It’s been a little quiet on the blog for the past couple months. We’ve been working hard to get our new members up to speed and our work flow for the year planned (See figure 1). We’ve hit steady state, as much as that’s possible, so hopefully you’ll see more regular updates.
The Electrical subteam was in an odd position at the beginning of this year. We had an electrical package. It worked. It was wired. We almost didn’t know what to do with ourselves. Luckily for us, it also looked like this:
It works, or at least it did over the ~14 hours of running in Vancouver. But it’s disorganized, and that has a number of dangers: it’s more likely something could short, and if something does go wrong, it makes it much harder to debug. The electrical team’s goals for this semester are thus primarily involved with making the electronics package, sleek, clean, and beautiful. We’re doing this in a lot of different ways
- We’re turning the rat’s nest of wires that connect everything into a nice, custom-made printed circuit board. Once the PCB is fabricated, we can plug out components into it, and having everything just work. No more poking at connectors or digging through wires to see which one feel out. This will also shave valuable weight off the package as a whole: wire mass is not insignificant. Of course, the PCB does have some draw backs. Most significantly, it makes the package much less flexible. While we are working hard to include extra power ports and data lines on the pcb, adding a new component still won’t be as simple as throwing a few solder joints together.
- Connectors are the first year algebra of the robotics world: critically important, often overlooked, and liable to bite you. Last year we had problems with the ubiquitous hobby servo connector. Difficult to make properly and finicky even then, we’ve come to realize that they have no place on a robot of this scale. The electrical team has pored dozens of man hours into fixing bugs we ultimately traced back to a faulty connector. We’ve been playing with a selection of alternatives, and are quite happy with some. There will almost certainly be a post on this soon.
This is not to say that all we’re doing is house cleaning. We’re also working with the mechanical team to develop a novel mast actuation system, researching methods of power regeneration, improving our power draw models, learning to solder like NASA, and spec’ing numerous other small parts.
We’ve built an electrical system. Now we get to make it beautiful.