Thursday, September 21, 2017

Playing MIDI on an STM32F446 Part 1: Square Waves

I've decided to try to make an 8-bit style music player out of a microcontroller. There are some really cool arduino versions of this project, but they all seem to require a very confusing custom file format to describe the song. My goal is to use a simple format that can be easily generated from a midi file.  As a proof of concept, I wrote some code which plays a midi file converted to a list of note data in the format "start time, duration, pitch, volume".

This version has a known issue with high pitch notes. If a note requires a duty cycle of 80.5 DAC cycles, it will just round down to 80 cycles, which makes it sound flat. Instead, it should alternate between 80 and 81.

Eventually, I plan to add more sounds and effects other than "square wave with 50% duty cycle", but for now, that's the only choice. The plan is to make each instrument kind of like a script. Each instrument would have an array of function pointers and arguments which get executed in order. Functions could do things like "delay 20 instrument cycles", "set output to triangle wave", "increase pitch by major third", "do a vibrato effect", or even "move function pointer array pointer back n steps".

I plugged the DAC into my computer's line in port, and recorded this:

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Hoverboard Robot Arm Part 1: The Class Project

I decided to build a robot arm for my 6.115 final project, which was a bad idea.  The project is open ended, but requires you to use an Intel 8051 and a Cypress PSoC microcontroller.  The 8051 is from the 1980's and is useless, and the PSoC is only there because Cypress gave MIT a ton of money.  The PSoC is honestly a very bad microcontroller - it's neither high performance nor cheap.  It's big feature is that there's some sort of vaguely FPGA-like thing that allows certain pins to be remapped.  As a result it does many things, but nothing well.  It is very slow at floating point math.  The analog inputs are slow.  It can literally do half the PWM and encoder decoding of the similarly priced ST micro.  It has no hardware serial support.  You can even turn some pins into a really bad op-amp!  Cypress gave MIT lots of money and development kits, so the class teaches you that your choices in microcontroller are old 8051's or Cypress PSoC, so of course, everybody leaves thinking the PSoC is the pinnacle of high-performance electronics.

The final projects are supposed to be very ambitious.  My original final project proposal included the following

  1. Designing a 3-phase inverter capable of running at 400V, 20A with low side current sensing
  2. Laying out a PCB for the motor controller
  3. Populating/debugging the PCB
  4. Implementing field oriented motor control for torque control of a brushless motor
  5. Designing a discrete-time current controller
  6. Characterizing a motor from an electric hoverboard
  7. Designing a full state feedback controller for robot arm endpoint position control
  8. Implementing code to compute the robot arm's Jacobian to have force control of the robot arm
  9. Designing and fabricating an extremely low inertia, direct drive robot arm
  10. Simulating the robot arm force/torque control in MATLAB
  11. Writing a motor simulator to test the field oriented control logic
  12. Coming up with a robust communication protocol for the motor controller to talk to the 8051
  13. Hooking the 8051 to the timer chip, the serial chip (to talk to the motor controller), two ADC's (for controlling the robot arm), a keypad encoder (for changing settings), and one of those Hitachi displays (for showing position error)
and I was told "it wasn't enough" and "wasn't related to the class", even though we learned about motors, current control, first order circuits, feedback control, switching regulators, feedback control of switching regulators, stepper motors, digital signal processing, digital filters, and characterizing systems.  The suggestion was to add code that takes in a JPEG, vectorizes it, then draws the image.  On an Intel 8051. The idea is to get people to branch out, but I think it's setting people up to get super stressed and have a partially working final project.  I still managed to get all the points without doing anything more that what's listed above, but I didn't know this would happen until after I turned in the project.

This project was submitted as a "safe" robot arm with "small" electric motors, driven by "little 3 phase inverter ICs" powered from a "low-power" bench supply. There's a huge number of safety requirements for the project, which is pretty reasonable given some of the proposed ideas. The "safe" and "small" motors are around 1.5 kW motors from an electric hoverboard, the "little" IC is actually a 75A, 600V IGBT in a package that can dissipate 225W, and the "low-power bench supply" is, well, actually a completely reasonable 3A, 15V bench supply that we're required to use.

We were taught in class that using words like "low-power" or "large" were relative and meaningless in engineering, so I didn't feel bad about submitting something that could potentially be dangerous.

Building the Arm

Bayley recently bought 15 hoverboards from a man in New York, and gave me a few motors to use for this project.  I started by removing the tire from the motors and disassembling.

There's a lot of motor inside!  Unfortunately, I couldn't come up with a clever way to hide an encoder on the inside of the motor, so I bored a hole in the casing to give me access to the fixed shaft from the front of the motor.  There aren't very many circular features on this motor, so finding the center is challenging.  I ended up putting it in a four-jaw chuck on the lathe, but was only able to get within .001" because nothing on this thing is actually round.  

During the next week, I made all the brackets and clamps.  Some were made on the MITERS CNC
and other were made on the Haas VF-2 next door

The last three parts were done on all manual equipment because the CNC's were in use

After a week of machining, I had bunch of shiny aluminum parts

Next,  I found some thin wall tube laying around MITERS and assembled the two arms


The controller for this arm is overkill.  The IGBT module (FNA27560) is good for 50A, 400V continuous with good heatsinking, so it's more of an electric vehicle controller than a robotics controller.  I created a schematic inspired by the reference design for the IGBT module and added a microcontroller and differential serial.  There are no power supplies on the board.  I'm not sure if this was a good decision or not, but I planned to put the 5V, 3.3V, 15V supplies on a separate board that connected to both boards.  Unfortunately, I wasn't allowed to use the ST microcontroller for the class project as the class was bought out by Cypress and forbids knowledge of other companies has received generous donations of money and parts from Cypress.  Instead I was forced to decided to take advantage of the Cypress Programmable System on a Chip 5LP microcontroller development platform, and created a controller that was in every way worse than the ST based controller was easy to implement with the Cypress "PSoC Creator" software (a 3GB IDE that vaguely resembles Office 2003).   For a class that's about "teaching design concepts more than a specific platform", it's suspicious to forbid investigation of other platforms that may have their own pros and cons...

The board I drew up was a little bit scary - there's not much ground plane and the micro is directly under the IGBT. The reference design seemed incredibly conservative and only put components on the top layer, so I moved things around a bit to get a tighter layout.  
"Small" Power ICs

Around 6 days after placing the order to 3-PCB, the boards arrived.  I somehow screwed up the gerber file generation so I missed mounting holes, heatsink holes, and my text.  Populating the board was uneventful.  I screwed up and bought a through hole diode instead of the correct surface mount one (not sure how I screwed up that bad) and the holes for the large IGBT module pins were slightly too small, requiring the pins to be filed down.  

Fiddling with PSOC Creator to give me the center-aligned PWM with deadtime took an hour or so, which isn't too bad.  I ended up with my board in a state where the clock is set "too fast" for reliable programming, so it fails to erase flash one in four times, causing the whole PSOC Creator program to throw endless memory out of bounds errors until you restart it.   It's not a well written application.

The trick to aligning the PWMs is to set the counter reset on a control register.  When  toggling the control register, all three counters zero at exactly the same time, aligning the PWMs. 

Once I had control of the inverter with the PSOC, I fed open loop sinusoidal phase voltages into the motor:

Next, I got the DAC working.  The PSOC has no easy to use print statements for debugging (piece of junk), so the DAC is the main debugging output.  If I add debugging serial, I need to provide my own USB to serial adapter, and I use a ton of CPU power to implement the software serial, which prevented the FOC loop from running fast enough.  Once I configured the quadrature encoder "block", I wrote a little automatic calibration routine.    The motor spins open loop until it hits an index pulse.  To figure out the electrical offset, it raises one phase high and leaves the other two low, causing the motor to lock at the d axis.  From here, the microcontroller calculates the electrical offset and applies q axis volts, causing the motor to speed up.  Here's a video (don't forget your safety tupperware when doing class projects):

I wrote some other stuff with some nice pictures, but google blogger is terrible and messed up the formatting, so I got frustrated and copied everything into a video.  Watch as I slowly lose interest in the project and things get crappier and crappier.  The robot arm gets clamped to an old cart and the electronics get really bad.

In the end, after failing at least 3 different safety inspections, I finally added  a bunch of clamps and polycard shields, hid it in the corner of the lab underneath unused benches, and passed the final safety inspection the day before checkoff.  I demoed it slowly moving in a circle to a TA for 3 seconds and got an A. 

In the future, I plan to come back to this project and make it less terrible, with better encoders and motor control.  

Monday, May 22, 2017

Parrot Drone Reverse Engineering to View Camera Stream, Edit Settings, and Flash LED

My friend had a camera board out of some old Parrot quadcopter thing.  When powered on, it creates a wi-fi network that you connect to with your smartphone.  Then user downloads an app on their smart phone, and can control the quadcopter and view the video. As a fun project, I decided to find out how easy it is to view the camera feed without an app and see how much was open.  In the end, the project turned out to be really easy - there's no security.

We powered on the board from a 12V power supply and waited for it to boot.  It created a wi-fi network with a visible SSID.  I connected to the network with my laptop running  MATE 14.04 with DHCP enabled and was assigned an IP address of

The IP address of the camera board was found with
arp -a
which was for mine.

To see which ports were open, I ran 
which revealed three open ports: ftp, telnet, and port 5555, which nmap (incorrectly) identified as some sort of multiplayer Linux game.

The ftp server accepted an anonymous connection, but put me in an empty directory.  I'm assuming it's for sending firmware updates, so I didn't try much else from here.

Next, I investigated the mysterious port 5555.  I first pointed windows media player at this port, and nothing happened.  Same with VLC.  Running
ffplay tcp://
gave me a ~25 fps, 320x240 video stream with around 5 seconds of latency from the big camera.  You'll have to add the PPA for ffmpeg and install ffmpeg if you're on 14.04 - ubuntu was dumb and switched to libav, which I still haven't gotten around to learning about.

Finally, I connected with telnet and got a busybox bash shell.  The board has a fairly complete basic Linux install and has things like grep and vi.  You can toggle the red/green on the LED just by running `export 1 > /.....path_to_gpio....`.  The root user has no password, so you have full access to the system.  This is usually a good idea - ssh doesn't let users without passwords connect, but they set up telnet.  From a security standpoint, the telnet without password is really dumb.  If somebody malicious gets root access, you're screwed.  They can delete everything on the device, retune your gains, or even mess with settings for the device's power management, which stand a good chance to damage the hardware.  Even if the remote user executed rm -rf /, the device is unrecoverable for consumers.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Cantaloupe Scooter - Build

Cantaloupe Scooter is my first attempt to build an electric vehicle at MITERS.  The inspiration for the name comes from Charles Guan's Melon-Scooter, which was powered by a "melon" - a "6 kW" brushless outrunner that used to sell on HobbyKing.  Cantaloupe Scooter isn't powered by a melon, but does have a cantilevered rear wheel, a cantilevered belt tensioner, and a cantilevered motor and motor shaft.

The main reason I wanted to build an electric vehicle was to have a way to get to and from MITERS quickly.  I picked a scooter because it's easy to ride, fairly compact, and can double as a cart to carry heavy items from the loading dock.

Cantaloupe scooter was also built for almost no cost - I only purchased connectors and wire from eBay, which cost around $15.  The project was also done without the help of CAD - and as a result has some questionable design.  The front part of the scooter was built between the hours of 2 and 5 am, and as a result, isn't quite right.  Staying upright at full speed requires a lot of concentration.


The aluminum used for the sides and top of the frame came from Straight Razer and are almost unmodified.  There are a few bonus holes and slots I added to mount the front and rear assemblies.

The acrylic used for the bottom of the scooter is a leftover from some freshman maker class.

I got the HDPE blocks used in the front from the IDC scrap pile.  They look like they came from those weird white pedal powered things with a USB logo.

The front fork, handlebars, and wheels came from MITERS.

The belt is a leftover from Frozen Chainsaw Massacre, a powerwheels car that used electric chainsaw motors.

The twist throttle came from a convert-a-bike-to-electric kit found in the loading dock.

The aluminum billets used in the back came out of science equipment found at the loading dock and some plates found in the basement of building 5.

The pulley flange was made out of the lid from some biology equipment.

The bolts, spacers, and nuts came from MITERS.

Half the batteries came from some boxes of "dead" A123's found in the loading dock.  Roughly 30 of the 500 batteries were successfully revived. 

The other half of the batteries came from a trade - I traded 4 massive 40 Ah 3.3V LiFe batteries for 24 A123's that originally came from reuse.


The Battery

It all started when Alex and I found 500 A123's at the loading dock.  After carting them back to MITERS, we measured the voltage of every cell and ended up with this:

The cells to the left all have 1.9V or more, and the ones on the right have between 1.5 and 1.9V. First, the cells were all charged to 3.6V, and were allowed to sit for a week.  After, they were discharged on the Dyna-Load at 10 amps.

As they were discharging, the cell voltage was monitored by a microcontroller (our favorite stm32f446re), which streamed the voltage over serial at a relaxing 10 Hz to a laptop.  The laptop was running plotter, an application I wrote for the motor controller.  It plots the cell voltage in real time, and logs it to a CSV file, which can later be opened in MATLAB.  

A demo of plotter with some random signals, 200 Hz to laptop

The end result of this charge and discharge test was a big spreadsheet of cell data.  
These were my conclusions
  • These cells were thrown away 8 years ago because they were below their rated discharge voltage when they arrived new in box.  I picked them up at a cold loading dock.  All these cells appeared to recover perfectly.  There were four dead cells in the spreadsheet - these came out of a bag of mystery cells given to me.  To revive, simply charge at 0.5A until the cell gets to 3.3V, then go to 3A.
  • The last 10% of capacity goes away if the cell is charged fast.  On average, the recovered cells had 94% of their rated capacity when charged at 3A.  The 6 cells I slow charged at 0.5A got to between 98 and 100% of rated capacity.  
  • There appears to be no damage to the cells after 8 years of sitting in extreme discharge.  They have a comparable discharge curve to a brand new A123
  • It takes one or two cycles to "wake up" the extremely low voltage cells.  For the first two cycles, the cell voltage sagged to 3.4V or below when fully charged, though they still had comparable discharge curves under load.  After a few cycles, they sag to 3.5V after charging.
  • It's a total mystery as to why these cells showed up from the factory with low voltage.  There's nothing wrong with them that I can see.
  • 1.5V is the cutoff for reviving long-term discharged A123's.  I revived a set of 0.5V cells, but they had an order of magnitude more internal resistance than they should have.  Other than that, they seemed to work though.

In the end, I was short a few cells to put together a 12S3P pack, so I traded 4 very large 40 Ah LiFe cells for a few more bricks of A123s.  

In the first and second picture, I was playing around will different shapes of packs to see what fit best in the remains of Straight Razer.  In the end, I went with what's pictured in the second picture - two rows of 18 cells in a 6S3P configuration.  Each row could be charged and balanced by an ordinary 6S balance charger.

Each row of cells was put in massive heatshrink, which worked extremely well.

The Drive Assembly

For the drive motor, I used an 8fun brushless outrunner with sheared shaft that came from Dane.  This motor is usually used in ebike wheels, and is a great motor for vehicles.  Usually, this motor is part of a planetary gearbox, but I removed the gear and CNC'd a new adapter.  I was too lazy to CNC a pulley, so I 3D printed one instead.  It's a little smushed, but seems to work.
Motor with sheared shaft

The old gear

The new adapter

Adapter on motor

Adapter on pulley

To mount the motor, I machined two pieces of bar stock that came from an FSAE frame jig.  Unfortunately, the pieces had been "faced" to make them "flat", but they were around .05" off over 6", so all the mating sides needed to be remachined.
Clamping mount

Clamping mount with frame mount

Shiny Scotch-Brite Surface

Assembled motor mount and frame mount

Motor mounted to frame

Motor, frame, batteries, controller
Up next was the mount for the rear wheel.  I went with a cantilevered rear wheel because I couldn't find a 10mm bolt that was long enough.  The rear wheel mount is shaped like a cake so it can fit into the bore of the wheel.

The stock

The cake

Cake with holes

Cake with screws

I originally planned to make a cool looking block of aluminum on the CNC that connected the cake to the frame, but this was annoying to design ahead of time.  I put the frame of the scooter about 2 inches above the ground, and held everything in place with clamps, and came up with some plans for belt tensionsing and rear wheel mounting.
The block connects the frame to the cake, and has a slot for the bolts that serves as the axle for the tensioning pulley.

The slightly smushed pulley caused the belt to slip off, so I cut out this roughly circular pulley flange.  It turns out MITERS has nothing circular that's 4.5" in diameter to trace a circle with...

There slot for the tensioner is designed so the head of the bolt won't spin.

The cantilevered wheel looks weird

A delrin round thing was bored out and bearings were pressed in.

There's an additional piece of 1" x 1" bar stock used to join the cake to the plate

 The laser cut bottom plate fit on the first try!

No vehicle is complete without a name

The front of the scooter is a total disaster.  I took some huge chunks of HDPE, made them roughly the same size, then drilled a 1" hole at a roughly 5 degree angle.

The completed scooter has a a current top speed of around 18 mph, and a range of around 5 miles.  At high speeds, it's a challenge to keep everything stable due to the excessive steering friction.  I'm hoping the HDPE wears out over time.