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Electric Skateboard Basics: ESC

ESC is an essential part of every electric skateboard, but what is it and what does it do? ESC stands for Electric Speed Controller. It’s a piece of tech that sits between your motor and your battery, and it dictates how much power you want to send from your battery to your motor via some type of input, usually a wireless remote controller. ESC is one of those topics that can appear very complicated. To put an end to those confusion, let’s dig into some basics about ESCs.

A man in black shirt riding the LycaonBoard Off Road Electric Skateboard

What is ESC?

An Electronic Speed Controller (ESC) is an electronic circuit with the purpose to vary an electric motor’s speed and its direction and possibly be used to accelerate or brake an electric vehicle. ESCs are often used on electrically powered radio controlled models, providing an electronically generated source of energy for the motor. It’s a device that regulates the power of an electric motor, allowing it to throttle from 0% to 100%. A speed controller essentially takes a PWM (pulse-width modulation) signal from a receiver and voltage from your battery and uses it to essentially fire certain electromagnets in your motor at certain times based on the desired speed and the relative positions and angular velocities of the rotor and stator.

Components of ESC

An ESC is made up of three key components. A BEC (Battery Eliminator Circuit)/voltage regulator, a Processer and the switching consisting of FETs (field effect transistor). Now let's get a little technical.

The BEC/voltage regulator is a division of the ESC that will send a set amount of power (typically 5v 1Ah) back to your receiver to power your servos. This also has a secondary function whereby if the battery that is driving the motor reaches its minimum voltage the BEC will reserve power for the flight critical controls, making sure the motor doesn't take all the power from the battery.

The processor is an integrated circuit that now days is completely contained in a single silicone semiconductor chip. Its job is to translate the information being given to it from the receiver in the model and switch the FETs to regulate the power to the motor.

The FET is the component that is doing all the work in an ESC. It "sees" the full voltage and current of the battery and motor. A FET is essentially an electronic switch that chops up the flow of electricity that in turn throttles the motor.

Electric Skateboard ESCs

Categories used for ESC

Traditional ESC

Some of them provide a braking capability with very limited customizations. Most of the time if you are able to plug a configuration interface to the ESC, you can adjust a few parameters. It supports less voltage than VESC. Most ESC is a rate for 6S, but a few ESC allow 8S or rarely 12S.

VESC

VESC stands for Vedder Electronic Speed Controller. It is an open source, highly modifiable electronic speed controller ESC by Benjamin Vedder. It works fantastic for building your own DIY Electric Skateboard. The VESC allows you to use sensorless motors to achieve smooth start-up from a stop versus traditional RC ESCs which have trouble starting from a complete stop. You can connect your VESC via Mini USB to your computer and modify VESC settings to fit your needs. VESC is characterized with many customize-able settings that traditional RC ESCs don't offer. Your VESC will perform better when configured for your particular motor and battery voltage.

All electric skateboards need an electronic speed controller in order to vary the speed of the motor for accelerating or braking. The VESC is a more advanced ESC which allows for features such as better motor and battery protection, regenerative braking, programming options like acceleration and deceleration curves, and other advanced features. Not every VESC is equal though, as Benjamin Vedder designed the blueprints as an open source project. Companies selling the VESC have modified and improved on these original blueprints.

Differences between ESC and VESC

Now we’re going to talk about the differences between a regular ESC and VESC. A regular ESC is typically cheaper and comes with a remote. They’re not customizable at all. A VESC is more expensive and doesn’t come with a remote controller, but it’s very customizable and a lot higher quality parts. High-quality components make it last longer. For electric skateboards, most people use the VESC, which was purpose-built for e-boards and has a lot of useful software features, as well as being very customizable and having really high power throughput. Since the invention of VESC, it has gained large popularity among skaters, especially those people who are enthusiastic about building their own electric skateboard. It enjoys superiority in brakes and performance:

Brakes

It is progressive, powerful, responsive but most of all it's safe. You can pull it fairly hard without feeling like you will get launched into the air. This was a feature that until now was lacking in traditional electric skateboard ESCs. Stopping is fairly important, so undoubtedly this feature will be appreciated by all E-boarders.

Performance

Very powerful acceleration! And smooth as can be. The motors parameters are detected by the VESC and saved into the system. The motors are therefore perfectly synchronized to the VESC and tuned to operate at their peak performance. The VESC is set up specifically for each motor, so it is able to deliver power more accurately.

Electric Skateboard Electrical Speed Controller

What to consider when choosing an ESC?

While trying to figure out which ESC is right for you, there are a few different categories you should definitely look at to make sure you’re getting the best ESC for your application. A few things you definitely need to look at are the max amperage and max voltage rating, the price, the ease of use, the dependability, and the customizability. All those five things really play a key role into which ESC you get. So make sure you get what you need for your electric skateboard in your experience level.

—As we all know, it takes a lot of power to get to push a person up a hill, so max amperage is definitely one thing you need to look at. The baseline for electric skateboard speed controllers is 50 amps. You need to be able to pull and push 50 amps through electric speed controller without it burning out. Always make sure your motor draw will not exceed the max amps. Most motors will say how many amps they draw (max amps) and this rating should never exceed the amp rating of the ESC.

The voltage directly impacts your stop speeds. So if you want to make a 25 mile-per-hour board with a 10 cell battery, you do need to make sure that your ESC supports 10S batteries. An ESC should always indicate how many volts you can pump through it and this is often expressed in the number of cells your battery has.

As for the price, of course the nicer ESC is gonna cost you a little bit more. You have to weigh your options with your budget and make a decision according to how much money you got to spend your bills. But keep in mind that cheap alternatives may not be able to pull or maintain 50 amps.

About the ease of use, some ESCs are super plug-and-play. You just plug the motors in and the battery in and running in like two seconds. For other ESCS, you need to mess with the settings a little bit. If you really like to tweak those settings, you can go for this type of ESC.

As far as customizability, a lot of ESCS support a very specific voltage. Problem with this is that you’re kind of locked into those voltages. To fix it, you could use a customizable ESC so you can put any voltage into it and not be locked into a certain battery type. For people who love to dig into settings like acceleration speeds, braking power and all that kind of stuff, customized ESCS will be the right choice.

The last is dependability. Not all ESCS are created equal. Normally VESC is a little bit more dependable than ESC. They seem to be made with higher quality parts and they last a little bit longer. But also they cost more than ESC. 

While you’re shopping around for electronic speed controllers, be sure you look for ones that are specifically designed for electric skateboards. There are a ton of different RC applications that electronic speed controllers are for, like remote-controlled cars, drones, remote-controlled boats, but those don’t have to carry a ton of weight. Those electronic speed controllers don’t need to push a person up a hill. They just need to lift a 2-pound drone up in the air, so obviously, those aren’t going to work and won’t fit your needs. Just stick to the electronic speed controllers that are designed to push a human being up a hill. Those will be able to handle the amperage and voltage you need and it will just be the right size. For example, electronic speed controllers of electric bikes are totally enough to carry a person up a hill, but they’re huge. The ESC that suits your needs is the best.

 

 

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