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22.9 CIRCUITS FOR CONTROLLING A SERVO
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servo controller, with each byte corresponding to a servo attached to it. Servo controllers typically come with application notes and sample programs for popular computers and microcontrollers, but to make sure things work it s very helpful to have a knowledge of programming and serial communications.
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22.9.4 SERVO VOLTAGE MARGINS
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Servos are designed to be used with rechargeable model R/C battery packs, which normally put out 4.8 V or four AA alkaline battery packs (which put out approximately 6 V ). As the batteries drain the voltage will drop, and you will notice your servos won t be as fast as they used to be. Somewhere below about 4.5 V the servos stop being responsive. Similarly, while servos may work with power supplies greater than 6 V, you cannot count on it and you will find that at some point you will burn out their control electronics or even their motors. Ideally, your servo power supply should be monitored to ensure that the voltage stays within the range of 4.5 and 6 V. This may mean that the servos in a particular robot will require their own power supply or battery pack, but by ensuring the correct voltage is applied to them, they can be assumed to work properly for their full lives.
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22.9.5 WORKING WITH AND AVOIDING THE DEAD BAND
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References to the Grateful Dead notwithstanding, all servos exhibit what s known as a dead band. The dead band of a servo is the maximum time differential between the incoming control signal and the internal reference signal produced by the position of the potentiometer. If the time difference equates to less than the dead band say, 5 or 6 ms the servo will not bother trying to nudge the motor to correct for the error. Without the dead band, the servo would constantly hunt back and forth to find the exact match between the incoming signal and its own internal reference signal. The dead band allows the servo to minimize this hunting so it will settle down to a position close to, though maybe not exactly, where it s supposed to be. The dead band varies between servos and is often listed as part of the servo s specifications. A typical dead band is 5 s. If the servo has a full travel of 180 over a 1000 s (1 to 2 ms) range, then the 5 s dead band equates to 1 part in 200. You probably won t even notice the effects of dead band if your control circuitry has a resolution lower than the dead band. However, if your control circuitry has a resolution higher than the dead band (which is the case with a microcontroller such as the BASIC Stamp 2 or the Motorola MC68HC11) then small changes in the pulse width values may not produce any effect. For instance, if the controller has a resolution of 2 s and if the servo has a dead band of 5 s, then a change of just one or even two values equal to a change of 2 or 4 s in the pulse width may not have an effect on the servo. The bottom line: choose a servo that has a narrow dead band if you need accuracy and if your control circuitry or programming environment has sufficient resolution. Otherwise, ignore the dead band since it probably won t matter one way or another. The trade-off here is that with a narrow dead band the servo will be more prone to hunt to its position and may even buzz after it has found it.
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WORKING WITH SERVO MOTORS
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22.9.6 GOING BEYOND THE 1 TO 2 MILLISECOND PULSE RANGE
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You ve already read that the typical servo responds to signals from 1 to 2 ms. While this is true in theory, in actual practice many servos can be fed higher and lower pulse values in order to maximize their rotational limits. The 1 to 2 ms range may indeed turn a servo one direction or another, but it may not turn it all the way in both directions. However, you won t know the absolute minimums and maximums for a given servo until you experiment with it. Take fair warning: performing this experiment can be risky because operating a servo to its extreme can cause the mechanism to hit its internal stops. As noted earlier in this chapter, if left in this state for any period of time, the gears and electronics of the servo can become damaged. If you just must have maximum rotation from your servo, connect it to your choice of control circuitry. Start by varying the pulse width in small increments below 1 ms (1000 s), say in 10 s chunks. After each additional increment, have your control program swing the servo back to its center or neutral position. When during your testing you hear the servo hit its internal stop (the servo will chatter as the gears slip), you ve found the absolute lower-bound value for that servo. Repeat the process for the upper bound. It s not unusual for some servos to have a lower bound of perhaps 250 s and an upper bound of over 2200 s. Yet other servos may be so restricted that they cannot even operate over the normal 1 to 2 ms range. Keep a notebook of the upper and lower operating bounds for each servo in your robot or parts storehouse. Since there can be mechanical differences between servos of the same brand and model, number your servos so you can tell them apart. When it comes time to program them, you can refer to your notes for the lower and upper bounds for that particular servo.
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