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.

Raspberry Pi Solar Tracker

Posted by Brandon on 4 September 2015

Jay Doscher posted on his blog at Polyideas.com about his 2-axis solar tracker designed to provide the optimal amount of power output with a portable setup. In the build, Jay uses a Raspberry Pi A+ topped with our Dual MC33926 Motor Driver for Raspberry Pi to control the motion of the system, which is accomplished using a Concentric 4″ linear actuator with feedback. In lieu of a GPS unit, the tracker uses hard-coded longitude and latitude coordinates with Pysolar, an open-source Python library, to calculate the sun’s predicted position. The system keeps the solar panel pointed at the calculated position with the help of a Razor IMU from SparkFun. The video above is time lapse footage of a mechanical test of the system that shows the unit tracking the sun (although it is indoors).

In the picture above, you can see the Raspberry Pi and dual MC33926 driver board on the left and the IMU on the right. The Dual MC33926 Driver for Raspberry Pi fits on top of the Raspberry Pi mainboard, eliminating a lot of wiring and making it easy to use while also leaving the setup looking clean and organized. Additionally, the Dual MC33926 Driver for Raspberry Pi provides a set of three through-holes where an appropriate voltage regulator can be conveniently connected, allowing the motor supply to also power the Raspberry Pi. You can see one of our D24V10F5 switching step-down regulators mounted on top of the dual MC33926 driver board to serve this purpose in the picture above as well.

This project was also a 2015 Hackaday Prize entry and made it to the quarterfinals!

For more information about this project, see Jay’s blog post, which has additional photos and details including a parts list and links to his code.

Zippy: an Arduino Nano-based balancing robot

Posted by Jon on 3 September 2015

Zippy is an RC balancing robot created by Larry McGovern. It uses an Arduino Nano to read pulses from an RC receiver and accelerometer and gyroscope data from an MPU6050. After processing that information, the Nano commands two ST motor driver development boards, which each control a 30:1 37D mm gearmotor with encoder. The whole system is powered by a 3S LiPo (brand: Zippy, of course!). You can watch Zippy scoot around on pavement below:

In the video description, Larry mentions that he modeled Zippy after the Balanduino robot, but we would like to highlight one noticeable difference: he used his own pair of wheels, which are mated to the output shaft of his gearmotors with our 6mm scooter wheel adapters! I had a major role in designing these, so on a personal note, it is especially exciting to see someone get a good use out of them. (It also looks like our stamped aluminum L brackets are used to mount the motors.)

New products: Assembled Zumo 32U4 robots

Posted by Ben on 28 August 2015
Tags: new products
New products: Assembled Zumo 32U4 robots

Customers have been requesting an assembled version of our Zumo 32U4 robot kit ever since we released it in March, so it makes me very happy to be able to announce that we now have three pre-assembled Zumo 32U4 robots to choose from:

The three options differ only in their motors, and while the speed and torque vary across the three gear ratios, the peak output power is the same for all of them. You could maximize speed (i.e. 50:1 motors) or torque (100:1 motors), or perhaps you are looking for something in the middle (75:1 motors). The following table compares the gear ratio in more detail, with the first four columns showing specifications of the gearmotors by themselves and the last showing the measured top speed of a Zumo chassis loaded to a weight of 500 g:

Micro Metal
Free-Run Speed
@ 6V
Stall Torque
@ 6V
Stall Current
@ 6V
Top Zumo Speed
@ 6V and 500g
50:1 HP 625 RPM 15 oz·in 1600 mA 40 in/s (100 cm/s)
75:1 HP 400 RPM 22 oz·in 1600 mA 25 in/s (65 cm/s)
100:1 HP 320 RPM 30 oz·in 1600 mA 20 in/s (50 cm/s)

These three gearmotors are the ones we consider best suited for typical Zumo 32U4 applications (and many of our example programs are tuned to work with 75:1 HP motors), but we have many other gear ratios available that you can use when assembling the kit version of the Zumo 32U4 robot.

At this point, you might be wondering why it took so long for us to make an assembled Zumo 32U4 robot. Well, we have been working on several improvements to the Zumo 32U4 ever since releasing the kit, and we wanted to have them all in place before coming out with these more finished assembled products. The first improvement was to the sprockets, which changed from white with solid hubs to black with spokes. These new sprockets fit better on the motor shafts and make assembly and disassembly easier, and we think they just look cooler! They might also help you hide from your opponent’s IR sensors, but the color is of course no use against other sensing technologies like sonar.

Assembled Zumo 32U4 robot with older white sprockets (side view).
Assembled Zumo 32U4 robot with new black sprockets (side view).

The second improvement was to make a new component to hold and shield the IR LEDs used by the proximity sensor system. Without this, the LEDs are just supported by their leads and shielded by a piece of heat shrink (see the pictures above), and we wanted something better. Now the kit and assembled versions include a plastic LED holder that mounts directly to the front blade:

Finally, we have improved the blade. They are now stamped rather than laser-cut, and we have added cutouts around the general-purpose mounting holes so that they can be hand-bent to new angles as desired, independent of the blade angle. This new blade also has the chassis mounting tabs pre-bent to the appropriate angle, so that’s one less step required during assembly of the kit.

Original laser-cut Zumo 32U4 blade.
New stamped and pre-bent Zumo 32U4 blade.

And speaking of the kit, we still strongly encourage people to get the Zumo 32U4 kit and build it themselves. We designed the Zumo 32U4 to be a starting point, and building it yourself will make you more comfortable with customizing and enhancing it. Making it yourself will also make it a little more meaningful when your robot triumphs over the competition!

S3 Pilot board robot

Posted by Claire on 28 August 2015
S3 Pilot board robot

Forum member spiked3, whom we previously posted about, has shared another robot with a custom laser cut chassis. The new robot uses his own custom Arduino shield, the S3-Pilot, which has sockets for an IMU and two of our MC33926 Motor Driver Carriers.

Custom Arduino shield created by forum member spiked3.

The MC33926 drivers control two 37D motors with encoders, and the encoder signals are processed by the Arduino. The robot also includes a lidar, PIXY Cam, and Raspberry Pi. The on-board IMU and encoders allow the robot to keep track of where it is and what direction it is facing, so spiked3 was able to implement a high-level interface for the robot that accepts movement commands like “go forward three meters” or “turn a certain number of degrees to the right”.

You can find out more about this robot and see some videos of it being tested on spiked3’s blog.

Cable for Sharp GP2Y0A51SK0F analog distance sensors now available

Posted by Paul on 28 August 2015
Tags: new products
Cable for Sharp GP2Y0A51SK0F analog distance sensors now available

We are now finally carrying a cable for the Sharp GP2Y0A51SK0F Analog Distance Sensor 2-15cm. The GP2Y0A51SK0F, our shortest-range analog distance sensor, has a compact package with a unique JST ZH-style connector, so this cable will not work with any of our other distance sensors. The cable is 12 inches (30 cm) long, with wires that you can cut and terminate as necessary for your project.

For more information, see the product page.

Paul's Wixel-based line following robot: Two Point Four

Posted by Paul on 18 August 2015
Tags: lvbots
Paul's Wixel-based line following robot: Two Point Four

Two Point Four was my entry in the LVBots 2015 line following competition, originally built for our 2013 contest but significantly rebuilt since then. I designed it to be simple, low-power, and lightweight, starting with its 2×AAA, 2.4 V nominal power supply, from which it gets its name. Continued…

New product: A-Star 32U4 Robot Controller with Raspberry Pi Bridge

Posted by Paul on 7 August 2015
New product: A-Star 32U4 Robot Controller with Raspberry Pi Bridge

I am excited to announce our new A-Star 32U4 Robot Controller LV with Raspberry Pi Bridge, a general-purpose robot controller based on Atmel’s ATmega32U4 microcontroller.

This new robot controller is the latest model in our A-Star line of Arduino-compatible USB microcontroller boards. We started with the A-Star 32U4 Micro and have been gradually expanding the line, adding peripherals and various form-factor and voltage options, with the goal of eventually replacing our older Orangutan robot controllers. The Zumo 32U4 was a major step in that direction, since its controller board is essentially an A-Star 32U4 plus extra peripherals for motor control and sensing. But while the Zumo 32U4 is a complete robot kit, this board is for people who want to design their own robot.

The A-Star 32U4 Robot Controller LV includes most of the features of the A-Star 32U4 Prime LV, including an Arduino-compatible USB bootloader, an efficient step-up/step-down regulator, and handy peripherals like the buzzer and buttons, and it expands on the A-Star line by adding a pair of Texas Instruments DRV8838 1.8 A motor drivers, the same motor drivers as on the Zumo. All of the AVR’s GPIO lines are broken out, and we have included handy power and ground rails so you can easily connect lots of things like servos and sensors:

This board is well-suited for small robots that would have otherwise used an Orangutan controller like the SV-328 or SVP-1284. While we did not include an LCD like on the Orangutans, you can get far better display, monitoring, or data logging by making use of the Raspberry Pi connection, which I will talk about next.

Using the robot controller with a Raspberry Pi

The Raspberry Pi is a great board for an embedded project that needs serious computational power or connectivity. We have released a couple of Raspberry Pi motor driver boards over the past year, which give you a way to get started exploring robotics with your Raspberry Pi. But robotics projects tend to use a lot of analog sensors, timing-sensitive devices like servos, and other peripherals that are not compatible with the limited I/O capabilities of the Raspberry Pi. These types of things are what microcontrollers are designed for, so you can do a lot more if you pair your Raspberry Pi with a complete microcontroller board.

That’s why instead of using the standard Arduino form factor like the Prime, we built the A-Star 32U4 Robot Controller LV to double as a Raspberry Pi HAT:

A-Star 32U4 Robot Controller LV with Raspberry Pi Bridge on a Raspberry Pi Model B+.

The Robot Controller fits on top of a Raspberry Pi A+/B+/2, powers the Pi, and connects to it as an I²C slave device, giving you a bidirectional channel of communication between the two processors. We have broken out all of the GPIO of the Raspberry Pi, and there are a few general-purpose level-shifters included on the board to help you experiment with other communications protocols or interface other hardware to your system. We even include the EEPROM required by the HAT specification, though we have not found it to be particularly useful – we ship it blank and unlocked for you to experiment with.

For more information about the A-Star 32U4 Robot Controller LV, or to order, see the product page. You can also check out our open-source A-Star 32U4 Arduino library, which provides easy access to the main features of the Robot Controller, including its motor drivers; we will be adding examples showing I²C communication with the Raspberry Pi soon.

New products: 12V versions of the 25D mm metal gearmotors

Posted by Ben on 7 August 2015
Tags: new products
New products: 12V versions of the 25D mm metal gearmotors

Our 25D mm metal gearmotors are now available with 12 V motors in three power levels: High-Power (HP 12V) (5.5 A stall), Medium-Power (MP 12V) (2.1 A stall), and Low-Power (LP 12V) (1.1 A stall). The new 12 V LP motor can deliver approximately the same power as its 6 V counterpart, but since the voltage is doubled, it only requires half the current to do so, which means you can control it with lower-current, higher-voltage motor drivers like the DRV8801 or MAX14870 motor driver carriers. At their respective nominal voltages, the 12V HP motor has nearly the same free-run speed as the 6V HP motor, but it produces approximately twice the torque, which in turn means approximately double the output power. The 12V MP motors fall nicely between the 12V LP and HP options, offering a significantly more power than the LPs without the large current draw of the HPs. All five motor variants are the same size, which makes it easy to swap one for another if your design requirements change.

As with our original 6 V options, we have paired these new motors with a variety of gearboxes spanning gear ratios from 4.4:1 through 378:1. The result is 26 new versions, bringing our total selection of 25D mm metal gearmotors to more than 50 options. Unfortunately, we do not have encoder options for the 12 V motors yet, but we should have those later this year.

Motor Type Stall
@ Rated Voltage
@ Rated Voltage
Stall Torque
@ Rated Voltage

With Encoder

Without Encoder
6 V high-power
6.5 A 9800 RPM 2 oz-in 1:1 HP 6V w/encoder
2200 RPM 8 oz-in 4.4:1 HP 6V w/encoder 4.4:1 HP 6V
1000 RPM 17 oz-in 9.7:1 HP 6V w/encoder 9.7:1 HP 6V
480 RPM 36 oz-in 20.4:1 HP 6V
285 RPM 60 oz-in 34:1 HP 6V w/encoder 34:1 HP 6V
210 RPM 80 oz-in 47:1 HP 6V w/encoder 47:1 HP 6V
130 RPM 130 oz-in 75:1 HP 6V w/encoder 75:1 HP 6V
100 RPM 160 oz-in 99:1 HP 6V w/encoder 99:1 HP 6V
57 RPM 260 oz-in 172:1 HP 6V
6 V low-power
2.4 A 6100 RPM 1 oz-in 1:1 LP 6V w/encoder
1400 RPM 5 oz-in 4.4:1 LP 6V
630 RPM 11 oz-in 9.7:1 LP 6V w/encoder 9.7:1 LP 6V
300 RPM 24 oz-in 20.4:1 LP 6V
180 RPM 40 oz-in 34:1 LP 6V w/encoder 34:1 LP 6V
130 RPM 50 oz-in 47:1 LP 6V w/encoder 47:1 LP 6V
82 RPM 85 oz-in 75:1 LP 6V w/encoder 75:1 LP 6V
62 RPM 110 oz-in 99:1 LP 6V
36 RPM 170 oz-in 172:1 LP 6V w/encoder 172:1 LP 6V
27 RPM 220 oz-in 227:1 LP 6V
16 RPM 250 oz-in 378:1 LP 6V
12 RPM 300 oz-in 499:1 LP 6V
12 V high-power
5.5 A 2200 RPM 23 oz-in 4.4:1 HP 12V
1000 RPM 44 oz-in 9.7:1 HP 12V
480 RPM 85 oz-in 20.4:1 HP 12V
285 RPM 120 oz-in 34:1 HP 12V
210 RPM 165 oz-in 47:1 HP 12V
130 RPM 240 oz-in 75:1 HP 12V
100 RPM 300 oz-in 99:1 HP 12V
12 V medium-power
2.1 A 1750 RPM 11 oz-in 4.4:1 MP 12V
800 RPM 22 oz-in 9.7:1 MP 12V
375 RPM 42 oz-in 20.4:1 MP 12V
225 RPM 63 oz-in 34:1 MP 12V
165 RPM 85 oz-in 47:1 MP 12V
100 RPM 125 oz-in 75:1 MP 12V
77 RPM 165 oz-in 99:1 MP 12V
45 RPM 250 oz-in 172:1 MP 12V
34 RPM 320 oz-in 227:1 MP 12V
12 V low-power
1.1 A 1250 RPM 8 oz-in 4.4:1 LP 12V
570 RPM 15 oz-in 9.7:1 LP 12V
270 RPM 29 oz-in 20.4:1 LP 12V
160 RPM 43 oz-in 34:1 LP 12V
115 RPM 60 oz-in 47:1 LP 12V
75 RPM 85 oz-in 75:1 LP 12V
55 RPM 115 oz-in 99:1 LP 12V
32 RPM 180 oz-in 172:1 LP 12V
24 RPM 240 oz-in 227:1 LP 12V
15 RPM 320 oz-in 378:1 LP 12V

Keep in mind that stalling or overloading gearmotors can greatly decrease their lifetimes and even result in immediate damage. For these gearboxes, the recommended upper limit for instantaneous torque is 200 oz-in (15 kg-cm), and we strongly advise keeping applied loads well under this limit. Stalls can also result in rapid (potentially on the order of seconds) thermal damage to the motor windings and brushes, especially for the versions that use high-power (HP) motors; a general recommendation for brushed DC motor operation is 25% or less of the stall current.

Brushed DC motor performance curves.

We list stall torques and currents for our gearmotors because these are end points of approximately linear DC motor performance curves shown above, and with them you can determine how the motor will behave as the voltage or load changes. For more information about how to generate specific performance curves for our gearmotors from the specifications we provide, see the first frequently asked question on any of the motor product pages.

Single-color packs of 3″ jumper wires

Posted by Ben on 5 August 2015
Tags: new products

We have had a lot of requests for single-color packs of our 3″ Premium Jumper Wires and Wires with Pre-crimped Terminals, which until now have only been available in 50-piece rainbow packs like this. I am happy to announce that we have now added monochromatic 3″ packs in six colors: black, red, yellow, green, blue, and white. Multiply that by three different gender combinations (i.e. female-female, male-female, and male-male) and two styles (i.e. with or without housings), and that’s 36 new products in all!

New 1000:1 Micro Metal Gearmotors

Posted by Ben on 4 August 2015
Tags: new products
New 1000:1 Micro Metal Gearmotors

We have two new versions of our Micro Metal Gearmotors with 1000:1 gearboxes: low-power with an extended motor shaft, which is useful if you want a very slow gearmotor with an option for encoder feedback, and medium power (MP). The main applications in which these motors shine are ones where slow, smooth motion is required. The high gear ratio also allows these gearmotors to generate high torque without drawing as much current or stressing the motor as much as if you tried to get comparable torque from versions with lower gear ratios, but at typical voltages you might not actually achieve a higher torque before the gears fail. (The stall torques we list are theoretical because these 1000:1 gearboxes can generate enough torque to destroy themselves before they get close to stalling!)

These new additions bring our Micro Metal Gearmotor selection to 57 (I have an idea for a Heinz joke to put here, but it’s not coming out very well), all of which can be found in our Micro Metal Gearmotor category.

New Products

Mini Pushbutton Power Switch with Reverse Voltage Protection, SV
Pololu Ball Caster with 1″ Plastic Ball and Ball Bearings
3-Pin Female JST ZH-Style Cable (30cm) for Sharp GP2Y0A51 Distance Sensors
VL6180X Time-of-Flight Distance Sensor Carrier with Voltage Regulator
Mini MOSFET Slide Switch with Reverse Voltage Protection, SV
Zumo 32U4 Robot (Assembled with 50:1 HP Motors)
9mm Electromagnetic Buzzer: 30Ω, 3-7V, Side Opening
Mini MOSFET Slide Switch with Reverse Voltage Protection, LV
9mm Electromagnetic Buzzer: 40Ω, 4-6V, Top Opening
Pololu Wheel for FEETECH FS90R Micro Servo, 60×8mm Pair - Black
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