A New Beginning, the Second Story; RageBridge 2 FINALLY Going to Manufacturing; Season 2 and #SADBOT2016

It’s official – after December 31st of this year, my contract with MIT as the MIT-SUTD Collaboration‘s International Design Center shopmaster will end, and will not be renewed. As of then, I will no longer have official ties to MIT. Hard to believe, eh?!

There’s no better timing for this, too, as #season2 is on the horizon early next year. My goal is to use this same epochal shock to usher Equals Zero Designs into prime-time, with the release of RageBridge 2 and a host of other stuff I’ve been working on this fall semester – stay tuned for that.

Ultimately, it was a combination of the fear of complacency as well as organizational changes that is pushing me to move on. First, because I have commitment issues and can see myself being a shop instructor & design class instructor for the next q years, which frankly scares the shit out of me. Sorry, ladies. Second, the IDC has moved on from its more “Wild West” days of supporting any which project, towards a more professional research-centered model with strong ties to industry. This is without a doubt better for the Center and will make it sustainable past its years with the MIT-SUTD collaboration alone, but I just didn’t see myself contributing to it any longer. I’m one of the last of the “original generation” of IDC inhabitants, and that presence has made itself painfully obvious in the preceding few months.

The thing I’ll miss the most is not anything to do with the Center, or even “my own” shop, but my interactions with the student maker community and being the go-to guy for late-night uncommon parts and advice, because yeah, of course I have one and of course I’m upstairs right now. That, and not being able to continue the great experiment that is 2.00gokart, but perhaps this will be remedied in due time.

In the coming weeks, I’ll be winding down my operations at MIT and shifting most of it over…

…to my little corner at the Art is a NSA sylum. What I might lose in the coziness of “my shop” I gain in a real, dedicated space for shenanigans and a much wider array of on-site resources and a massive community of deranged makey-types. Thus begins the story of Big Chuck’s Robot Warehouse & Auto Body Center. What, you thought I was kidding?

The downside? I have so much shit to move.

So many more people making and building things at MIT is a mixed blessing: nowadays nobody can get their own little private corner for too long. I’m currently trying to knock down my stuff load, which dates back to mid-2007, across 3 or 4 different sorting systems (at least 1 of which is just “NONE”), and several midden-esque locations. So, perhaps watch out on the For Sale page soon


Oh dear, I’ve officially become one of those delayed crowdfunding product people in addition to being just a crowdfunding product person.

Ragebridge2 got basically pushed back a month to resolve one of the biggest issues plaguing it from the start: the one channel “giga-mode” where the two sides are tied together so Rage becomes a single channel twice-as-awesome controller. A lot of prospective users were asking for this so Rage could conceivably be used in a heavier robot design. For example, the two sides put together at 150 amps limited would be plenty of current for, say, an Ampflow A28-150 motor.

Now, how hard could this one-channel thing possibly be? Isn’t it just copying and pasting the output of one control loop cycle to the other?!

Well, basically. But first, there were secondary issues that had to be resolved.


One thing that eternally plagues power conversion and motor control designers is noise. Switching tens or hundreds of amps thousands of times a second is not easy on sensitive logic. The bigger the parts get and the higher the amps go, the more likely you’ll start seeing things like optical isolation and fully isolated independent gate drive supplies, and the like. I think Rage is on the big end of what is basically “non-isolated” designs, where power and logic ground eventually meet on the same board. When they do, layouts and trace routing become as critical (if not MORE critical) than exactly what FETs you use…. I could have the most hardcore power devices in the world, and my board would just reset over and over if the current draw went over 5 amps or something if I dropped a haphazard or autorouted (shudder) layout.

Now, fortunately, for Rage, the critical current wasn’t 5 amps, but more like about 130-150 amps. On very hard reversing with the current limits near the top, the board would still trip up. However, it was no longer the microcontroller resetting, but the Allegro A3941 chips themselves that were having issues.  In fact, one side (channel 1) would preferentially shut down.

In fact, here’s a scope trace between low-side return (LSS) of the gate drive chip and my logic supply ground measured at the logic bus capacitor, on a 100%-to-0% step where I just kind of let go of the transmitter stick, with the current limiter set to maximum (75A) per channel. That’s a nearly 6 volt peak to peak smash, especially with a strong negative component. And this was at PWM frequency – happening 15,000 times a second.

If Rage were in dual-channel mode, this resulted in that side simply no longer responding, needing a reset to clear. If it were in single-channel mode, well… stuff generally blew up.

There wasn’t much more trace and component placement optimization I could make, however. I repositioned several of the gate drive traces, and more importantly, moved where the gate drive chips got access to VDD (system voltage) and VSS (system ground), specifically moving them away from “right under the drain tab”. I’m not sure why I even did that, but…

One last thing I decided to finally do was to airgap the whole logic ground plane.

Before, the plane filled the whole area that is now black in the center. This placed it right next to the high-power planes and the switching output of the motor, not to mention the high dV/dt gate drive traces. This is no longer the case.

All of these changes called for a new board revision, number 6. I decided to try a new-to-me vendor that I’d been clued into, 3pcb.com, not to be confused with 4pcb.com. I see what you did there.

They have the quickest turnaround of any place I’ve used so far that doesn’t cost four-figures. I’ve actually since used PCBWay for a few more sensor boards and consistently get orders in on Wednesday afternoon, and receive them the following Monday, including shipping time with an air express service and which doesn’t even cost that much. The “downside” is no “fancy stuff” like 4 layers, microvias, plated holes and edges, etc… on your boards or it takes as long as it normally does.


It, uhh… Oops.

I’m pretty sure I clicked on the wrong choices for LPI (solder mask) color and silkscreen (text) color. The buttons are actually next to each other, okay?

Just in time for the cold season, the wild RageBridge gains a brilliant white winter coat to better camouflage itself against low-inductance motors and people who don’t know how to solder.

To be fair, this doesn’t look bad. However, the white board is easily stained by flux, and after reflow-soldering the FETs and gate driver ICs, there’s obvious yellowing of the board to a more ‘off white’ or ‘soft white’ kind of color. I think this is partly the flux, and partly because I cooked it too long. My process is not nearly as controlled as a production reflow line, so it’s not an entirely correct criticism. For production, I’m going to stick with black.

But did this revision solve anything? Quantitatively, I haven’t recharacterized the noise, but qualitatively, I haven’t gotten the board to reset or shut down in any way once. It will now happily grenade the power traces on a cross-side short, and continue working once I bridge the gap. This is all while driving a motor like 10 times larger than what it should be driving.

Well, that means it’s still blowing up in single-channel mode. It turns out there were quite a few structural problems with the firmware that allowed the input-taking loop to ‘override’ the current control loop. As the fastest loop in the code, the CC loop is what should be controlling the outputs at all times. The issue centered around passing variable values back and forth between the two loops. This itself was not causing the board to explode, per se. It needed an accomplice on the hardware side.

The other issue was that my deadtime between high- and low-side FETs being turned on was too small for the switching time.

The red trace is the gate of the high side FET discharging, turning the FET off, and the yellow trace is the corresponding low-side turning on. There’s very little error room here. It seems like the high side barely makes it off before the low side turns on.

Again, not very bad if the two sides were separate, but if they were switch together, all of the components better match perfectly. A few extra dozen nanoseconds here and there in delay and switching time differences would cause one side to be momentarily on while the other is off, or vice versa.  When this happened, there was an audible click from the capacitors as the cross-conducting FETs swished what must be peaks of hundreds of amps out of them and in a loop around the board. That was my sign to, umm, power everything off right now.

Prior to this, the board only exploded made terrifying sounds at very high throttle percentages (e.g. above 95%). I found out that the “output overriding” issues in the firmware were permitting very high PWM duty cycles, since the input-taking loop does not constrain its outputs to include deadbands on the low end (0-5%) and high end (95-100%). When this happens, it means the low side FETs occasionally turn half-assedly on and off due to the rapid on-and-off cycle.

I increased the deadtime to a safer margin to test again. The combination of correcting my variable-passing and adding more deadtime made for perfection! I just had to make sure that the outputs never went above about 95% – from there, it jumps to 100% – to avoid the possibility of one-side off (no FETs on) and one-side on, which is a slightly less bad case of one-side-high, one-side-low.

This jump is handled by a conditional in the fast (current limiting) loop. In practical use, this is almost unnoticeable (and is also used in RageBridge 1 and basically all other motor controllers, to avoid the things I explained previously)

With these issues resolved, Rage is now incredibly close to production. I’ve put in for the assembly quote and have already amassed the Bill of Materials. Associated tasks include getting quotes for heat sink manufacturing, and of course, in due time, readying the website and producing documentation. I hope to have everything out the door by mid-week, so Indiegooglers stay tuned for a huge update!


Way back during the middle of #season1, when we thought building a 250lb robot in roughly 5-6 weeks was going to be a breeze, I came up with the idea of a “practice assbot” for the 4 newer team members to construct so we can practice driving Overhaul v1 against it. Because, y’know, we were totally going to finish a week ahead of time and have time for everyone to take a turn at it and decide the chief driver on who’s the most skilled and… okay, that kind of died a little bit as we were welding the last bits of the new lifter assembly together on Tuesday night of production week.

But we were left with this tool, which just had to be used on something. The original plan was to put some wheelchair motors and tires on a square tube frame (leftovers from constructiong the OH1 frame) and throw this on a third of said motor. It would just be an irritating practice opponent.

During the brief interlude before #season2 work took off in earnest, I decided to take this project to fruition and adopt it, much like I am adopting the name and concept of Overhaul itself – more on this in detail soon, is my hope. I wanted first and foremost to have a 250lb-class driving practice machine. The difference between driving a 30lber and Overhaul was much like a small sports coupe and an overladen Chinatown bus. The second goal would be to test stupid experiments for Overhaul V2 (….more details on this soon, again, as I hope!) and basically make a “prototype” to make sure that certain bad ideas work, or are ruled out, before the proper build.

So I extracted OH1’s wheelpods from the apartment  and proceeded to think of the simplest, most durable frame I could build around it. Each wheelpod had four mounting points which were rubber shock isolators, so I just needed something to bind it together. A simple tube frame would have sufficed, but it was actually not heavy enough. To really get in the weight range I needed, there had to be much more steel.

My salvation came in the form of giant C-channel, specifically the “6 inch x 10.5lb per foot” type. That’s how it’s sold, pounds of STEEL per foot. In all, the thing above contains about 140lb of steel alone. Add in two roughly 25lb wheelpods and  batteries and it should be right up against ~220lb, so I could run this in other 220lb Heavy events if I really felt like it. The wall thickness is around 1/2″. It’s just a blob of steel.

But what it really needed was the Stick of Poking. For that, I conjured up a quick structure to contain a modified, chopped-down version of it.

The gear ratio may or may not be similar to one I intend to use in OH2’s main lifter, with the tip possibly kinda-ish at around the same distance as the anticipated new lifter, and it also miiiiiiiight be expanding on using the BaneBots P80 in applications most people would make fun of me for. All maybes. Nothing is certain at this stage, after all, and we don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves, right?

I elected to use chain to keep it simple, with stock keyed shafts and sprockets running on stock mounted bearings. No fanciness here, just something quick to put together. The structure is entirely 1/4″ steel weldments from waterjet-cut puzzle pieces. I’m pretty sure it’s too spindly to be battleworthy, but again, I just wanted to see the numbers at work.

Oh dear, this thing is now looking too legitimate. I added some big rubber bumpers (which I ordered months ago for OH1 but found them too hideous to use, as well as heavy and improperly sized). Even if the arm is never installed or functional, at least it will be (relatively) soft with the big bumpers. Maybe I can use it to tow vans.

One of the intentions of this build is, of course, after all the experiments and bad ideas are finished, to have a sparring opponent for not only the future Overhaul v2, but also the potential storm of new heavy-class bots emerging in this area.

So, because the only purpose of this bot is to get experimented on and thereafter, shat on and beat upon, I figured it must be really sad, and so began calling it sadbot. It’s only tangentially related to #sadboys, I promise.

I ordered an unnaturally large quantity of STEEL compared to my usual daily recommended intake from Turner Steel, a local distributor, who delivered for free. By which I mean, dropping off slabs of a future overpass/bridge on the loading dock, and leaving me to try and budge it while making adorable squeaking noises like a rubber squeeze toy. If there is anything that building one (and soon to be 2, later three?) heavyweight-class robots is doing for my benefit, is MAKING ME LIFT, BRO.

To make up for it, building the frame was actually the most straightforward thing ever. Ignore the painted weeaboo face – I was somewhat delirious at that point. The cuts were made on a horizontal bandsaw, chamfers were gouged in with an angle grinder, and future weldment regions cleaned up with one of those fluffy paint remover wheel things. Word of caution: they are not fluffy at all, in real life. In fact, they throw chunks of hard plastic coated with abrasives at you.

After the mounting holes were drilled, I bolted the wheelpods in and actually used this assembly as a welding fixture. Long bar clamps held the sides in place at the correct height, while the whole frame was on wheels so I was able to push it around. In this exact form, I poured a few more pound of MIG wire into the frame. All possible edges were welded, both inside and out.

Having to build a heavy-class bot across multiple shops and buildings sucks. I should have invested in an engine crane and swapped some pneumatic tires onto it to sling this around. Pretty soon, this became too heavy for me to lift by myself safely, so I had to grab whoever was nearby. Here, the baseplate’s been installed.

Check out the 2×2″ hole pattern that peppers the 1/4″ cold-roll baseplate. I lined up the edges of the plate on the waterjet to make the pattern in one go. It’s like an optical table, except dorkier. This ensures I can attach any stupid thing I want to this baseplate.

The battery brackets are two pieces of 1″ angle stock, with a channel milled through each. The battery will be retained by a giant ratchet strap threaded through those channels. Each Overhaul battery is 37v (10S lithium) and 16 amp-hours. That’s literally 2x the battery we needed per match as reported by the chargers, as it turned out.

Here’s the pokey-arm tower cut, cleaned, and assembled, but not yet welded. Like the frame, I’m cheating and using the mounted bearings and shafts as a fixture to give some kind of perpendicularity.

The next step was to prepare the poker itself, which entailed drilling a 1.25″ hole through the solid 2″ diameter steel handle. I purchased an annular cutter off eBay for cheap, which are basically hole saws but actually built for cutting steel instead of just being coerced into doing so. I’ve always wanted to use one, but they’ve either been far too expensive or I had not needed to ever go through this much steel at once.

After using my cold saw to sever the handle to the needed length, I set everything up on the Bridgeport mill and gently massaged the cutter through in low gear. The process was utterly painless and the resulting finish was spectacular.

It’s almost like paying for the right tool makes your life easier or something! Go figure.

To-dos on #sadbot2016 involve welding the poker-arm assembly together and making some permanent temporary wiring to get it up and running. I’ll have more updates on this thing as the science experiment results roll in.


One thought on “A New Beginning, the Second Story; RageBridge 2 FINALLY Going to Manufacturing; Season 2 and #SADBOT2016”

  1. So… it’s a 220lb Don Quixote. Thanks for all the notes about the Ragebridge development, as I do learn a lot (and note your links to suppliers).

    On a completely different slant, given the sub $300 cost for the “hoverboards” now, imported, has anyone tried to build an all wheel drive Kart with them yet? Without setting it on fire?

Comments are closed.