Over three decades I’ve been a part of the evolution that has combined the microcontroller with power electronics. Over that time, motor drives have evolved into building blocks, however they have become “black box” building blocks. While they may use standard communication protocols such as Rs485, Ethernet or Can, each manufacturer created different twists to their product in the name of product differentiation. Drives got smarter, but that intelligence was hidden behind a veil of proprietary user interfaces. External controllers can communicate with the drives for more complex applications, but standalone field programmability is limited.
Contrast this with the smartphone. It too serves a “black box” function, communication, but by embracing operating systems such as Android to control the phone hardware it flaunts its intelligence and allows users and third parties to create apps that may or may not use the “black box” functions. Critical phone functions must be accessed through a strict Application Programming Interface (API), but resources such as memory, USB, Bluetooth, Touchscreen and WiFi are available for general programming by users or third parties through the operating system.
By incorporating Android, Linux or other “open source” operating systems, drive manufacturers can release the creative potential of their users yet keep the drive operations proprietary. This can be particularly useful for standalone and off grid applications where the drive may be the only electronic hardware in the system. In many such systems the drive is already the largest consumer of power and space and an open source drive has the potential to eliminate whole cabinets of power supplies, computers and other gear. Several such drives can be connected together to form an autonomous network for flexible coordinated motion.