maxon’s ESCON Controllers

Roger Hess, Sales Engineer, discusses maxon’s line of ESCON motor controllers. These controllers were designed for dc brushed and brushless motors. You can configure the drive using maxon’s ESCON studio.


Inked to precision

Image ©maxon motor/Philipp Schmidli

Image ©maxon motor/Philipp Schmidli

The tattoo scene is driven by younger artists who have little in common with the old stereotypes. They create true masterworks using the latest technology. And they all know the maxon “Swiss motor”.

The age of rockers and sailors is over. The tattoo scene has developed, away from ill-lit chambers with burly, bearded men scratching hearts onto biceps, to well-illuminated studios where young and talented artists do their work. The Swiss tattoo artist Alena Lizier, age 24, already has her own tattoo studio in St. Gallen, Switzerland. “Please take off your shoes when you come in”, she says. Hygiene is a must. Welcome to the new tattoo world.

Kitsch reigns supreme in Alena Lizier’s shop. The colorful decorations filling the studio include an old metal cash register, a large statue of the Virgin Mary, and a gold-plated sofa with blue velvet upholstery. The large windows offer a view of the city. Clients from all walks of life come here – policemen, hairdressers, and even bankers. Tattoos have become socially accepted and are regarded as hip and cool. That’s fine with Alena Lizier. She is a part of the new tattoo era, where the drawings are finer and more detailed than they used to be, and look more like works of art. New technology has played a role in this development. Traditional coil machines are increasingly being replaced with rotary devices driven by small electric motors. These models make it easier to draw fine lines. They are also lighter and much less noisy than earlier models. The motors created by maxon are regarded as the measure of all things. Tattoo machine manufacturers worldwide like to list the “Swiss motor” by maxon in their specifications. It is synonymous with longevity and reliability, very important factors for tattoo artists who use their tools daily and demand that they perform reliably for many years.

The first cordless machine
Enrico Friedli of Swisstattoomachine was among the first to recognize these advantages. His tattoo machines have been on the market since 1998 and enjoy a very good reputation. Right from the start, he chose to use quality motors from maxon. This proved to be a recipe for success. “The motor was what really set it apart from all of the other machines out there. It allowed us to stand out from the competition”, says Friedli. Even today, customers still send in first-generation devices that need only minor maintenance before being put back into service in the tattoo studio.

Today, Swisstattoomachine supplies devices worldwide, from China to the US. Even though other manufacturers have also started to use maxon motors, Enrico Friedli still stands out from the crowd. After three and a half years of development, he introduced the first battery-powered tattoo machine this summer. This widely acclaimed innovation, the “Unchained”, is equipped with a maxon RE 13 motor. This DC drive with precious metal brushes provides 2.5 W of power. Its energy efficiency makes it perfectly suited for battery operation. The low-noise drive is also practically vibration-free. In addition, the drive is lightweight. This is an important factor, as the tattoo machine is frequently held in the artist’s hand for many hours at a time. At 140 grams, the “Unchained” is only 20 grams heavier than its predecessor model, “Heidi”, which has a power cord.

“The motor allowed us to stand out from the competition.”
Enrico Friedli, Swisstattoomachine

More freedom of movement for artists
Alena Lizier is excited when she picks up the new machine for the first time. “Awesome. I have a lot more freedom of movement and don’t have to be careful about the power cord.” Hygiene is another benefit, as the cord of a tattoo machine has to be wrapped in a plastic hose before each work step. The tattoo artist turns her attention back to her customer, on whose leg she is completing a flower pattern. She dips the needle into ink and carefully draws a fine line. The needle carries the ink into the middle layer of the skin, where it will stay for the remainder of the customer’s life – to the satisfaction of everybody involved, hopefully. Alena Lizier has realized her dream: “I am merging my art with real people every day. What could be better?”

Wing-flapping Aircraft Hovers and Flies

The Nano Hummingbird’s string-based flapping mechanism geometry shown illustrates the mechanism configuration (top), then the forestroke (2nd and 3rd from top) motions and backstroke (4th and 5th from top) motions.

The Nano Hummingbird’s string-based flapping mechanism geometry shown illustrates the mechanism configuration (top), then the forestroke (2nd and 3rd from top) motions and backstroke (4th and 5th from top) motions.

Life-sized hummingbird-like unmanned surveillance aircraft weighs two-thirds of an ounce, including batteries and video camera.

The Nano Hummingbird (Figure 1) is a miniature aircraft developed under the Nano Air Vehicle (NAV) program funded through the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). DARPA was established to prevent strategic surprise from negatively impacting U.S. national security and to create strategic surprise for W.S. adversaries by maintaining the technological superiority of the U.S. military. The agency relies on diverse performers to apply multi-disciplinary approaches to advance knowledge through basic research, and create innovative technologies that address current practical problems through applied research.

For the Nano Hummingbird project, technical goals for the effort were set out by DARPA as flight test milestones for the aircraft to achieve by the end of the contract effort. The Nano Hummingbird met all – and exceeded many – of the milestones (see sidebar), even though the goal was never to replicate a hummingbird exactly, but to learn from its remarkable flying qualities, and then develop an aircraft that would look, fly, and sound as much like a real hummingbird as possible.

Over ninety percent of the design and fabrication of the aircraft and its support systems was completed by AeroVironment Inc. (Monrovia, CA). The aim of the project was to use as many off-the-shelf components as possible. The challenge for the completed project was to provide controlled precision hovering and fast forward flight using a two-wing, flapping-wing craft that also carried its energy source and a video camera as payload.

To this stage of the project, the Nano Hummingbird is capable of climbing and descending vertically, flying sideways left and right, flying forward and backward, as well as rotating clockwise and counterclockwise, all while under remote control. The prototype is handmade and has a wingspan of 16 cm (6.5-in) tip-to-tip, and a total flying weight of 19 grams (2/3 ounce), which is less than the weight of a common AA battery.

The prototype includes all the systems required for flight: batteries, motors, communications systems, and video camera. It can also be fitted with a removable body fairing, which is shaped to look like a real hummingbird. Even though the aircraft is larger and heavier than an average hummingbird, it is still smaller and lighter than the largest hummingbird currently found in nature.

The typical flight endurance of the final Nano Hummingbird is between five and eleven minutes, depending on how the aircraft is outfitted with batteries and payload. It is expected that with planned weight reductions and system efficiency improvements that the flight endurance could effectively double.

The hummingbird has an onboard stability and control system that allows seamless and simple remote piloting of hover flight to fast forward flight. It is configured with a micro, color video camera that transmits continuous real-time video to the pilot operator during the flight and is displayed on a small LCD screen on the hand control unit. In the future, AeroVironment plans to develop collision avoidance capabilities to allow for semi-autonomous indoor flying, video aided navigation; GPS aided navigation, and long range communications.

Significant effort was spent miniaturizing the flapping and control mechanisms while maintaining stiffness and precision. Flapping wing designs are heavily influenced by the unsteady aspects of the flapping motion, both structurally and aerodynamically. A large number of possible degrees of freedom in the kinematics of the system made the design problem a complicated one. Nonetheless, based on earlier ornithopter wing design research, a flexible membrane was ultimately used, which allowed the wing to passively deform, since active control of wing shape was infeasible.

Quantitative analysis of the wings was based around the metric of thrust per motor shaft power, as mechanism power consumption is not readily separable from the aerodynamic power. So, shaft power was converted from motor input voltage and current using well-tested model of the drive motor, which was manufactured by maxon precision motors (Fall River, MA). Generally the names of
vendors and component part numbers are held as confidential, but according to Matthew Keenon, Nano Air Vehicle Project Manager, “We can say that the main propulsion motor was supplied as a stock part from maxon precision motors, we just can’t say which model was selected at this time.”

maxon motors provides its customers with a complete line of DC brushed and DC brushless motors to choose from. What makes them unique is their ability to provide a non-cogging brushless DC motor down to less than 6 mm long. Because their motors offer high torque to speed ratios, and low-power versions, they are ideal for unique applications in fields from medical and aerospace to robotics and consumer products. Their motors were used in the Nano Hummingbird for their efficiency and longevity, among other key characteristics.

The final string-based flapping mechanism uses a continuously rotating crankshaft driven by the maxon motor. The pin on the crankshaft (Figure 2 a and b) is attached to two strings, each connected to two pulleys that are mounted on the wing hinge flapping axes. When the motor turns the crankshaft, the pulleys oscillate. Two additional strings connected to the pulleys keeps them (and the wings) matched in phase. This design helped to minimize vibration and maximize thrust.

In all, the Nano Hummingbird is a successful project that is continually under adjustment and innovation. AeroVironment has been involved in the project since its inception, and is excited about the advances made in this technology.


-The Nano Hummingbird technical goals performed:
-Demonstrated precision hover flight within a virtual two-meter diameter sphere for one minute.
-Demonstrated hover stability in a wind gust flight that required the aircraft to hover and tolerate a two-meter per second (five miles per hour) wind gust from the side, without drifting downwind more than one meter.
-Demonstrated a continuous hover endurance of eight minutes with no external power source.
-Flew and demonstrated controlled, transition flight from hover to eleven miles per hour fast forward flight and back to hover flight.
-Demonstrated flying from outdoors to indoors and back outdoors through a normal-sized doorway.
-Demonstrated flying indoors “heads-down” where the pilot operated the aircraft only while looking at the live video image stream from the aircraft, without looking at or listening to the aircraft   directly.
-Flew the aircraft in hover and fast forward flight with bird-shaped body and bird-shaped wings.

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