The Guide To DC Motor Drivers for Heavy-Duty Robots

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There are many motor drivers for heavy-duty robots that can drive the high-torque brushed DC motors of your robot. Though, not many of them come cheaply and with high performances. In this post, I’m covering DC motor drivers for brushed DC motors that can help you focus on what’s important: building robots.

1. DimensionEngineering

The Dimension Engineering’s motor drivers have a good attraction to hobbyists who are building heavy-duty remote controlled robots. But not many hobbyists take all the advantages of these powerful motor drivers. Looking into any of the Dimension Engineering’s motor drivers, you can use them to control two DC motors via analog voltage, radio control, serial and packetized serial.

All of these motor drivers are overcurrent and thermal protection designed meaning you’ll never damage one of these with accidental stalls or by controlling two big motors. Also, there is a regenerative system which recharges the batteries of the robot whenever it receives a command to slow down or reverse the DC motors.

Any of these motor drivers are designed with a simple interface, just plug and play once you’ve set the switches as needed. Moreover, these require only a single pin for control.

The easier way is to use any microcontroller-compatible analog or digital sensor to send information to a Sabertooth motor driver. At the top of microcontrollers used to control them is Arduino. It is easy to understand why numerous hobbyists use the motor drivers with Arduino. You have great examples for inspiration, libraries, and Arduino code and instructions for a remote controlled robot.

The Dimension Engineering’s motor drivers – Sabertooth Dual 12A/25A/32A/60A – are suitable for mobile robots, electric vehicles, or scooters between 45Kg (100lbs) and 450 Kg (1000lbs).

These four are the ones capable to control high-torque brushed DC motors:

  1. Sabertooth Dual 12A (price $$)
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    • 12A continuous per channel;
    • 25A peak per channel;
    • up to 24V in;
  2. Sabertooth Dual 25A (price $$$)
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    • 25A continuous per channel;
    • 50A peak per channel;
    • 6-30V nominal;
    • 33.6V absolute maximum;
  3. Sabertooth Dual 32A (price $$$)
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    • 32A continuous per channel;
    • 64A peak per channel;
    • 6-30V nominal;
    • 33.6V absolute maximum;
  4. Sabertooth Dual 60A (price $$$)
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    • 60A continuous per channel;
    • 120A peak per channel;
    • 6-30V nominal;
    • 33.6V absolute maximum;

2. Pololu

Pololu was initially focused on designing and producing beacons for robots to detect each other. It has since been transformed into a powerful manufacturer for electronics and mechanical components used in robotics.

Pololu’s DC motor drivers had the reputation of being Sabertooth’s little brothers for amateurs and roboticists. One very useful feature is that these motor drivers let you build autonomous and remote controlled robots. Pololu’s G2 series and VNH5019 are by far the handiest way to control brushed DC motors if you are on a low budget.

None of the Pololu’s motor drivers do not include a heat sink and over-temperature protection. Three very useful features are the reverse-voltage protection, short circuit protection, and the undervoltage shutdown circuit that protects the batteries from over discharge.

These five are the Pololu’s motor drivers capable to control high-torque brushed DC motors:

  1. VNH5019 (price $$)
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    The concept around VNH5019 is to have a DC motor shield for Arduino.

    • 12A continuous per channel;
    • 30A peak per channel;
    • 5.5V – 24V nominal;
  2. G2 24v13 (price $$)
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    • 12A continuous per channel;
    • 30A peak per channel;
    • 6.5 V to 40 V nominal;
  3. G2 18v17 (price $$)
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    • 17A continuous per channel;
    • 40A peak per channel;
    • 6.5 V to 30 V nominal;
  4. G2 24v21(price $$)
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    • 21A continuous per channel;
    • 50A peak per channel;
    • 6.5 V to 40 V nominal;
  5. G2 18v25(price $$)
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    • 25A continuous per channel;
    • 60A peak per channel;
    • 6.5 V to 30 V nominal;

3. Cytron

Cytron has become more popular and been put to greater use in recent years. At least two DC motor drivers are used in building combat/sumo and all-terrain robots. SmartDrive160 and the 30A DC Motor Driver are two of the best ways to control the DC motors of your robot.

You can work with the 30A DC Motor Driver to control one DC brushed motor or use SmartDrive160 perfectly optimize to control two DC brushed motors.

If you’re a veteran designer, you probably want to work with SmartDrive160. It has multiple input modes: RC, Analog, PWM, Simplified Serial and Packetized Serial. In addition to LiPo battery low voltage warning, the motor driver features thermal protection and current limiting based on temperature sensing.

These two DC motor drivers should be what you needed from Cytron:

  1. SmartDrive160 (price $$$)
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    • 160A continuous per channel;
    • 190A peak per channel;
    • 8V to 28V nominal;
  2. 30A DC Motor Driver (price $$)
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    • 30A continuous per channel;
    • 80A peak per channel;
    • 5V to 30V nominal;

4. SparkFun

Among all of the roboticists in the world, many of them probably heard of SparkFun. They produce the Monster Moto Shield. It is a small dual motor driver designed for extreme high-demand applications. It had issues trying to disperse the temperature generated when it is used at full capacity. Sparkfun claims to improve thermal efficiency using a heat-sink or fan.

Monster Moto Shield (price $$)
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  • 14A continuous per channel;
  • 30A peak per channel;
  • maxim 16V;

DFRobot

DFrobot produces one of the user-friendly, intuitive and Arduino compatible DC motor driver. If you are getting your feet wet with heavy-duty robots, this is one of the cheapest DC motor driver capable of controlling high-torque motors. Therefore, you can use it in 4WD mobile and combat robots, to driven pumps and more.

DC Motor Driver 2×15A – Lite (price $$)
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  • 15A continuous per channel;
  • 20A peak per channel;
  • 4.8 to 35V nominal;

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