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.

They gliding over water – on solar power

Image © TU Delft

Image © TU Delft

At the world’s biggest solar boat regatta in the Netherlands, everything revolves around sustainable high technology. This year, maxon motor benelux supported two of the leading teams and has thus become part of a completely new technology in the boating industry.

The Netherlands is developing into a hub for solar boat technology. This summer, the world championship for solar boats was hosted there for the fifth time. The DONG Energy Solar Challenge takes place every two years. Starting out as a local initiative, it has developed into a global competition. In 2014, 40 teams from around the world faced the 240 km challenge. The companies and universities that participate are specialists in innovation and sustainability. All are battling from June 28 to July 5 for the first place in several races.

maxon motor benelux supported two of the leading teams in the top class: the CLAFIS Private Energy Solar Boat Team with the boat Furia III and the TU Delft Solar Boat Team of the Delft University of Technology. Both teams have won the race in the past. The CLAFIS team was victorious in 2010. TU Delft won the first race in 2006 and repeated this feat two years later. This year, the TU Delft team built a spectacular boat with a completely new approach that makes use of hydrofoils.

Principles from aircraft engineering
For the TU Delft boat, maxon motor helped to engineer the front hydrofoil. This technology makes use of principles that are common in aircraft engineering. By means of a height sensor combined with a maxon RE 25 spindle drive, the lightweight boat is kept at the optimal elevation above the water as it speeds along. The part of the boat that is underwater is so small that its drag is roughly equal to that of a human hand.

Team spokesman Lenny Bakker does not really know where to start when he is asked about the biggest challenge during the development of the boat: “Our goal was to develop, build and test a boat that had the potential to win and was as easy to handle as a bicycle – with a team of 29 students from different disciplines, all within just a year.”

A setback and an award
The race was indeed a challenge. On the first day, all hydrofoil boats had problems, as they got caught in the seaweed. After that, all went well for the TU Delft team – up until the last day, when a gust of wind capsized the boat just 1000 m from the finishing line. The skipper was rescued quickly. However, the water damaged some of the electrical systems and it was no longer possible to monitor the battery power. Unfortunately just at this time the battery was almost empty. These complications caused the team to lose second place; instead, they came in fourth. Yet TU Delft’s new concept with the special hydrofoils won the Design Award. “It’s a radical new and unique concept with innovative technologies and an elegant design,” praised Douwe Huitema, chair of the jury for the Design Award.

The CLAFIS Private Energy Solar Boat Team, on the other hand, had a very successful race: Their boat won by a long stretch, winning them the World Champion 2014 title.

“It’s a radical new and unique concept with innovative technologies and an elegant design.”
Douwe Huitema, member of the Design Award jury

Work whets the appetite for adventure
Gerwin Geukes, managing director of maxon motor benelux, has a positive view of the experience: “Participating in these high-end projects gives us the opportunity to take a look at new technologies and to learn what’s going on in the minds of the next generation of engineers. Things that are commonplace for our engineers might be new for the students, and vice versa. Apart from that, the fun is of course important too. Solving technical challenges in a team and taking part in events like these not only helps us discover our inner inventor, but also our inner adventurer.”

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.

maxon motors for Space Applications

Check out this video from maxon motor UK on dc motors used in Space applications.

Integration made easy.

maxon's EPOS2 Positioning Controllers support additional Platforms.

maxon’s EPOS2 Positioning Controllers support additional Platforms.

EPOS2 Positioning Controllers support additional Platforms.

The maxon motor EPOS2 motion controllers for DC brushed and brushless motors are enhanced by even more possible fields of applications. Deployment of computer-based drive control rather than traditionally used PLC systems are becoming more and more prevalent in practice. To stay ahead of this trend, maxon has updated the EPOS2 libraries to support CANopen interfaces from Kvaser and NI-XNET, in addition to our existing solutions (NI, IXXAT, Vector). In additon, new opportunities unfold for computer platforms with serial communication via USB or RS232 under Windows or Linux. The existing libraries for Intel/AMD (Windows 32/64-Bit, Linux 32-Bit) are further extended with a Linux 64-Bit version. Additional support of 32-Bit ARMv6/v7 solutions allows the broad scale use of trend platforms, such as Raspberry Pi or BeagleBone. True to the principle “Easy-to-use POsitioning System”, simple and fast incorporation into a wide range of solutions with extended, no cost, libraries is supported.

With today’s controller architectures a variety of motion control components from various suppliers are used. Therefore, easy integration into the superior master system plays a crucial role in the success. By means of extensively documented maxon libraries, integration of EPOS2 slave drive controllers takes no time and makes elaborate interface programming obsolete. Customers can fully focus on their main task; the development of their application. A wide range of supported systems permit a selection of the ideally suited master.

For more information on EPOS, maxon motor’s modular positioning controller series, visit

maxon’s MAXPOS 50/5 Positioning Controller demo Unit

Watch this demo on maxon’s NEW MAXPOS 50/5 positioning controller for brushed and brushless motors up to 250 Watts.

Successful Landing on Comet Chury. Congratulations from maxon motor!

Philae Lander

Philae Lander

Rosetta mission employs Swiss drive technology.

Today, the European Space Agency (ESA) successfully landed a small laboratory on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The lander features ten instruments which may provide important clues to the origin of life. Two DC motors made by drive specialist maxon motor are on board the mission.

For the first time in the history of space exploration, scientists have access to substantial data from a comet’s surface. The European space probe Rosetta successfully guided its lander Philae to touch down on the four-kilometer Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, a.k.a. Chury. The Philae lander has a mass of 100 kg and features ten instruments.

maxon motor is proud to be part of this mission. The Swiss-based drive specialist provided two DC motors, with a diameter of 13 mm each. These motors will be used to lower the APXS instrument to the ground. The APXS is an alpha x-ray spectrometer, developed by the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz to be used to record the chemical composition of Chury and provide information on the presence of key elements such as carbon and oxygen.

Traveling through space for more than ten years!

Never before has a DC motor been exposed to vacuum for this long. However, the motors have now passed an initial motion test, which is a promising sign. The individual instruments on the lander will start being automatically activated in sequential order. Within a day or two, the micromotors will lower the APXS from the lander’s belly to the surface of the comet.

The Rosetta project is expected to continue until the end of 2015, when Chury returns to the outer reaches of our solar system. Until then, researchers want to collect as much data as possible from the comet’s core and tail – and maybe answer the question of whether comets once brought water or even life to Earth.

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