The PC board for the hexmotor H-bridge is ordered and supposedly going to arrive soon, and I’ve ordered all the components from Digi-Key. The total coast of the project is looking like about $180 (including the PC board and shipping) for 2 fully populated boards (not counting an enormous amount of my time). I’ve already started designing a revised board (rev 2.0) that will be designed around the TLE-5206-2 from the beginning, and will have more versatility. I’m thinking that I’ll populate one rev 1.3 board for testing, finalize the rev 2.0 design, and send it out for fab, rather than populating a second rev 1.3 board.
In addition to the 6 TLE-5206-2 H-bridges, both boards have 74HC594 serial-to-parallel converters for control signals and 74HC86 XOR gates. The serial-to-parallel conversion is similar to that of the Adafruit Industries motor shield (which I have, but which does not have enough current capacity as it uses L293D H-bridges, which only support 0.6A per channel, and I need at least 2.5A per channel).
Copying the choices on the Adafruit board, I made the pin mapping LATCH=Arduino pin 12, DATA=Arduino pin 8, CLOCK=Arduino pin 4. I was wondering at first why they did not use the built-in SPI interface (which would simplify the programming of the serial output), but then realized that the output bit of the SPI interface (MOSI=pin 11) is also OC2A, one of the PWM outputs. Since there are only 6 PWM outputs (one per motor), and the serial interface does not need to be very fast, using software control of other pins is a good idea.
I’ve also brought out all the PWM signals to 3-wire servo connections, so that I can use each PWM signal as either a servo control or a motor speed control. All the connections to the Arduino digital pins are jumpered, so I can reconfigure the board if needed. For example, if I just want forward/backward/brake control of a motor, without speed control, I can rewire the input that would normally be to a PWM bit to be to a different digital pin, and free up that PWM bit for servo control.
On the hexmotor rev 2.0 board I added another 74HC594 chip (in series) so that I have 16 control bits available. Six of them are used for motor control, as on the rev 1.3 board. Another 6 are brought out to header pins adjacent to the speed control pins, so that those pins can be jumpered either to the Arduino PWM pins or to the shift register outputs, allowing 6 motors and 6 servos to be controlled by the board, as long as only 6 continuous values are needed, and the servos don’t exceed the 1.5A capacity of the switching regulator. The remaining 4 of the 16 parallel bits of the rev 2.0 will be brought out to individual header pins, so that they can be used as arbitrary digital outputs. (Also, the hexmotor 2.0 board will have an LED to indicate that 5v power is properly being provided—if the board is used as intended, with the Arduino powered from the switching regulator on the hexmotor board, this tests that all the power connections are made and the Arduino board plugged in.
I will have to start writing software for the hexmotor board soon. I’ll probably base some of the software on the Adafruit AFMotor package, to make it easier for the robotics club to switch between the Adafruit motor shield and the hexmotor board, but there will be some important differences. Since the hexmotor board has several jumpers that can customize it, but no way for the Arduino to read that configuration, I need an easy way to tell the software how the board is configured. I want software that will work with either revision of the hexmotor board. Since the rev 2.0 board has more possibilities for configuration than the rev 1.3 board (thanks to the 8 extra output bits), I’ll design the software for that, making sure that the rev 1.3 board is covered as a special case.
I’m going to have to dive into both the ATMega328 data sheet and the Arduino code to find out how to get access to all 6 PWM signals. I already know that the Arduino initialization messes with the PWM frequencies, so the AFMotor.h control for the PWM frequencies doesn’t work. It may turn out that using OC1A and OC2A (which the Adafruit board does not use, but which I use for motors 4 and 5) interacts in some unpleasant way with other Arduino functions. I may have to put up with some constraints on PWM frequency, as I want to retain clock and analog input capabilities.