Sunday, August 15, 2021

TinyCross: 4WD 80A Data Logging

It's been a long time since I did a proper test drive with TinyCross, although I've taken it out just for fun a few times. Since I completed the weight/width reduction pass last week, I wanted to get it out again and do some proper data logging in 4WD, with the peak current set to 80A for all four motors. This is still below the ultimate target of 100-120A (for short bursts), but plenty for parking lot testing.

Really enjoying the extra 2" of clearance - I can get through most of the "doors" in my building now.

I had to inflate the tires, but amazingly the air shocks don't seem to have leaked at all after a year of neglect. And they still do a pretty impressive job of soaking up the awful topography of my parking lot.

I wanted to do some more thorough data logging in 4WD to characterize some of the issues I've felt while just driving around for fun. The steering wheel PCB collects data from the front and rear motor drives over CAN, appends some of its own data, and writes the whole thing to a microSD card. When I first set this up, I just had it overwrite the existing data log every power cycle. But in the couple of years since I set that up, I've had to master FatFs. So setting it up to create new files on the fly without messing up any of the real-time stuff was an easy upgrade.

Here's what a 4x80A launch looks like:

4x80A launch (attempt).

The main problem is pretty obvious from the data: the front wheels just don't have enough weight on them to support 80A. If there's even a little bit of a loose surface, one or both front wheels will lose grip. Excessive wheel slip is inefficient, so the peak acceleration isn't as high as it could be if all four wheels hugged their grip limit. But front wheel slip is especially bad because it results in massive torque steer. (I actually used this to make remote-control TinyCross.) It also has a habit of throwing rocks up into the driver's face.

I've even debated whether the front wheel drive on TinyCross is worth the extra weight and complexity. tinyKart handled pretty well with RWD only: I could put in a controlled amount of oversteer with the throttle. In fact, I got a chance to test out how TinyCross feels with RWD only when I had - let's call it an 80/20 failure - on the front right upright:

Always check your T-nuts! The only real casualty was the encoder wire.

Although I was able to fix the mechanicals with the single hex driver I always bring with me, a few crimps pulled out of the encoder wire and I didn't have the tools to fix it. I could probably add a failover to sensorless operation for individual motors, but I'm not sure how well it'd work on the front motors, again because of torque steer. (Both fronts would have to agree to not produce torque until the flux estimator converges on the sensorless motor.) For now, I just removed power from the front drive.

In terms of handling, RWD works fine. But the launch is a mere 0.25g at 2x80A. There's no slip, and even if there was, it wouldn't matter as much on the rear since it doesn't induce torque steer.

2x80A launch.

Even at 120A, this would only be about a 0.4g launch. tinyKart, in its last and somewhat scary configuration, was hitting about 0.5-0.6g. Part of this is down to gearing: TinyCross, with 12.5" wheel, has to be geared for higher speeds. I could always ditch the front motors and switch to 80mm motors with more torque on the rear. But I think that goes against the spirit of TinyCross. Having full independent suspension and 4WD has always been the point.

So I think I'll finally have to dive in to writing some simple traction/launch control software. Just looking at the 4x80A launch data, it's easy to pick out the wheel that's slipping and imagine that the software could just fold back the current command to that wheel as its speed starts to diverge from the other three. But there are so many logical knots on the path to generalizing that to 4WD, where any subset of the four wheels could be slipping, that it makes my brain hurt to even think about.

There are some amazing technical blog posts from the early days of Tesla (back when it was more of an engineering project than a consumer electronics device) where they talk about how it took months to go from a controller with excellent high-bandwidth torque control to functioning traction control, and even then a lot of it was subjective. One observation I really liked:

This type of feedforward traction control can be hugely beneficial; for instance, it's much safer to avoid wheelspin altogether than react to it.

This was regarding a lateral G observer that was fed into the friction model that the traction control software used to help limit motor torque to what it thought the tires could reasonably handle. This way, wheel slip might be limited to cases where there truly is a sudden drop in friction at one wheel. I think that should be the goal for this as well. I might even be able to just do slip detection on the front wheels. It'll be an interesting experiment, at least.

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