Update 2020-01-15: All the development kit slots are full. Thanks for your interest!
I’ve now received all the supplies I need to make up development kits for the moteus controller and to make a test quadruped!
I’m planning on making a few development kits from this production run so others can experiment with the moteus brushless controllers. Some people have already expressed interest in getting one — you have hopefully been contacted earlier. If you are interested in getting an opportunity to buy an early access kit and haven’t heard from me yet, fill out this form!
One of the necessary pieces for bringing up the moteus brushless controller and for ongoing development with it is being able to communicate with the device on the desk. There aren’t many options for desktop FDCAN communication currently, and certainly none that are in the affordable range occupied by the CANUSB family of devices which I’ve used before and was very happy with. Thus I created “fdcanusb”, a USB to FDCAN converter that allows one to communicate with FDCAN devices via a USB interface using a documented protocol, no drivers necessary.
The notable features:
USB 2.0 full speed host interface
ISO 11898-1: 2015 FDCAN interface on industry standard DB9 connector
Standards compliant bitrates up to 1/5Mbps supported
Software controllable termination
Frame sizes up to 64 bytes
Non-standards compliant bitrates allowed
Documented CDC ACM based host protocol (virtual COM port)
Apache 2.0 licensed firmware based on the STM32G474 controller
All for an expected sales prices of around $100.
This does come with some caveats: For one there is no galvanic or optoisolation, you get a common mode range of around +- 12V. Another is that using just a USB 2.0 full speed interface means it may not be able to keep a FDCAN bus fully saturated at high bitrates. Finally, the firmware will start out with just the bare bones capabilities, but can be extended to support features such as error injection, triggers, buffering, and more compact protocols in the future.
I’ve got the first functioning prototypes of these boards in hand now:
Another step in my plan for the next revision of the moteus servo mk2, is an updated controller board. As mentioned in my roadmap, I wanted to revise this board to make improvements in a number of domains:
Communications: Now instead of RS485, the primary communications interface is FD-CAN. This supports data rates of up to 8 Mbit and packet lengths up to 64 bytes. The header is nominally at the original CAN bit rate, but I have no need to be standards compliant and am running very short busses so I may run everything at the higher rate.
Connectors: Now there exist power connectors, in the form of XT30 right angle connectors and they are also daisy chainable like the data connectors. Additionally, all the connectors exit from the bottom of the board to make routing easier in configurations like the full rotation leg.
Controller: This uses the relatively new STM32G4 controller series. It is lower power than the STM32F4, supports FD-CAN, and also supports closely coupled memory, which may allow me to improve the speed of the primary control loop execution by 3 times.
Voltage range: This board now has 40V main FETS, with all other components at 50V rating or higher. Thus it should be safe with inputs up to 8S (34V or so).
It still maintains a number of the capabilities of the moteus r3.1 controller:
Integrated FOC encoder: An AS5048 encoder is mounted in the center of the back, which allows direct mounting above the rotor for FOC control.
Form factor: The entire board is 45x54mm, with M2.5 mounting holes. It is smaller than a 60mm BLDC motor and much smaller than an 80mm one.
Integrated current sensing: It uses a DRV8323 to drive the FETS, which includes current sensing for closed loop current control.
My first attempt at this, “r4”, came back from fabrication in an nonredeemable state. I used the digikey supplied footprint for the STM32G4 UQFN part, which looked mostly correct on the surface. However, while the footprint was good, the pinout was for the TQFP variant! This resulted in me shorting out several power pins to ground right next to the exposed pad in a way I couldn’t easily rework.
r4.1 seems to be in better shape so far. It powers up, and I now have blinking lights!
Next up is actually porting the control software to the new controller and communications interface.
Next up in Super Mega Microbot 2’s existence is being able to run untethered. Before that can happen, I need to be able to plug in a battery, and hopefully not have everything explode. As seen with the IMU junction board, even minor inductive links can result in chips getting toasted. I had thought that just adding sufficient capacitance to each of the point-of-load converters would resolve the issue, but in fact that almost made it worse.
Thus, I built a simple pre-charge board that I could put in line with the main power. It has two big FETs, one power resistor, an ATTiny44, and the random regulators and glue necessary to make it work. The microcontroller has one job. On power on, it waits a bit, energizes the “pre-charge” FET which has the power resistor in line. Then, a short while later, it energizes the main FET through which all power will flow.
I did some minimal qualification testing first with a single motor which went fine. Then I tested it against the whole quadruped, where I scoped the output ground line. Here, you can see that the output ground line initially rises linearly with the ramp up rate of the lab supply I was using to test. Then, about 80ms later after the ATTiny has powered on, it energizes the pre-charge FET and the output ground asymptotically approaches the resistance of the power resistor. Then again, at 100ms after that, the main FET is engaged and the output ground voltage drops all the way to 0 (or close enough modulo the FET on-resistance).
After that, all that was left was to try it with a real battery:
Higher input voltage: The old system ran at 2S, so 7.2V nominal. Now we’re running at 5S, so 18.5V nominal.
RS485 data: The HerkuleX based robot used TTL level data communications. moteus uses RS485.
Daisy chained power: With the new raspberry pi based computer in the turret, I now need to have an additional power and data port up on the mobile part of the turret.
No camera passthrough: Similarly, since the camera is directly attached to the raspberry pi 3, I don’t need to mess with having a connector to pass it through anymore.
As usual, I sent it off to MacroFab and waited. A seemingly very short time later and poof, here it was!
Bringing this up was more annoying than it could have been, mostly from a software perspective. The moteus and imu junction firmware were both based on the original gimbal software, but refactored to be usable across different projects. At the same time, that was where I had developed the RS485 based multiplex transport library. So, now was the time to bite the bullet and convert the gimbal software to use those common libraries.
Since the gimbal board has another unique processor compared to everything else, I broke it out into a separate git repository:
The old project was initially CubeMX based. When porting to rules_mbed and moteus/mjlib, I was in a hurry, so just copy and pasted much of the CubeMX initialization into the new tree and didn’t use any mbed APIs at all. It took me a while to remember how all the CubeMX initialization was glued together and which pieces of it were relevant before all the peripherals started working properly.
I then proceeded to mechanically integrate it together into the unused turret.
I once again had to remember how to calibrate and operate the thing. Doing this once every 9 months is kind of painful! However, I did manage to get it all working again, and ready to be integrated onto the mech.
Now that I have a chassis that can walk a little bit, I need to get the onboard computer working. To do that, I needed to update the raspberry pi 3 daughterboard I built for the previous turret for the new bus voltage and communication format.
The rpi3’s UART is incapable of controlling the direction line on the RS485 transceiver, so I added a small STM32 micro in line to control the transmit / receive direction. It adds a little bit of latency, but testing the firmware I was able to get it down to only a byte’s worth or so.
Here’s a quick render:
And a shot of the actual board:
Unfortunately, I managed to omit a necessary pullup on the enable line of the primary buck converter. To get things moving along, I blue-wired it under the microscope:
I am a big fan of MacroFab. They’ve built a PCB + assembly + more service that is transparent, high quality, and nearly completely self service. They appear to be making money, so hopefully they will stay in business for some time.
On top of that, they offer a “quick turn” option which gives you populated boards shipped 10 business days after you order them (and I’ve even had them ship out a few days early from time to time)! The only annoyance is that the quick turn option is limited, as I’ve mentioned before, to boards that meet certain criteria, among them having 20 or fewer items on the bill of materials. To try and get this first quadruped prototype up and running quickly, I’ve been exclusively relying on quick turn boards, which means making some compromises. Even after some moderate design sacrifices, I haven’t been able to get the servo controller board to 20 parts. At the moment it is 23. Thus, when I received the first big-ish PCB order I’ve made (qty 28), I got to spend a morning populating the remaining 3 components on all 28 boards.
Unfortunately, as painful as that was, it was still worth it as opposed to waiting an additional 3 weeks for the non “quick turn” service.
For posterity’s sake, the only difference between the r3 and r3.1 board is some silk screen changes, and one or two equivalent part substitutions.
I’ve now managed to get all the custom and long lead time parts in house for the first version of a quadruped based on the new actuators I’ve been designing.
That includes all the motors, custom brackets, and at least moderately working versions of all the custom PCBs. Now I just have to get the local rework done, get the software into a semi-reasonable state, and put it all together!
The full quadruped robot needs to both distribute power from the primary battery and RS485 serial network to all 12 servos. To make the wiring of that easier, I’ve made up a junction board to provide power connectors, distribute the data network, and act as the IMU for when that is necessary.
The RS485 network is bridged between two halves of the robot. One connection comes in from the controlling PC and two separate links go out, one for the left side and one for the right side. This could eventually allow the controller on the junction board to take intelligent actions itself, such as querying the force applied on all 12 servos. It could then return the result in a single RS485 transaction to the host computer. I am expecting that will be necessary to achieve closed loop control approaching 1kHz.
It also includes a Bosch MEMS IMU. The junction board will be rigidly mounted to the quadruped chassis, which means it is an ideal location for an attitude reference. I haven’t integrated the IMU software from the gimbal yet, but have verified that the IMU is operational.
Finally, it has a 3.3V regulator on board to power all the logic level chips from the primary 18V supply. I managed to toast two of these by not having sufficient input capacitance, and hot-plugging a lab supply to the power lead. The inductive transient caused the regulators to over-voltage, resulting in a short from power to ground. This is apparently a relatively common design mistake with this part according to TI’s E2E. I attempted to rework replacement parts on the board, but due to a cascade of failures from USPS to my soldering, I gave up and just spun another revision.
In the meantime, I took one board and manually powered its 3.3v supply to bring up the firmware, and I’ve converted the other to a “dumb” mode, where it has no 3.3v supply and all the RS485 ports are just hard-wired together. (Note the very tidy blue-wiring and hot glue.)
That should be enough to make progress with getting the full mech working, even if the control frequency is limited.