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Testing iCub robot's battery with a scope

30 Mar 2015  | Marco Maggiali, Andrea Mura

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We can now instruct our iCub robot to stop bugging us and go outside to play. That's because instead of needing a long extension cord for power, the iCub robot now has a battery backpack – tested and optimised using a Tektronix oscilloscope and power probes – to keep the sensors on, the circuits powered up, and the motors turning.

The iCub is a humanoid robot developed at Istituto Italiano Di Tecnologia (IIT). Available as an open system platform under a GPL licence, iCub has been adopted by more than 30 research institutions worldwide.

About the size of a four-year-old child, iCub has 53 motors that move its head, arms, hands, waist, and legs, allowing it to crawl on all fours, sit up, and balance. It can see and hear, has the sense of proprioception (body configuration) and movement (using accelerometers and gyroscopes), and is the first robot with an artificial skin covering its whole body.


Figure 1: The iCub humanoid robot has 53 motors that move its head, arms, hands, waist, and legs.


What the platform lacked, however, was the ability to go to places outside of the lab environment without some sort of external power source and power cable. To address this limitation, we have now developed a battery backpack that provides power to the robot. The design consists of:

 • Li-ion battery pack, 36V-9.3Ah
 • Battery Management System (BMS) board for keeping track of charge, over-voltage, over-current protection, and cell balancing
 • Monitor board (BMON) for checking battery status including voltage, current, and charge percentages
 • Power board to implement the DC/DC conversions from battery voltage to the iCub power supply and a Hot Swap Manager (HSM). The robot has two DC voltage levels: 12V 10A for the DC motors and the PC, and 36V 8A for the 26 brushless DC motors
 • Master board with a Bluetooth interface (BCB) to manage the whole system



Figure 2: The iCub robot's battery backpack was tested and optimised using an oscilloscope and power probes.


Figure 3: The battery backpack contains a 36V-9.3Ah Li-ion power source.


Verifying power management
Following the implementation of the basic battery backpack design, we faced a number of test and measurement challenges to verify power management, set limits in order to stay within the safe operating ranges of the MOSFETs, determine power consumption, and validate data communications across the CAN and I2C buses used on the control boards.

The solution our team selected was a Tektronix MSO4104B oscilloscope with a TDP1000 differential probe, TCP0030 current probe and four TPP1000 probes along with the DPO 4AUTO data decoder module. This solution was employed to measure the analogue signals, the power characteristics, and the bus communications of the electronic boards.

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