Building a Raspberry PI Robot Car part 2

In the last post we talked about the electronics, in this post I will talk a bit about the 3D design and printing of the components. I have recently acquired an Ultimaker 3D printer and after quite some experimenting has led me to be able to start designing my own components for the robotcar. In this blog I will try to walk through the design of the robotcar.

Designing the robot

The robot itself is going to consist of 4 main components:
* Casing containing the main electronics (Raspberry PI, power distribution, etc.
* Casing containing the LiPo battery that allows easy battery replacement
* Frame that supports both the battery and electronics casing
* Wheel / suspension mechanism to hold the wheels

Note: The printer has a maximum print size of roughly 20x20x20 cm, so this is the main reason that the casing for the power, electronics and frame are separated from each other.

The software
For the design of the software I started out with TinkerCad which is an online free based 3D editor. However I quickly ran into problems with dimensions which get quickly complex. I switched after this to Autodesk Fusion 360 which is a lot better if it comes to designing technical components, as a hobbyist it is possible to get a free year license.

Wheel / Suspension

The suspension design is a spring based design that will allow some form of flex in the wheel design. The wheel design actually needs to attach to a servo, the wheel itself is attached to the servo. For this I have designed a small bracket suited for my Dynamixel servo’s.

Next I have one beam that will have the spring attached to it and two static beams that connect to the servo holder. The static beams will ensure linear motion of the servo holder and the spring ensures there is dampening of the motions. This looks as following:

For the wheel design I will at some point dedicate a special post as they have caused me a lot of headache. For now I will use some standard wheels that fit onto the servo’s, but ultimately these will become mecanum based wheels.

Designing the frame

The beams used for the suspension are actually part of the base frame. There are going to be 4 wheels, meaning 4 beams that are part of the frame. In order to create sufficient surface for the battery and electronics casing I have connected the beams in a longer frame using connecting pieces. I have design an end piece for the end pieces of the frame and a middle piece to connect the beams all together. This looks as following:

Each of the beams has a length of 12cm, the middle piece is 4cm and the end pieces each 2cm. This gives a total length of 32cm for the robotcar, this is quite long but for the current suspension design it is needed as the suspension beams cannot really be shortened. In the future I might want to shorten the design by redesigning the suspension, however for now its good enough.

Battery & Electronics case

The main battery and electronics case has caused me a lot of problems and many iterations to get right. Every time you print it, there is something that is not entirely right. The tricks has been to measure, measure and measure again all the components you want to fit. I have in the end drawn out a sketch on paper roughly showing the placement of the components. Both the battery and electronics case have to fit in a fixed length of 16cm and 10 cm in width to fit the baseframe. The electronics case contains special accomodation for the Raspberry PI, UBEC power converter, two grove Sensors and the Dynamixel power board:

Note: The electronics casing will have a separate lid which will allow closing up the electronics compartment and allow easy access.

For the battery case its a lot simpler, we just need something to contain the battery. However one of the challenges is that I do not want a lid here, it just needs to be easily replaceable. For this to work there will be two covers on either end of the case that hide the wires but are far enough apart to remove the battery. A not here is that I used round edges instead of sharp 90 degree angles to allow for better printing without support. The round angles allow for a pretty decent print on my ultimaker, and its a lot better than having support material in the case. The case looks as following:

Assembling the robot

Here are a series of pictures of the various parts in stages of assembly


The process of getting to the above design and printed parts has not been easy. I have had for each component many, many iterations before getting to the above. Even now I am still seeing improvement areas, however for now I do think its close to being a functional robot car which was the goal. In the future posts I will start talking a bit about the software and the drive system with the mecanum wheels.

For those wanting to have a look at the 3D parts, I have uploaded them to Github, the idea is in the future to provide a proper manual on how to print and assemble with a bill of materials needed, for now just have a look:

Here is a last picture to close with of the first powerup of the robot car:

Building a Raspberry PI Robot Car part1

In the recent few months I have been very focussed on a few topics like humanoid robotics and robot interaction. Recently I have had some extra time and decided to take the next step and really design a robot from scratch. I thought for my first from scratch robot it would be handy to start simple and go for a relatively simple wheel based robot.

I will write a series of blog posts about the robot and how I am taking next steps to design and hopefully perfect the robot. In this first post I will discuss the basic concept and shows how I am going to power up the servo’s and control unit.

The robot concept

Let’s start of with setting the design goal of the robot:
Design an open source wheel based robot that has a holonomic drive solution capable of detecting obstacles and recognising objects it encounters

Given this goal let’s first start off with some basic requirements for the robot and what it needs to consist of. I will design this robot based on principles I have used in previous modifications of robots, this has lead me to these requirements:
* It will be based on a Raspberry PI based with Wifi
* Entire robot should be powered by a single LiPo battery for simplicity
* Distance based sensors for obstacle detection
* Rotatable vision camera
* Holonomic drive system where I can use four individual wheel servos for multi-vector driving
* Arm / Gripper for interaction


For the servos in this project I will for the moment re-use my trustworthy Dynamixel AX-12A servos which can be used in continuous rotation mode and therefore act as wheel servos. However given the desire to open source this project and the costs of these servos they will be replaced in the future, however for the first iteration it is best to stick to what I know.

Powering the solution

One of the important principles for this robot design will be that it needs to be powered by a single power source. In previous robots I always used the combination of the Robotis Lipo battery with a separate battery solution for the Raspberry PI. This has caused in multiple projects issues, like balancing issues or simply nowhere to leave the batteries.

LiPo Battery
In this robot I will use a single LiPo battery, I have picked a Turnigy NanoTech 3S battery with a 2200mAh capacity. This should be plenty to power the Raspberry PI and the Servos for a estimated 30-60 minutes, and easy enough to increase capacity in the future.

Power conversion
The Raspberry PI accepts 5 volt as input and needs roughly 1-2 Amps of current. In order to use a single LiPo battery I need a power converter as the 3S Lipo has an output voltage of minimum ~11.1 Volt and Maximum ~12.8 Volt. For this I will use a simple UBEC (Universal Battery Elimination Circuit) from HobbyKing. This Ubec can convert input voltages ranging from 6 volt to 23 volt into a stable output voltage of 5.1 volt with a maximum current of 3 amps, which is perfect for the Raspberry PI.

For the Dynamixel Servos I will use the Dynamixel official power converter a SMPS2Dynamixel . This can take input voltage up to 20 volts so can be directly connected to the 3S Lipo. All we need is a small 2.1/5.5MM DC power jack, I have managed to source one with a screw terminal but you can find different types.

Power wire harnass
In order to connect both the UBEC and SMPS2Dynamixel to a single servo I have to create a small power harnass that splits the power output from the 3S Lipo to both power converters. For this I have custom built a harnass using XT60 power plugs and some cables I have soldered together and put a screw-cap on the end to protect the wire ends. All is in the end topped off with some electric insulation tape, this looks as following:

Combining it all
Next step is connecting all the electronics. In order to control the Dynamixel servo’s I will use my trusted USB2AX which allows controlling the servo’s via a Dynamixel serial protocol. What remains is wiring up the power with a servo and the Raspberry PI. What better way then to show this with a picture:

In order to connect the entire solution I have had to hook the UBEC directly onto the 5v/Gnd header connectors of the Raspberry PI. Do this with extreme care, any wrong polarity will directly blow up your Raspberry PI. Make sure to check the pinning layout properly RED = 5v Black = GND and they need to go to the respected pin header on the Raspberry PI

Look at this slightly more zoomed in picture for the polarity / Raspberry PI Ubec connection and click on it for full zoom:

Next Steps

In this post I zoomed into the big project plan and in particular laid out the power setup. In the next post I will start with the 3D design of the robot and will show how I use Fusion 360 to create the design of the robot.