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17.5.3 RECHARGE RATE
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When the first editions of this book were written, most rechargeable batteries required a slow charge process, often taking 12 to 24 h. Modern batteries and charges can perform the task in significantly less time; depending on the battery, this time could be measured in minutes. Unfortunately, the recharging time is specific to the batteries and the charger used. This means that when you are selecting batteries for use in your robot, you must be cognizant of the recharging time as well as the charging equipment recommended by the battery manu-
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1AH battery at: 1.6
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FIGURE 17-5 Discharge curves of a 1-AH battery at 3-, 5-, and 7-h rates.
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17.6 BATTERY RECHARGING
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facturer. For the most part, chargers are quite reasonably priced and can be used with a variety of different manufacturers batteries.
17.5.4 NOMINAL CELL VOLTAGE
Each battery type generates different nominal (normal, average) output voltages. The traditional rating for zinc, alkaline, and similar nonrechargeable batteries is 1.5 V per cell. The actual voltage delivered by the cell can vary from a high of around 1.7 V (fresh and fully charged) to around 1.2 or 1.3 V (dead). Other battery types, most notably NiCads, provide different nominal cell voltages. Specifically, NiCad and nickel metal hydride batteries provide 1.2 V per cell, and lead-acid batteries provide 2.0 V per cell. To achieve higher voltages, you can link cells internally or externally (see Combining Batteries, previously for more information). By internally linking together six 1.5-V cells, for example, the battery will output 9 V. Nominal cell voltage is important when you are designing the battery power supplies for your robots. If you are using 1.5-V cells, a four-cell battery pack will nominally deliver 6 V, an eight-cell pack will nominally deliver 12 V, and so forth. Conversely, if you are using 1.2-V cells, a four-cell battery pack will nominally deliver 4.8 V and an eight-cell pack will nominally deliver 9.6 V. The lower voltage will have an effect on various robotic subsystems. For example, many microcontrollers used with robots are made to operate at 5 V and will reset (stop working) at 4.5 V. A battery pack that delivers only 4.8 V will likely cause problems with the microcontroller. You will need to add more cells, change the battery type to a kind that provides a higher per-cell voltage, or use a step-up switching voltage regulator (described later in the chapter) to ensure that the microcontroller is powered at the correct voltage.
17.6 Battery Recharging
Most lead-acid and gel-cell batteries can be recharged using a 200- to 800-mA battery charger. Standard NiCad batteries can t withstand recharge rates exceeding 50 to 100 mA, and if you use a charger that supplies too much current you will destroy the cell. Use only a battery charger designed for NiCads. High-capacity NiCad batteries can be charged at higher rates, and there are rechargers designed specially for them. Nickel metal hydride, rechargeable alkalines, and rechargeable lithium-ion batteries all require special rechargers. Avoid substituting the wrong charger for the battery type you are using, or you run the risk of damaging the charger and/or the battery (and perhaps causing a fire). You can rejuvenate zinc batteries by placing them in a recharger for a few hours. The process is not true recharging since the battery is not restored to its original charge or voltage level. The rejuvenated battery lasts about 20 to 30 percent as long as it did during its initial use. Most well-built zinc batteries can be rejuvenated two or three times before they are completely depleted.
BATTERIES AND ROBOT POWER SUPPLIES
Rechargeable batteries should be periodically recharged whether they need it or not. Batteries not in regular use should be recharged every two to four months, more frequently for NiMH batteries. Always observe polarity when recharging batteries. Inserting the cells backward in the recharger will destroy the batteries and possibly damage the recharger. You can purchase ready-made battery chargers for the kind of battery you are using or build your own. The task of building your own is fairly easy because several manufacturers make specialized integrated circuits just for recharging batteries, although you should really look at the time and expense involved in building your own charger. Chances are you will be able to buy a charger for less than what the parts would cost you to build one yourself, and charger manufacturers usually design their chargers to take advantage of the latest charging algorithms for a specific product, allowing for optimized charging cycles. It is unlikely that you will come up with a design that is better or cheaper than commercial units.
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