Pololu Blog (Page 2)

Welcome to the Pololu Blog, where we provide updates about what we and our customers are doing and thinking about. This blog used to be Pololu president Jan Malášek’s Engage Your Brain blog; you can view just those posts here.

Brandon's mini sumo robot: Black Mamba

Posted by Brandon on 28 October 2015
Brandon's mini sumo robot: Black Mamba

Before I started designing my entry into this year’s LVBots mini sumo competition, I watched several videos of other competitions. I noticed a majority of the victories came from engaging the opponent from the side or back; a pattern I also noticed during the last LVBots mini sumo competition. For that competition, I made a robot that used a blade and sensors on the front and back of the robot (basically making the robot have two fronts and no back). However, my strategy in that competition was to roam the ring and search for the opponent, which I suspect increased the chances of the opponent engaging from a suboptimal angle. This time, I wanted to try having my robot spin in place looking for the opponent and striking once it was found. This ultimately resulted in my newest mini sumo robot, Black Mamba. For those unfamiliar, a black mamba is a snake with a reputation for being highly aggressive and is one of the longest and fastest-moving snakes in the world. A black mamba’s venom is highly toxic, and it is capable of striking at considerable range, occasionally delivering a series of bites in rapid succession. Black Mamba is also Kobe Bryant’s self-appointed nickname (yes, I am a Lakers fan). Continued…

HPCB micro metal gearmotors with extended motor shafts

Posted by Ben on 25 October 2015
Tags: new products
HPCB micro metal gearmotors with extended motor shafts

It has been a few months since we introduced our new high-power micro metal gearmotors with longer life carbon brushes. We now have them available with dual shafts, and we have made a corresponding update to our magnetic encoders to let them work with the larger terminals of the HPCB motors.

Magnetic Encoder Kit for Micro Metal Gearmotors (old version; not compatible with HPCB micro metal gearmotors).
Magnetic Encoder Kit for Micro Metal Gearmotors (HPCB compatible).

You might see similar-looking motors elsewhere, but no one comes close to our offering, from the quality of the gears to the variety of winding options to the selection of gear ratios, all in stock for shipment the day you order. By bringing together Pololu’s exclusive features of high-power windings, long-life carbon brushes, and encoders for closed-loop feedback control into a single package, these latest motors and encoders really demonstrate our continual investment in this popular form factor. With ten gear ratios available, from 10:1 through 1000:1, our total selection of micro metal gearmotors has grown to nearly 70 options:

Motor Type Stall
@ 6 V
@ 6 V
Stall Torque
@ 6 V

(Gearbox Only)

(Gearbox & Motor)
carbon brushes
1600 mA 3000 RPM 4 oz-in 10:1 HPCB 10:1 HPCB dual-shaft
1000 RPM 9 oz-in 30:1 HPCB 30:1 HPCB dual-shaft
625 RPM 15 oz-in 50:1 HPCB 50:1 HPCB dual-shaft
400 RPM 22 oz-in 75:1 HPCB 75:1 HPCB dual-shaft
320 RPM 30 oz-in 100:1 HPCB 100:1 HPCB dual-shaft
200 RPM 40 oz-in 150:1 HPCB 150:1 HPCB dual-shaft
140 RPM 50 oz-in 210:1 HPCB 210:1 HPCB dual-shaft
120 RPM 60 oz-in 250:1 HPCB 250:1 HPCB dual-shaft
100 RPM 70 oz-in 298:1 HPCB 298:1 HPCB dual-shaft
32 RPM 125 oz-in 1000:1 HPCB 1000:1 HPCB dual-shaft

(same specs as
HPCB above)
1600 mA 6000 RPM 2 oz-in 5:1 HP
3000 RPM 4 oz-in 10:1 HP 10:1 HP dual-shaft
1000 RPM 9 oz-in 30:1 HP 30:1 HP dual-shaft
625 RPM 15 oz-in 50:1 HP 50:1 HP dual-shaft
400 RPM 22 oz-in 75:1 HP 75:1 HP dual-shaft
320 RPM 30 oz-in 100:1 HP 100:1 HP dual-shaft
200 RPM 40 oz-in 150:1 HP 150:1 HP dual-shaft
140 RPM 50 oz-in 210:1 HP
120 RPM 60 oz-in 250:1 HP
100 RPM 70 oz-in 298:1 HP 298:1 HP dual-shaft
32 RPM 125 oz-in 1000:1 HP 1000:1 HP dual-shaft
700 mA 2200 RPM 3 oz-in 10:1 MP 10:1 MP dual-shaft
730 RPM 8 oz-in 30:1 MP
420 RPM 13 oz-in 50:1 MP
290 RPM 17 oz-in 75:1 MP 75:1 MP dual-shaft
220 RPM 19 oz-in 100:1 MP 100:1 MP dual-shaft
150 RPM 24 oz-in 150:1 MP
75 RPM 46 oz-in 298:1 MP
25 RPM 80 oz-in 1000:1 MP 1000:1 MP dual-shaft
low-power 360 mA 2500 RPM 1 oz-in 5:1
1300 RPM 2 oz-in 10:1
440 RPM 4 oz-in 30:1 30:1 dual-shaft
250 RPM 7 oz-in 50:1 50:1 dual-shaft
170 RPM 9 oz-in 75:1
120 RPM 12 oz-in 100:1 100:1 dual-shaft
85 RPM 17 oz-in 150:1
60 RPM 27 oz-in 210:1
50 RPM 32 oz-in 250:1
45 RPM 40 oz-in 298:1 298:1 dual-shaft
14 RPM 70 oz-in 1000:1 1000:1 dual-shaft

You can see all ten of the new versions below, and if there are any versions we do not yet have that you would like to see us carry, let us know in the comments!

Prototyping hexapod motion with a Maestro USB servo controller

Posted by Jon on 23 October 2015
Prototyping hexapod motion with a Maestro USB servo controller

Chris Barlow posted this interesting write-up about how he is using the USB connection of a Mini Maestro servo controller to prototype motion control for his hexapod robot. He has been going over the build in detail on his blog, so check it out over there, and be sure to take a look at this short video below:

Motion tracking skeleton at Cedar Gables Inn

Posted by Amanda on 20 October 2015

Forum user Ken constructed a spine-chilling Halloween project that is featured at the Cedar Gables Inn Bed and Breakfast in Napa, California. His project is based on Brandon’s Motion Tracking Skull Halloween prop, but instead of just using a head-turning skull, Ken used a full-scale skeleton body to complete the creepy look.

Motion tracking skeleton at the Cedar Gables Inn.

Just like in Brandon’s example, Ken used two Sharp GP2Y0A60SZ analog distance sensors to detect objects (or humans) and a Micro Maestro servo controller to read the output values from the sensors and control the servo that moves the head. Ken improved on Brandon’s code by returning the skeleton’s head to its starting position after a short delay so the skeleton wouldn’t stare rudely at the inn’s guests.

For more information about Ken’s Halloween project, see his forum post, and if you happen to be in the Napa Valley area this Halloween, stop by the Cedar Gables Inn and check it out in person!

In case you missed it, we have Maestros and Sharp distance sensors on sale right now as part of our Polo-BOO! Halloween Sale. The sale ends in less than two days, so if you want to try doing a project like this, now is the time to get started!

Sumo ring border angle detection

Posted by David on 8 October 2015
Tags: lvbots
Sumo ring border angle detection

My robot from the last LVBots mini-sumo competition has a feature which I think is pretty interesting and sets it apart from a lot of other robots: when it detects the border of the sumo ring, it measures the angle of the border and uses that information to try to get to the center. Continued…

Polo-BOO! Halloween Sale

Posted by Ben on 7 October 2015

Halloween is just around the corner, but there is still time for you makers out there to build terrifying interactive props and amazing costumes, and we want to help. From now through October 21, we are having a sale on servos and servo controllers, proximity sensors, programmable microcontroller boards, power supplies, and more – all the products you might want to bring your creepy creations to life. See the sale page for more details and the full list of products.

If you need some inspiration, check out our sample Halloween projects, and as always, we would love to hear about anything cool you make with our products; we might feature it on the blog!

New product: 12V, 2.2A Step-Down Voltage Regulator D24V22F12

Posted by Ben on 6 October 2015
Tags: new products
New product: 12V, 2.2A Step-Down Voltage Regulator D24V22F12

We are pleased to introduce our new 12 V, 2.2 A switching regulator, the inaugural member of the D24V22Fx family of step down voltage regulators. We expect to release other voltage versions next month, but we wanted to get a 12 V version out right away since we did not offer a 12 V buck regulator that could do more than 1 A. The compact regulator works with input voltages up to 36 V and can typically deliver up to a continuous 2.2 A. It offers integrated reverse voltage protection along with over-current and over-temperature shutoff, and a power-good output can be used to determine when the regulator cannot maintain its output voltage.

Unlike linear regulators which waste a lot of power and generate a lot of heat in the process, this new regulator is very efficient, which means you can get the most out of your battery life:

Until we release other voltage versions of the D24V22Fx, the closest substitutes are the similar D24V25Fx family of step-down voltage regulators:

These regulators are the same size as the D24V22F12 and they have similar current capabilities and input voltage ranges, but they do not have the same pinout and they are based on a different internal design, so there are fundamental differences in operation.

See the D24V22F12 product page for more information on this new regulator, or visit our voltage regulator category to see all of our regulator options.

New support for Atmel Studio 7.0 and Windows 10

Posted by David on 5 October 2015

New support for Atmel Studio 7.0 and Windows 10

We now support using the Orangutan Robot Controllers, 3pi robot, and the Pololu USB AVR Programmer with the new Atmel Studio 7.0 and Windows 10.

To make this possible, we updated the Windows installers for the Pololu AVR C/C++ Library to support Atmel Studio 7.0. This means that when you install the library on Windows, it will automatically copy its files into the AVR GCC toolchain inside Atmel Studio 7.0 and install project templates for the supported devices. Adding support for Atmel Studio 7.0 required us to add some code to detect its location and fix two unexpected problems. You can see the changes that were made in the libpololu-avr commit history on GitHub.

The second screen of the Pololu AVR C/C++ Library installer for Windows.

We also tested the library installer, Atmel Studio 7, the Pololu USB AVR Programmer, and the Orangutan SVP on Windows 10. Everything worked fine, so we now support using those products on Windows 10.

Importing an Arduino sketch in Atmel Studio 7.0

Atmel Studio 7.0 is the latest version of Atmel Studio, an integrated development environment (IDE) for AVRs from Atmel. It has an interesting new feature that allows you to create a new project from an Arduino sketch. The idea is that you could import an Arduino sketch, compile it with Atmel Studio, and then load it onto an Arduino-compatible board using a debugger from Atmel. This would allow you to step through the program one line at a time as it runs on real hardware and see what the program does at each step. It would also allow you to use the advanced code editing features of Atmel Studio. When you import a sketch into Atmel Studio 7.0, the source code of your sketch, along with the Arduino core source code and the code for any libraries you are using, gets copied into the directory for the new project.

However, the new feature only supports a certain small set of boards from Arduino and Adafruit, which means that you would have to select a board similar to your Orangutan, 3pi robot, or A-Star and then adjust the project settings (such as the F_CPU clock speed macro) to make it work. Atmel Studio does not support Arduino bootloaders, so it will not be easy to program an A-Star without getting an external programmer. Our Pololu USB AVR Programmer does not support debugging, so if that is the only programmer you have, then there is relatively little value in using Atmel Studio to program your device instead of just using the Arduino IDE. The feature does not appear to be very polished and still has bugs, which I encountered when I tried to import a sketch that has multiple .h and .cpp files.

If you want to try out the new feature, just open Atmel Studio 7.0, select File > New > Project…, and then select “Create Project from Arduino sketch”, which is a template that can be found in the “C/C++” category.

New product: VL6180X Time-of-Flight Distance Sensor Carrier

Posted by Kevin on 25 September 2015
Tags: new products
New product: VL6180X Time-of-Flight Distance Sensor Carrier

There’s another new product coming out of the assembly line here at Pololu: the VL6180X Time-of-Flight Distance Sensor Carrier. The VL6180 from ST Microelectronics distinguishes itself from other optical sensors by using time-of-flight measurements to determine distance: it emits pulses of infrared laser light and precisely times how long they take to reach the nearest object and reflect back to the sensor, which means it is essentially a complete short-range lidar system in a single tiny package.

With this technique, the VL6180X can accurately measure the absolute distance to a target object from 0 cm to at least 10 cm away – sometimes up to 20 cm away, depending on the target and environment – without being affected by what color the target is or how reflective it is.

VL6180X datasheet graph of typical ranging performance.

Distance readings can be obtained through the sensor’s I²C interface (in units of millimeters – no complicated conversions necessary!). The VL6180X also includes an ambient light sensor; this combination of sensing capabilities is useful for applications, including smartphones, for which the VL6180 was designed.

The VL6180X IC by itself is a challenge to use because of its small surface-mount package and particular voltage requirements, so our breakout board includes a 2.8 V regulator and level shifters that allow it to be used with 3.3 V and 5 V systems. The carrier board provides a breadboard-friendly pinout and mounting holes while remaining as compact as possible (0.5″ × 0.7″). We’ve also written an Arduino library for the VL6180X that makes it easy to get started with this board.

For more information about the VL6180X carrier, see its product page.

New MOSFET-based power switches

Posted by Paul on 23 September 2015

I am excited to announce four new general-purpose MOSFET-based power switches. But why is Pololu making something as seemingly basic as power switches?

Powering your project

One of the most basic requirements for any electronics project is a way to turn the power on and off.

For a typical project assembled on a breadboard, your first approach might naturally be to plug in some breadboard-compatible switch like this:

This will work okay in many situations, but if you start connecting motors or other high-power components like a Raspberry Pi, you will quickly reach the 300 mA limit of that little switch and melt it or worse. So, assuming that the rest of your project survived, the next step might be to upgrade to a beefier switch:

I use this one on a lot of projects; it feels really solid and can do 5 A. But it is not breadboard compatible, it is kind of big (more than one inch long), and flipping it takes a lot of force, all of which means more wiring and mounting issues to deal with. And then your project ends up not looking particularly modern – can you imagine a smartphone with one of those sticking out the side? We expect everything these days to be controlled by a tiny pushbutton, with software power features like auto-shutoff. Even my new car does not have the traditional mechanical keyswitch: those are getting rapidly replaced by intelligent software-controlled pushbuttons.

MOSFET-based power switches

With a modern power switch like the one on your phone, the pushbutton itself is only momentary and does not actually conduct the current that powers the device. Typically the button is just an input to a low-power microcontroller that activates MOSFETs as necessary to control power to the rest of the circuit. Programming a microcontroller is a fine approach to power management, but it is a difficult engineering challenge itself. What if you just want a component that does the job for you, like the switches pictured above? That’s where Pololu power switches come in.

Mini MOSFET Slide Switch with Reverse Voltage Protection, LV.
Mini Pushbutton Power Switch with Reverse Voltage Protection, SV.

Our power switches do MOSFET-based switching using simple electronic circuits; not having a built-in microcontroller means they are inexpensive and can work over a wide voltage range, for use in a variety of projects. Unlike many soft-power solutions, they are also designed to turn completely off – no current flows in the off state except whatever can leak through the transistors (around 10 nA or less).

We have been selling switches like these for a long time, both as discrete boards and incorporated into other products. As shown in the pictures above, we have two basic implementations:

  1. A slide switch that directly controls a MOSFET: the board stays permanently off or on depending on the state of the switch. (Used on the Zumo robots and the A-Star 32U4 Robot Controller.)
  2. A momentary button for push-on/push-off control, using a latching circuit. (Used on several Orangutan robot controllers and the 3pi robot.)

Block diagram of the Mini Pushbutton Power Switch with Reverse Voltage Protection.

The pushbutton version seems more modern and lends itself better to features like software shutoff, but using it on the 3pi demonstrates one potential disadvantage: if a 3pi crashes into something hard enough to rattle the batteries, the input voltage briefly drops to zero and turns off the switch, stopping the robot. You might consider this a feature, since it prevents further damage to an out-of-control robot. However, when we designed the Zumo, we knew that slamming into things would be standard practice, and a power shutdown in the middle of a sumo match could be disastrous. So our Zumo boards use the slide-switch method of power control.

The new Pololu power switches

Our older pushbutton power switches have long been in need of an upgrade, and now we have two new boards to replace them as well as two entirely new slide-switch versions. The boards have a greatly increased input voltage range: 2.2 V to 20 V on the LV versions or 4.5 V to 40 V on the SV versions, and there are a few other new features:

  • An additional MOSFET for reverse voltage protection. This helps protect your project against plugging in batteries or a power supply backwards, making a Pololu power switch a great first stage for your project. Please note that it can’t protect you against shorts that bypass the switch. (Ground connections through a benchtop power supply and a USB cable can cause problems, for example.)
  • Control pins that allow your microcontroller to turn the switch on and off. The simpler slide-switch versions just have a single input that turns the switch on, while our pushbutton switches provide inputs for latching the switch either on or off as well as an input (CTRL) that can assert either state.
  • Additional connection points so that you can connect your own button or switch (e.g. wire it to the outside of your case) in addition to the pre-installed one.

Note that the form factor is different and the current limits are lower than our older pushbutton power switches, so these are not drop-in replacements.

In summary, don’t be one of those people who has to plug and unplug wires to turn his project on and off. Take a look at the detailed specifications on product pages to select the right switch for your application!

New Products

70:1 Metal Gearmotor 37Dx70L mm with 64 CPR Encoder
Pololu Zumo T-Shirt: Charcoal Gray, Adult L
Pololu 9V, 2.3A Step-Down Voltage Regulator D24V22F9
Scooter/Skate Wheel 100×24mm - Black
Magnetic Encoder Pair Kit for Micro Metal Gearmotors, 12 CPR, 2.7-18V (HPCB compatible)
Scooter/Skate Wheel 84×24mm - Black
30:1 Metal Gearmotor 37Dx68L mm with 64 CPR Encoder
298:1 Micro Metal Gearmotor HPCB with Extended Motor Shaft
Pololu 7.5V, 2.4A Step-Down Voltage Regulator D24V22F7
Big Pushbutton Power Switch with Reverse Voltage Protection, HP
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