, typically a gate driver is used. For the moteus r4.5 and earlier controllers, the DRV8323 driver from Texas Instruments is what performs this function. This driver lets you configure the drive current for each of the gates for both operations, charging up the gate and discharging it. For high power drive systems, charging up or discharging the gate too fast can result in undesired transients like accidentally switching the other FET on due to capacitive coupling, or inductive ringing as the current starts moving through the FET instead of the body diode. If the gate charges too slowly, then the FET spends much of its time not fully on, which increases power dissipation in the FETs.
For the purposes of this write-up, this means that the FETs do not turn on or off instantly, and the turn-on time can differ from the turn-off time.
One of the lowest levels of control in moteus accepts a set of desired voltages on each of the 3 phases, and then selects a PWM duty cycle for the 3 phases which attempts to achieve those voltages. For most control purposes this mapping isn’t too critical, as usually it is driven by an outer current loop, which selects these values to try and achieve a desired phase current. Thus any non-linearities are mostly washed out, just reducing the control performance a bit. The times it is most important is during motor calibration when a fixed voltage waveform is applied for spinning the motor, and when the phase resistance and inductance of the motor are estimated.
To date, that function has used a relatively simple model that treats the 3 phases independently. For each phase, the voltage is mapped to a PWM using a piecewise linear approximation with two segments. This works reasonably well on the r4.5, and gets the resistance and inductive measurements into a usable territory.
As a consequence of the global semiconductor apocalypse, I’m working on a new version of the moteus controller that uses a gate driver which it was possible to purchase with less than a year lead time. Unfortunately, it is more sensitive to failure induced by ringing than the DRV8323 was. Because of the abbreviated design timeframe, I left the power stage of the r4.5 alone when making this switch, and it had a fair amount of ringing when using the drive currents it is configured with by default. So, for the new board, it needs to be run with much slower gate drive waveforms than the r4.5 board could achieve.
Using the lower current results in a very distorted mapping between PWM and voltage on the phase terminals, such that calibration wouldn’t complete and measuring the phase resistance was not practical. You can get an idea of the problem by looking at the plot below of phase current during the motor calibration phase. The driving voltage is a sine wave, and the current is supposed to be a sine wave also. Because of the additional distortion, low voltage commands result in nearly no actual current production and there is a large undesired waveform when the three phases are active, but at different levels.
Thankfully current control mostly worked, although it likely suffered from degraded performance at small currents. Despite that, not being able to calibrate is a big deal, so I had to take another look at this control step to make it able to handle the larger non-linearity.
Quantifying the problem
I didn’t necessarily want to try and model the gate drive at a more detailed level to understand this, to tackled the quantification problem by brute force. I wrote a simple tool which commanded a fixed PWM on the A phase, and then did a 2D sweep over the B and C phases in a region where my power supply could provide sufficient current without undue heating. The plots of the B, and C currents as 3D surfaces are shown below (the A current can be found from those two currents).
I think numerically inverted that mapping, to determine the necessary B and C pwm values to achieve a given B and C phase current.
The C phase plot looked the same just mirrored. Notably, this has two distinct regions. There is a region which extends to infinity where the command B is related to the desired B 1 to 1 with a fixed offset. However, that region only seems to exist beyond a line that is related to the C command. On the other side of that line, the fixed offset is no longer required. I did a rough curve fit to this, which looks like:
In the above plot, the sampled data is now faded out, and the simple surface fit is fully saturated. It works plenty well, and is controlled by 2 parameters as before (since the dividing line between the two regimes seems to not be something that is likely to need to be configured).
I reworked the mapping to always operate in terms of a B and C phase that are larger than the A phase, then shift things back to the correct phase and balance afterwards. That way this correction surface could be applied as is.
This new technique gives much better low-voltage performance, especially when more than one phase is active and when larger amounts of compensation are required. Here’s a plot showing the current waveform during a sinusoidal calibration sweep.
With the r4.5 board, you can see the low voltage performance improve a fair amount. With the newer r4.8 board and its higher required compensation, the improvement is dramatic.
Due to the ongoing semiconductor apocalypse, this minor release uses some alternate components which were easier to source. It remains compatible with the r4.5 and r4.3 both electrically, mechanically, and with firmware.
The moteus controller, communicates exclusively over CAN-FD for command, telemetry, and diagnostics. It will accept either standard or extended frames, and until now, the ID format in terms of bits looked like the following:
If the lower 8 bits matched the configured ID, all the X bits would be completely ignored and moteus would accept the CAN message as if it were destined for itself. This may not be super desirable, as it consumes nearly all of the available CAN-FD addressing space.
Starting with firmware version 2021-08-20, moteus now uses the following ID format:
Where P is a 13 bit “CAN prefix” that can be configured and defaults to 0. moteus will only accept CAN frames where this prefix matches the configured value*, and all frames it sends will have the prefix set as configured. This allows you to reclaim large sections of the CAN ID space for other devices in the event that moteus controllers share a bus.
[*] Footnote: The bootloader will require that the CAN prefix be set correctly, but WILL NOT set the prefix on the messages it sends. The existing moteus client side tools will function, but other devices on the bus may be confused.