Hard Drive Scroll Wheel

With all of the failures I’ve had with bcard lately (I’ll write about them at some point), and with the design of my plasma speakers progressing rather slowly because I’m trying to develop a Class D power supply that can be audio modulated and accept a varying load (each speaker will be powered by a chain of Class D and Class E amplifiers), and because I’m moving soon, I’m not implementing any kind of room automation system until I’m somewhere more permanent.

So I grabbed a dead hard drive, opened it up, took out the controller board, and turned it into a little turntable.

Hard drive disks are typically spun by a standard brushless DC motor with 3 or 4 terminals. This one happened to have 4, so it was a motor in the wye configuration. I measured the resistance between each terminal and found the common one. Then I tacked on a few wires so that I could plug the device into my breadboard.

The black pin was common and each of the colored pins was an end of the motor, so the motor can be drawn like this:

When spinning a BLDC a wye-configured BLDC motor, you will see a back EMF voltage between the common terminal and each of the end terminals in turn. So, for example, with this motor, if I spin it clockwise (against the direction of the spindle), I can see a voltage on the yellow, blue, and green pins in that order. If I spin it counter-clockwise, then the order is yellow, then green, then blue.

This means that by measuring the voltage of each pin and watching the relative phase of the changes, we can actually get the rotational speed of the motor! Then, we can turn that into a scroll wheel or something useful. My friend Scott had done this a while back by hooking the hard drive motor up to an op-amp and then to an Arduino, which spat out serial data. He then wrote a program that emulated mouse events based on the data it received from the Arduino.

I wanted to produce a much more direct version: using V-USB to actually make a mouse device that the computer would recognize without any special software. However, first, I wanted to get an idea of what the data actually looks like when I spin the motor.

So I wired up a wonderfully messy breadboard.

The actual design is very simple: the common terminal of the drive is connected to ground and each of the motor terminals is connected to an opamp in the non-inverting configuration with a 10K/220ohm amplification ratio. The outputs of each of those 3 amplifiers go into 3 ADC ports on an Atmega168. So the schematic looks like this:

The Atmega simply reads each ADC value, and then sends a packet of data over serial that starts with “:” and has the 3 ADC samples (I’m going to call them yellow, blue, and green). Then, it waits 50ms and does it again.

Next, I borrowed the code from the second example on this page. It performs live plotting with Python! I modified the code to grab data from the serial port and interpret the packet. Eli’s code only works for a single line plot, so I also modified it to support an arbitrary number of data inputs. Finally, I boosted the refresh time to 50ms so that it would about match the speed that the Atmega was sending packets.

Here’s a slow scroll:

And here’s a fast one:

Now comes the fun part: signal processing. For the first design, it’s obviously easiest to have a state machine that looks at the progression of phases and watches for the signal crossing a certain threshold. Scott’s design amped the hell out of the signal so that it would appear as a digital input. By using a threshold crossing, I’d be creating a similar design. With a little low-pass filtering, I can also guard against false scrolling. I plan to get that working in serial first, and then I’ll implement the V-USB library to create a mouse device. In the future, I can work on nicer signal conditioning algorithms that provide more sensitivity at lower speeds (by looking at the derivative of the signals perhaps) and faster scrolling at higher speeds.

This weekend, if my design works reliably well, I’ll create a small PCB and hopefully enclose it nicely.

My work so far is located here.


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