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17.5 BATTERY RATINGS
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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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17.5.2 CAPACITY
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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 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 1 h before failing. If a battery has a rating of 5 amp-hours (expressed as AH), it can provide up to 5A continuously for 1 h, 1A for 5 h, and so forth, as shown in Fig. 17-4. 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-h discharge interval. That is, the battery is used for 10 or 20 h, at a low or medium discharge rate. After the specified time, the battery is tested to see how much charge it has left. The rating of the battery is then calculated taking the difference between the discharge rate and the reserve power and multiplying it by the number of hours under test. What this means is that it s an unusual battery that provides the stated amps in the 1-h
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1.2 0 1 3 4 Discharge (in hours) 5 6
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FIGURE 17-4 Representative discharge curves for several common battery types.
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BATTERIES AND ROBOT POWER SUPPLIES
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period. The battery is much more likely to fail after 30 or 45 min of heavy-duty use and won t be able to supply the specified current for more than about 15 to 20 min. Discharging at or above the amp-hour rating may actually cause damage to the battery. This is especially true of NiCad cells. The lesson to be learned is that you should always choose a battery that has an amphour rating 20 to 40 percent more than what you need to power your robot. Figuring the desired capacity is nearly impossible until the entire robot is designed and built (unless you are very good at computing current consumption). The best advice is to design the robot with the largest battery you think practical. If you find that the battery is way too large for the application, you can always swap it for a smaller one. It s not so easy to do the reverse. Note that some components in your robot may draw excessive current when first switched on, then settle down to a more reasonable level. Motors are a good example of this. A motor that draws 1 A under load may actually require several amps at startup. The period is very brief, on the order of 100 to 200 ms. No matter; the battery should be able to accommodate the surge. This means that the 20 to 40 percent overhead in using the larger battery is a necessity, not just a design suggestion. A rough comparison of the discharge curve at various discharge times is shown in Fig. 17-5.
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