Stepper drivers

We received some stepper drivers on Monday – TB6600 based boards.  These are 4A bipolar stepper drivers and are very cheap on ebay (£7 per motor).  The downside is this sort of ebay driver is often a bit rubbish – this thread documents some of the bad things.  The worst problems:

  • powering down the logic side of the circuit but leaving the motor supply connected = burnt out driver.  
  • output current is often less than it should be (due to shut-down circuitry)
  • circuit uses the a pin on the TB6600 to provide 5V to the supporting circuitry – but that pin is for a decoupling capacitor – it isn’t meant to provide power to anything else

So last night we decided to find out exactly what might be wrong with our drivers by tracing the schematic.  This way we can work out a method to avoid the worst problems and (hopefully) get reasonable performance out of our motors!

Here’s the schematic we came up with for our particular TB6600 driver – YMMV…

If you’re reading this because you’re interested in building your own robot, and you don’t fancy mucking about with reverse engineering cheap drivers from ebay, do yourself a favour and build/buy decent drivers – e.g.

It begins

Earlier this week, John and I had a design evening.  A few things were accomplished:

I brought in a THB6064 stepper driver (from my CNC machine) and we plugged that in to the stepper.  John had written an interrupt based arduino stepper driving program (complete with acceleration control!) and we tried that out.  We proved to ourselves that the motors we’ve chosen can indeed get to the maximum speed we’re after, but we’re still not sure about what acceleration they’ll give us.  We learned that smoothly accelerating steppers is important and that once they start to slip, you have to drop the step rate right down to re-capture the rotor.  More to do here we think…

We had a discussion about how we wanted the robot to look (which has a bearing on how the chassis should be constructed).  Likely answer (nothing is set in stone) is that we’ll have flat side panels with a nice profile cut out of the top instead of the flat plate we had last year.  This should mean we can make the robot a little prettier and possibly lighter too.  The downside is that its harder to make accurately, but if we use my CNC to carve out the side panels, we should be OK.

Material choice was also discussed – wood is nice and cheap, but heavy and needs painting. Metal is probably overkill, but we’ll certainly use it for anywhere we need to reinforce.  After a bit of googling, I discovered PVC foamboard – this is a plastic foam sheet with machining properties similar to wood, but less dense.  It can also be heat formed, so curves are possible. We’ve got a sample on order from ebay 🙂

Finally, we played skittles with the set we bought which was linked from the event page.  This gave us a clue how hard the ball will need to hit the skittles – and now I’d be very surprised if simply pushing the ball to the skittles was enough to get a strike.  Looks like we’ll need to design a mechanism to accelerate the ball…  Looks like Leo White has been doing the same thing 🙂


We got selected!

PiWars 2015 was so popular that they couldn’t accommodate all the teams. However, we were one of the lucky few to be chosen, so we look forward to seeing you there in December.

Now we’ve just got to build a robot 🙂

Here’s a shot of the motor test chassis (a very fancy name for a plywood sheet!):Metabot2 Motor test chassis

We’ll be using this to determine if the motors have enough grunt for the performance we want.  Initial indications are that the drivers (little polulu stepper drivers) get scarily hot when driving the current that the motors need for best performance – so we’ll need to figure something out or they’ll die.  Either a bigger heatsink for these drivers or bigger drivers.  Sadly, this also means we can’t yet tell if these motors are going to be up to the job either.  Maybe we can borrow some big drivers from somewhere?

Entering PiWars 2015

We had such a good time at PiWars last year that we’ve decided to enter again this year.  The application is in – now the nervous wait to see if we will be accepted.

In the meantime, we’ve been brainstorming approaches to the various events.  The Skittles event interests me particularly 🙂

On the hardware side, we’ve got a couple of stepper motors and a plywood baseboard screwed together as a test bed (we’d like to see if the motors are powerful and controllable enough for what we have in mind).

We’re planning to blog about it here – its going to be an interesting challenge writing about the journey without giving too much away!

PiWars 2014


On Saturday 6th December 2014, a large number of Robots and their makers descended on the Institute of Astronomy at Cambridge University for the first PiWars!

We were lucky enough to snag a competitor ticket for the event when applications opened in September and the race was on to build a robot to compete in all the events. Our entry was Metabot!

Hopefully over the next week or two I’ll be updating this page and detailing how we went about creating Metabot. In the meantime here’s a compilation of the best bits to whet your appetite. Metabot is the large, black, chunky wooden robot which often has a ramp attached to the front.