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FIGURE 15.1 A sealed lead-acid battery.
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Batteries carry all sorts of ratings and specifications. The two most important specifications are per-cell voltage and amp-hour current. We will discuss these and others in the following sections.
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The voltage rating of a battery is fairly straightforward. If the cell is rated for 1.5 volts, it puts out 1.5 volts, give or take. That give or take is more important than you may think because few batteries actually deliver their rated voltage throughout their life span. Most rechargeable batteries are recharged 20 to 30 percent higher than their specified rating. For example, the 12-volt battery in your car, a type of lead-acid battery, is charged to about 13.8 volts. Standard zinc and alkaline flashlight batteries are rated at 1.5 volts per cell. Assuming you have a well-made battery in the first place, the voltage may actually be 1.65 volts when the cell is fresh, and dropping to 1.3 volts or less, at which point the battery is considered dead. The circuit or motor you are powering with the battery must be able to operate sufficiently throughout this range. Most batteries are considered dead when their power level reaches 80 percent of their rated voltage. That is, if the cell is rated at 6 volts, it s considered dead when it puts out only 4.8 volts. Some equipment may still function at levels below 80 percent, but the efficiency of the battery is greatly diminished. Below the 80 percent mark, the battery no longer provides the rated current (discussed later), and if it is the rechargeable type, the cell is likely to be damaged and unable to take a new charge. When experimenting with your
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194 ALL ABOUT BATTERIES AND ROBOT POWER SUPPLIES
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robot systems, keep a volt-ohm meter handy and periodically test the output of the batteries. Perform the test while the battery is in use. The test results may be erroneous if you do not test the battery under load. It is often helpful to know the battery s condition when the robot is in use. Using a voltohm meter to periodically test the robot s power plant is inconvenient. But you can build a number of battery monitors into your robot that will sense voltage level. The output of the monitor can be a light-emitting diode (LED), which will allow you to see the relative voltage level, or you can connect the output to a circuit that instructs the robot to seek a recharge or turn off. Several monitor circuits are discussed later in this chapter. If your robot has an on-board computer, you want to avoid running out of juice midway through some task. Not only will you lose the operating program and have to rekey or reload it, but the robot may damage itself or its surroundings if the power to the computer is suddenly turned off.
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The capacity of a battery is rated as amp-hour current. This is the amount of power, in amps or milliamps, the battery can deliver over a specified period of time. The amp-hour current rating is a little like the current rating of an AC power line, but with a twist. AC power is considered to be never ending, available night and day, always in the same quantity. But a battery can only store so much energy before it poops out, so the useful service life must be taken into account. The current rating of a battery is at least as important as the voltage rating because a battery that can t provide enough juice won t be able to turn a motor or sufficiently power all the electronic junk you ve stuck onto your robot. What exactly does the term amp-hour mean Basically, the battery will be able to provide the rated current for one hour before failing. If a battery has a rating of 5 amp-hours (expressed as AH ), it can provide up to five amps continuously for one hour, one amp for five hours, and so forth, as shown in Fig. 15.2. So far, so good, but the amp-hour rating is not that simple. The 5 AH rating is actually taken at a 10- or 20-hour discharge interval. That is, the battery is used for 10 or 20 hours, at a low or medium discharge rate. After the specified time, the battery is tested to see how much juice it has left. The rating of the
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