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Unread 05-18-2016, 10:15 AM
michchinn michchinn is offline
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Electrical Board or Distributed System?

Team 5404 had a single electrical board with almost all of our electrical components attached to it this year. We ran power wires to the motors and actuators distributed throughout the robot and signal wires to our various sensors.

We are considering switching to a more distributed system, with a primary electrical board with the PDB, roboRio, VRM, and PCM attached. All of the other electrical components (motor controllers, spikes, etc.) would be distributed throughout the robot to be close to the actuators they are powering.

We think that a distributed system would be a lot more modular, though possibly more difficult to make, as the electrical board couldn't be fully made off the robot and then attached.

Which method does your team use? Why do you use it?
Thank you for any guidance you can offer.
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Unread 05-18-2016, 10:31 AM
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Re: Electrical Board or Distributed System?

We have used a centralized control board each year so far. Every year we re-consider whether the board will be centralized or distributed. The greater ability to program and trouble shoot a removable board has so far trumped the modularity aspect. After our first two years, not only do we keep the board centralized, we have it oriented so that we can see all (or at least most) of it at one time.

We did move our pneumatics control module to the back with the compressor and other pneumatics components.

We also considered moving individual Talon SRXs to be near their motors and encoders to shorten the encoder cable lengths.

* That is, easier to see all the lights at once, and easier to trace the shorter signal runs.
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Unread 05-18-2016, 11:59 AM
parry1126 parry1126 is offline
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Re: Electrical Board or Distributed System?

Our team has always used panels. One thing we used for many years was something we referred to as a "smart door". The panels were hinged and able to fold out of the robot to allow it to be easier to work on.
This past year we used an electrical box that 1405 came up with. RoboRio, PDP, VRM, Talon SRXs, Gyro, Radio, main breaker, and RSL were all inside. The idea behind this was to have everything well protected and compact and allow for easy swap outs in case of electrical failures.
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Unread 05-18-2016, 01:14 PM
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Re: Electrical Board or Distributed System?

There's a good argument to keeping sensor wires as short as possible. We use the TALON SRX almost exclusively, and try to locate those near the motor/encoder to reduce noise pickup. The CAN bus is quite reliable, and not as subject to noise pickup.
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Unread 05-18-2016, 03:28 PM
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Re: Electrical Board or Distributed System?

We've done both ways. Having things spread out always seemed to be more prone to damaging wires in robot mechanisms, but that can be addressed. Having things centralized is good for plan-in-advance neatness, but it can end up being harder to work on and might make it more difficult to see all the important status lights.

I prefer to have the electrical system as a single module, with sufficient space allocated for it from the beginning of the robot design. That space is in three dimensions, and needs to be accessible and kept from getting buried under other mechanisms.
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Unread 05-18-2016, 04:26 PM
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Re: Electrical Board or Distributed System?

Having everything in one place is really cool, but the ability to put things in other parts of the robot shouldn't be discounted. I've done both and as long as you can get to the connections / devices for repair & replacement it's all good.

I think having an electrical person on the mechanical design team is your best bet. I always harken back to my first car, an AMC Rambler. It was a clear case of the mechanical team and the electrical team never met. Since on that car to replace the starter you needed to pull the engine.
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Unread 05-19-2016, 01:58 AM
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Re: Electrical Board or Distributed System?

For our team, we've found a nice balance between the two.

Firstly, we try to have a traditional spider layout w/ banked motor controllers for the drive train eg

The key thing is that the path from battery to all the drive motors is as short as possible. This means we usually end up with a layout similar to the above, except with only four-to-six motor controllers in the banks.

The rest of the electronics is more loose. We quasi centralise all the "intelligence", namely the roboRIO, radio, camera-processor etc. mainly for convenience. However when using the SRXs, we prefer to place them as close as possible to the mechanisms, keeping sensor cables short.

This allows us build mechanisms complete with most of their electronics, so that we only have to connect/wire power and CAN to the rest of the robot. It also has the secondary advantage of not needing to deal with all the SRX CAN wires when they are right next to each other.
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Last edited by timytamy : 05-19-2016 at 02:00 AM. Reason: Clarity
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Unread 09-23-2017, 02:30 PM
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Re: Electrical Board or Distributed System?

Quote:
Originally Posted by timytamy View Post
For our team, we've found a nice balance between the two.

Firstly, we try to have a traditional spider layout w/ banked motor controllers for the drive train eg

The key thing is that the path from battery to all the drive motors is as short as possible. This means we usually end up with a layout similar to the above, except with only four-to-six motor controllers in the banks.

The rest of the electronics is more loose. We quasi centralise all the "intelligence", namely the roboRIO, radio, camera-processor etc. mainly for convenience. However when using the SRXs, we prefer to place them as close as possible to the mechanisms, keeping sensor cables short.

This allows us build mechanisms complete with most of their electronics, so that we only have to connect/wire power and CAN to the rest of the robot. It also has the secondary advantage of not needing to deal with all the SRX CAN wires when they are right next to each other.
This looks lovely! Can I ask what the base (the diamond cutout area) is called? My electrical team is looking into adopting that for our next robot, but we can't seem to figure out what it's called! Thanks
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Unread 09-23-2017, 02:41 PM
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Re: Electrical Board or Distributed System?

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Originally Posted by ermtheworm View Post
This looks lovely! Can I ask what the base (the diamond cutout area) is called? My electrical team is looking into adopting that for our next robot, but we can't seem to figure out what it's called! Thanks
Bellypan.

Most robots have them, this one's just lightened by using a diamond pattern.
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Unread 09-23-2017, 03:08 PM
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Re: Electrical Board or Distributed System?

Newer team here but we made a panel based on a team from FL design. You print the corner pieces and then you an customize sizes dimensions to whatever you need based on your overall design. All wires use color coded Anderson connectors. Worked great for us!
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Unread 09-23-2017, 03:23 PM
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Re: Electrical Board or Distributed System?

Quote:
Originally Posted by michchinn View Post
Team 5404 had a single electrical board with almost all of our electrical components attached to it this year. We ran power wires to the motors and actuators distributed throughout the robot and signal wires to our various sensors.

We are considering switching to a more distributed system, with a primary electrical board with the PDB, roboRio, VRM, and PCM attached. All of the other electrical components (motor controllers, spikes, etc.) would be distributed throughout the robot to be close to the actuators they are powering.

We think that a distributed system would be a lot more modular, though possibly more difficult to make, as the electrical board couldn't be fully made off the robot and then attached.

Which method does your team use? Why do you use it?
Thank you for any guidance you can offer.
The finest wiring job of any team I've ever been on: 4901, 2014. Every other robot was a poorer imitation of that basic arrangement: centralized power distribution panel, run motor controllers close to that so you can troubleshoot them all at one time.
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Unread 09-23-2017, 04:20 PM
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Re: Electrical Board or Distributed System?

Quote:
Originally Posted by michchinn View Post
as the electrical board couldn't be fully made off the robot and then attached
The electrical board can be assembled outside of the robot chassis and then attached to the assembled chassis very quickly if it is designed that way. It can be assembled and pre-tested while the construction of the chassis proceeds in parallel. Some teams might find this approach to be advantageous over the approach of having to dedicate a block of time for installing and testing the electronics in the robot after the chassis is (mostly) assembled.

We used a sheet of corrugated plastic plastic to hold all the electrical components. It was attached to the kit chassis using small zip ties through holes punched in the corrugated plastic. We were able to remove it and install it in an old kit chassis to create a practice robot very quickly. It was brought in as part of our withholding allowance and was quickly re-installed in the competition chassis along with the new versions of the scoring mechanism.
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Unread 09-23-2017, 11:23 PM
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Re: Electrical Board or Distributed System?

I'm a big fan of the centralized electronics board. I like having everything neatly laid out on the belly pan similar to how timytamy's picture has it. And as far as modularity is concerned, if you connect all components to each other using Anderson Power Poles for the larger wire, 2 pin JST connectors for CAN and smaller wires, and use 3M Dual Luck to secure components down then you have your modularity in the bag. I believe that this is the best price but you have to buy a whole lot from here. This is probably more practical for most people. But I like the first link where you have to buy 150 feet. $2.46 a foot for this is a really good price
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Unread 09-24-2017, 01:32 AM
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Re: Electrical Board or Distributed System?

As this thread has been necro'd, and we did it a bit differently this year, time for an update!

For 2017, to improve gear cycle time and simplify climbing, we opted for a small and light robot (starting configuration fit in BOTH sizing boxes, though we had lateral extensions during the match; under 75 lb at bag time, WITH bumpers and batteries, though we added 3 or 4 more pounds before competition). We also used SRXs for our four drive motors to better support autonomous operations. We used the "back" 5/8 of an AM-14U2 chassis (4 wheels), but we wanted to leave most of the belly pan open for a floor gear pickup (that we never executed). As such, we had three separate control boards!
  • On the port (left) side, the PDP and motor controllers for the manipulators
  • On the starboard (right) side, the RoboRIO, radio, VRM, and relays for the decorative LEDs we never installed.
  • Under the robot, particularly under the CIMs, a small board with the four SRXs for the drive motors (we called this board the "hindbrain").

Hiding the four SRXs where we could barely see them was an ongoing problem; while it made great sense at the time and used less wire, I'm going to be advocating for all the control system devices (esp. those with diagnositc LEDs) being clearly visible from here on.
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Unread 09-24-2017, 07:27 AM
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Re: Electrical Board or Distributed System?

i will have to vote against distributed system:
- your robot will look very bad
- it is easier to route a 24 AWG sensor wire across the robot than to route a 12 AWG power wire across the robot. (even tho you will have to do it anyway)
- problem solving is so easy when everything is in the same place.
- easier to use CAN with a single board (if you do)
- inspectors like it all together
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