Botvac with LiFePo4 mod

News and information about the Neato XV-11 Robotic Vacuum. All discussion and troubleshooting questions go here.

Re: Botvac with LiFePo4 mod

Postby carrierlost » March 3rd, 2016, 10:06 am

glnc222 wrote:Balancer With Protection

Ebay http://www.ebay.com/itm/BMS-Protection-Board-w-Balance-for-1-4-3-2V-LiFePo4-Li-Cell-phosphate-Battery-/331716840584?hash=item4d3bdd4c88:g:BoQAAOSwnipWVOPB
Not found on AliExpress.

The listing says 1-4 cells 240ma leakage current, that is 1-to-4 cells. Would that already be enough without adding parallel resistors? I get 221ma on the modified balancer based on 22||62 ohms = 16 ohms, 58ma x 62/16 = 221ma.
Meter measurements of the currents actually reached in operation would render everything more certain.
I am not sure what bypass currents existed in the original German balancers for the XV packs. More precision would be advised.


I just decided on around 200mA, for two reasons. Firstly there was still some hope around that I can modify PSU to CC/CV and there was some information on forum about XV (don't remember if here or ixbt) that you cant go below 200mA for the CV phase. If you do Neato will start complaining. Now that point is moot as I'm currently not able to modify the PSU or replace it for CC/CV operation.

Second reason was that I didn't really know the current handling capability of the transistor/mosfet and just guessed that it would be able to take 200mA. Adding 22R does not give exact 200mA, but close enough for me. The resistors I bought are of the guarden variety 2W, not really precision stuff anyway.

Also I remember looking at that balancer you mention. I didn't choose it for 2 reasons. Firstly how do I attach the thermistor so it contacts all the surface mount resistors? Second was that it was somewhat larger and I was not sure it would fit.

glnc222 wrote:Polyfuse
The original packs contain a resettable polyfuse for protection against short circuit faults in the Neato (or in case connected to who-knows-what, i.e. just because the pack is supplied as a separate component).
These can be reused in DIY packs and permanent fast blow fuses used instead. A more compact holder can be fashioned out of heat shrink tubing, or with PCB clip type holders. A protection board should render unnecessary. They can be used when there is no protection board.

Hmm is this just an XV feature? I really didn't find polyfuse in Botvac.
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Re: Botvac with LiFePo4 mod

Postby carrierlost » March 3rd, 2016, 11:32 am

humanoid wrote:I never understood why you guys are so obsessed with lithium. The NiMh batteries work great and there are good aftermarket alternatives.
On my RC planes, lipo all the way and the best possible. It makes a big difference there. But Neato stays on the ground and NiMh batteries have enough discharge power for it to run. Even RC cars are fine with NiMh, except at the highest end of the spectrum.


For me:
1. Electronics is a hobby. I guess you can ask a car guy why put a bigger engine or more tune it in some other 100 different ways. You can always drive a car as it came out of factory. Or take a bus.
2. It will last a lot longer (hopefully) and should get better runtimes. NIMH lasts only in the beginning. Mine was dead in something around a 1.5years. What started out as almost doing 2x my cleaning area on a single charge ended up as wanting to charge 3x before it could do 1 round.
And I'm not running it every day or even every second day. For others NIMH battery wont even last a year.
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Re: Botvac with LiFePo4 mod

Postby glnc222 » March 3rd, 2016, 2:15 pm

The interest in lithium is a little confusing and has differing aspects.

Some people seemed to think a higher charge capacity would increase the original Neato run time, which is not entirely true. A model of the battery is required in software to manage the charge usage, and a limit of about 2ah (for XV) or 2/3 charge use is coded in the software (at lower voltage Botvac could have a similar wH usage at higher ampere-hours). Both a reserve for returning to base and a buffer against damaging deep discharge is needed. The idea the robot would just use whatever capacity is installed could have been based on an old Roomba feature of running the maximum run time available. Some increase in run time comes from the different voltage discharge curve of lithium fooling the Neato software.

Longevity of the battery is the real issue as the NiMh battery price was once much higher and still amounts to a large portion of the lifetime cost of using the robot, making the effective cost much higher than the purchase price of the equipment. It first appeared that only the LiFePo4 type of lithium would offer a significant saving with its unusually long life compared to every other type including lithium ion. The after market lithium using LiNMC types then also showed at least a doubling, maybe tripple life. The older lithium ion batteries also seemed unsuitable because of the fire hazard associated with the chemistry and the special risks involved in a household appliance compared to phone and computer use (those batteries were involved in serious problems in new aircraft requiring added protection, and air freight restrictions have been imposed on them). The LiFePo4 is one of the older types of lithium which shared the inherent safety of NiMh. The LiNMC is also safer than older lithium ion.

The higher energy density of lithium comes into play for run time. The VR100 added a side brush with additional running load to the Neato XV, and Vorwerk used a lithium battery. The Botvac Connected adds WiFi radio needing more power and adopts the lithium battery supply. The Samsung Powerbot and the Dyson 360 Eye use higher power fans with twice the battery capacity of Neato, demanding the higher lithium density to fit in the needed compact size.

The after market lithium for Neato seems to cost almost the same as the NiMh on a per year basis, priced twice NiMH for twice the life. Getting a longer life battery here for about the same cost as an NIMh is a real saving.
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Re: Botvac with LiFePo4 mod

Postby glnc222 » March 4th, 2016, 5:16 am

Longevity Issues
At the end of second run it wanted to charge the battery. Battery voltage at that time was 12.85 (3.2V per cell) which corresponds to 3-8% remaining according to the above link.

It sounds like the cells are being cycled over essentially their entire capacity. That would fit with the cells having a little less capacity than the standard Botvac battery to begin with plus being charged only in the constant current phase to a little less than their maximum capacity.

Some literature observes battery lifetime is reduced by deep discharge and the specified lifetime might not apply. Hybrid cars are especially known for this and Neato has followed the practice. Or, the spec might already reflect this being only three times lithium ion lifetimes instead of ten times sometimes mentioned for the chemistry.
Also battery life specs are often based on slow charging and discharging usage, with operating at maximum drain and charging rates shortening life. A lot more detail would be needed from the cell maker to know, not always available (unless maybe you want to order them in industrial quantities and be worth their time).

It could take a whole year of use to find out they are only good that long, compared to possibly three years.
I had once made a cycle testing circuit to simulate running and charging the bot 24/7 to compress such testing into a couple months if necessary, but the cells examined failed within a dozen cycles (started to lose capacity). AA cell thread http://www.robotreviews.com/chat/viewtopic.php?f=20&t=17994 The maximum drain rate appears to be a major factor, and running higher than normal loads shortens cell life drastically.

We will just have to see how these LiFePo4 cells hold up in Botvac use.

Posts about the old very expensive Karcher robots mention NiMh cells lasting ten years in use, through proper design and handling. Neato's fast charging demands, to perform multiple runs in reasonable time, may shorten cell lives considerably compared to the possibilities with different usage. The lithium cells could be more robust in this usage than NiMh, being especially oriented towards high drain rates. These particular 1700mah cells, though, may have traded off drain rate for capacity. Only time will tell. Batteries are just not as simple as may first appear.
Last edited by glnc222 on March 6th, 2016, 1:08 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Botvac with LiFePo4 mod

Postby carrierlost » March 4th, 2016, 10:57 am

I've been reading additional about LiFePo4 voltages measurement. And all I can say is that it is complicated. I'd say the assumptions about what SOC the battery that I posted are probably inaccurate.

They say on interwebs that depending how you measure the same batteries you get very different results. Voltage settles downwards after charge, so actually the time is also important when measuring. But you cant really pinpoint when you should do the measurement as even minute load is on battery will accelerate the drop to the float voltage. As my voltage measurement were done with a multimeter while battery was connected to Botvac - so that apparently qualifies as a load.

Now measuring via NeatoControl to see what curves I get.
I'm pretty confident though that currently the limiting factor is not battery capacity, but Botvacs desire to limit the energy used before requiring a recharge (software limit).
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Re: Botvac with LiFePo4 mod

Postby glnc222 » March 4th, 2016, 2:40 pm

A vendor confirmed their balancing boards can be used with fewer than four cells leaving part unconnected.
This may be in contrast to some protection only boards with IC's on them, absent on these. The protection boards can have a single ground side mosfet cut-off switch controlled by voltage sensors on all the cells in an IC. These balancers look like a chain of single cell monitors and switches similar to the old LBA-1 single-cell boards used for the XV lithium in Germany, whose components became discontinued.

On voltages, I expect Neato's integrate IxT by sampling for actual charge usage besides monitoring voltage, as recommended in literature, as temperature and loads vary discharge curves. The company rep said as much and putting an oversize NiMh pack in just expands the unused capacity buffer, fully charging the higher capacity. There was one case where a lithium replacement seemed to let a Neato run until an unexpected low voltage condition caused a shut down before returning to base, surprising the software modeling. The XV has alternative modeling selectable for lithium batteries used by Vorwerk. It is just good luck the cells here happen to run the Botvac correctly.

The balancer board prior post, with over-voltage protection is about 1cm wider and longer than the one used here, with two rows of resistors (maybe in parallel for the wattage rating). It looks like it would fit in some way or another. A thin copper sheet from hardware stores might be used to conduct heat to a thermistor, or heat transfer tape (that orange/gold tape found in XV NIMH packs; sometimes hard to find in small amounts, but once sold by Vic7767 for wrapping brush motor openings on older models).
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Re: Botvac with LiFePo4 mod

Postby glnc222 » March 4th, 2016, 3:40 pm

For those unfamiliar, the "pivot table" in spreadsheet programs (another name in LibreOffice) can be used to process text outputs from data logging things, maybe Neato Control. Haven't used myself.
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Re: Botvac with LiFePo4 mod

Postby humanoid » March 5th, 2016, 8:44 pm

As far as I can see reduced long term cost is the only real reason to do it, and it's a valid reason. But at this point as Glen said the economic case is not strong yet.

In general, what kills rechargeable batteries is heat. Higher charge/discharge rates mean hotter battery, means shorter life. This is why testing battery life with slow charge/discharge produces much better results than real world use in devices like vacuums or RC places that can drain a battery in less than 5 minutes, getting north of 20C peak discharge. High end lipos definitely have the edge here, the newer generation has very low resistance and it takes a lot of current to heat them.
This is also where bigger capacity gets into play, higher capacity batteries usually run colder for the same discharge current than a comparable quality smaller battery.

I wonder if it is possible to reduce the charge rate of the neato, so the batteries do not heat as much. Also add a cooling period when it goes back to the charger, which is a standard feature on every halfway decent battery cycler. It means that full house clean will take longer, but personally I don't care, since I run it when I am not at home, it can take up to 8 hours. Neato has battery temp sensors, I wonder if it is using them only to determine full charge, or also for improving battery life.

By the way, if you have a good cycler you can squeeze more life of the NiMh batteries by a cycle that will reset the cell voltage and also make the cells more equal. No cycling for lithium.
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Re: Botvac with LiFePo4 mod

Postby glnc222 » March 6th, 2016, 1:38 am

humanoid:
I wonder if it is possible to reduce the charge rate of the neato, so the batteries do not heat as much.

Several issues. The cells do not heat very much just from the current load. The real heating occurs at the end of charging when full, where all the charging current gets dissipated as heat, inherent in the NiMh chemistry. While this may damage cells the the current load by itself, apart from heating, could be causing wear. I do not know all the details of this science. Slow charging would reduce the heating at the end, which would seem to have to be maintained at a level which would control the charger through the thermistors (increasing 1 degree centigrade per minute according to Neato Robotics). It is always possible to generate thermistor signals separately with added circuitry, as done for adapting lithium batteries. Separate cell chargers work on voltage instead of heat, and that control method can be translated into temperature as needed for the Neato charger (circuits shown in the lithium ion revisited theread).

However, an old post on the charger suggests you might be able to limit the charging rate with a different power brick, at least on the XV models where the PSU is separate from the dock.
Old post on charger http://www.robotreviews.com/chat/viewtopic.php?f=20&t=17940&p=125351&hilit=PSU#p125351

Testing would be needed, but a current limited power supply might supersede the 2 amp constant current regulator in the Neato. The constant current regulator just raises voltage as needed, with an adjustable buck voltage converter, to keep the 2 amps flowing. It also operates at a lower 0.4 amp rate in timed, topping-off charging cycles. It would depend on what software monitoring for error conditions does; the current is sensed for the cpu so it could complain if its plan is not realized. If the current is limited the constant current regulator would max out its voltage input, which would be restricted by the alternate power supply to a level for lower current. I gather there are current limiting controls on bench power supplies, but I do not have one.

Another thread on dock problems reported inability to use a different supply http://www.robotreviews.com/chat/viewtopic.php?f=20&t=19160, but in lithium battery experiments they have been used, bench power supplies. There are issues with Neato's switch from the old type of dock to the newer ones for Rev64 system boards. One bench supply use was to limit damaging over-voltage conditions damaging system boards in problem lithium experiments, and another is to achieve more thorough charging of lithium, in ways I do not fully understand, in the lithium ion thread, from Lewiy etc. Engineers will know. Maybe getting a constant voltage charging phase used only with lithium, not sure.

There could be problems using an alternative power brick compared to a fancy and more expensive adjustable bench power supply because of design for a certain maximum load, and possible malfunctions in other use. I have no experience with this (being just a retired investor hobbyist instead of engineer).

[edit] Another point made by other contributors was that shutting down the Neato between runs to suppress the periodic maintenance charges increases battery life. It takes a lot of time to measure such effects and there is no precise data, but the claim is made. There is a related issue whether the Neato is powered by the dock when not charging, or is draining the battery unnecessarily at the low rate needed to run the cpu, less than 100ma, causing more maintenance charges than necessary. Opinions differ and the measurements have not been reported. There is something suspicious in these cycles in that the high self-discharge rate of NiMh cells (compared to the smaller cells with Eneloop longevity features) is still not high enough to produce cycles so frequently.
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Re: Botvac with LiFePo4 mod

Postby carrierlost » March 6th, 2016, 6:26 am

I took a log with NeatoControl from analog sensors on Botvac while it was left on dock (click on image for enlarge):

laadimine pikaajaline 5 sek intervall.png


The X-axis is the measurement number. I think I set the interval at 5 sec, so you can calculate the time intervals there. The Y-axis is native number of the log, so mV and mC and mA. Temperature probe is attached to balancing resistors, so it only really gets hot at end-phase of charging. After end of charging temperature slowly equalizes with the temperature of battery bay.

A couple of interesting things to note:

1. It always charges at 2A. I've not seen 400mA when logging. Maybe it charges at 400mA when the temperature of the batteries is somewhat higher? But with LiFePo4 it never gets that high.
2. Right before charging begins the digital chatter between Botvac and Charger in dock can be seen when looking at charger voltage.
3. Interval between top-up charging is about 1060 ticks = 5300 sec = ca 1.472h. Each top-up is about 55 ticks=275sec= 4.5min. Between charges the current actually shows -100mA. So Botvac uses the battery between charges even if it is on dock. Battery consumed between charges is 1.472*100mA= 147.2mAh Battery charged during top-up 2000mA*275/3600=152.7mAh. Given the measurements are not exact and LiFePo4 might have slight self-discharge the numbers pretty much at in balance.

I don't know why Neato decided to use battery even when docked. This constant cycling might accelerate the NIMH batteries early death.
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Re: Botvac with LiFePo4 mod

Postby glnc222 » March 6th, 2016, 6:45 pm

A number of charging graphs are in the lithium ion thread showing the follow-on 400ma, timed charging cycle described by Neato Robotics rep. Yet some may not show it, and the repeated cycles observed daily at odd times may not appear with lithium. The refresh cycles may be triggered by voltage drop and the lithium has the different discharge curve. Then there is possible Botvac-XV differences in software. Maybe they improved something.

I do not quite see how the graph above establishes whether the system is powered off the dock when parked and not charging, outside anything during the charging cycle.
I am not sure what variable in the analog sensor or GetCharger display over USB, or on Neato Control can be used. It might be necessary to insert an ammeter between the dock and the robot, or between the battery and the robot. There is total system current over USB, but is there a separate battery current?
On old XV's there is always a load on the dock from a hot resistor across the docking contacts which signals the dock it is ok to enable high charging current. This is not the same as powering the system at its less than 100ma load when not running.
The XV power circuits have been diagrammed http://www.robotreviews.com/chat/viewtopic.php?p=132686#p132686
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Re: Botvac with LiFePo4 mod

Postby carrierlost » March 8th, 2016, 1:57 am

glnc222 wrote:I do not quite see how the graph above establishes whether the system is powered off the dock when parked and not charging, outside anything during the charging cycle.


I apologise for the poor quality of the graph, but the blue line (BatteryCurrent) is below zero line at around -100mA between 2A charges in the source data.

glnc222 wrote:I am not sure what variable in the analog sensor or GetCharger display over USB, or on Neato Control can be used. It might be necessary to insert an ammeter between the dock and the robot, or between the battery and the robot. There is total system current over USB, but is there a separate battery current?


USB might interfere with "normal" charging cycle. Lacking the connector, I'd rather not disassemble the pack to measure the current draw. I'll probably measure the consumption between dock and Botvac, but that is not pure battery consumption.
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Re: Botvac with LiFePo4 mod

Postby glnc222 » March 8th, 2016, 2:38 pm

I don't think USB interferes with the charging cycle, just another operation of the cpu running all the time.
The issue of the dock powering the system is for outside the charging cycle when the battery has been fully charged.
The graph is clear, just the state being monitored may not be relevant.

Incidentally the topping off charging cycle at lower current occurs without blinking the indicator ring light (making it harder to know when charging is truly finished). The indicator light is only for charge sufficient for cleaning, even if not at maximum. Periodic refresh cycles do blink the light. Because the system does power off the dock with the battery disconnected, showing a "critical battery error" or "turn on the battery switch" message, the dock might also power the system when the battery is connected, but the whole thing is so strange. There is a possibility that when the battery is connected it uses power from there in an odd way causing excessive refresh charging cycles. When charging, the system would be powered by the dock. It is a bit like a shell game, power here then over there... The circuits have been diagrammed for the XV boards which might suggest how the Botvac boards work, for electronics experts http://www.robotreviews.com/chat/viewtopic.php?p=132686#p132686
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Re: Botvac with LiFePo4 mod

Postby glnc222 » March 11th, 2016, 4:15 pm

When current is bypassed at the end of charging there is no balancing per se, the whole series is bypassing. Consequently all the resistors should heat up and there is no particular need to sense all their temperatures. Any one should work. Contact with the thermistor for charger control could thereby be simplified, and should not be an issue with the balancer shown with over-voltage protection. At least theoretically.
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Re: Botvac with LiFePo4 mod

Postby carrierlost » March 12th, 2016, 11:16 am

glnc222 wrote:When current is bypassed at the end of charging there is no balancing per se, the whole series is bypassing. Consequently all the resistors should heat up and there is no particular need to sense all their temperatures. Any one should work. Contact with the thermistor for charger control could thereby be simplified, and should not be an issue with the balancer shown with over-voltage protection. At least theoretically.


In ideal world Individual cells when balanced indeed heat up at the same time. However batteries are not all the same, therefore some of them will reach their full charge before others. Hence some will trigger their bybass resistor before others.

During balancing some of charge current (ca 200mA in my pack) is dumped through the resistor of that specific series element. Other series elements continue to charge at full current. If we only monitor only one cell and pick the wrong one (the ones that get full later) we will increase the time the first cells will be above the threshold voltage. By how much depends how imbalanced they are. In bad case cells are going to be destroyed due to overvoltage.

If we have over-voltage protection circuit ( I currently don't) it will help, but at certain voltage level the protection circuit will cut the battery from Botvac. This should be the last resort as it will interrupt the charging, with an error message.
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Re: Botvac with LiFePo4 mod

Postby glnc222 » March 12th, 2016, 6:15 pm

Ah so, important detail. So some copper sheet connecting all the resistors to thermistor may be advisable. Problem is then dissipating heat too much, unknown. Also thermistor (and copper sheet) might be put in contact with heat conducting heat sink grease, used on IC's with covering heat sink radiators, like cpu chips in PC's. Used to be in Radio Shack, little tubes. Arctic Ice brand etc.
I preferred a custom circuit synthesizing thermistor signals, but to allow recharging full batteries the commercial LithiumPower, AnewPow version has a microcontroller I think, fancy modeling. Minutia of the NiMh behavior and software. We do not know exactly how the software works, latencies, averaging, whatever.
Even were the Botvac to accept SetConfig commands, converting to a VR200 procedure would not work because of the higher voltage used in the VR with lithium, same as Botvac Connected. We do not know enough detail of the Botvac hardware working at 12v. It could work but you could also blow voltage regulators and what not.
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Re: Botvac with LiFePo4 mod

Postby triffid » June 12th, 2016, 9:20 pm

Hello, how's this working anything go boom yet ? I can get you the firmware for the base station but the fuse for writing will probably be set so you won't be able to change it without getting a new chip. My neato battery is starting to fail after i left for a while and it got lost in a corner and discharged for a month. So I was thinking about doing this. Nice to see that you have already tried. Why lipos and not LiIon ? Aren't you afraid of stability issues with an uncontrolled charger ?
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Re: Botvac with LiFePo4 mod

Postby triffid » June 12th, 2016, 9:25 pm

I'm also not completely above dumping the firmware on my botvac. As far as i can tell no one has a working linux mod for the botvac :)
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Re: Botvac with LiFePo4 mod

Postby glnc222 » June 12th, 2016, 10:18 pm

Why lipos and not LiIon ?

To match the lower voltage of the 12v Botvac system, 10 NiMh cells, compared to 14.7v XV series,12 cells NiMh or four LiIOn, with lower cell voltages on LiFePo4 than LiIon.
Longer life may be a side benefit.
It is not clear what voltage is used in the commercial version from LithiumPowerInc not yet marketed but seen in testing.
The Botvac Connected has a lithium ion battery with higher voltage going back to the XV series, Vorwerk style.
Even without component differences, software would presumably be different, such as the model for tracking the voltage discharge curve on the battery. Not to mention dock and charger differences.

[edit]Neato switched to commercial QNX real time operating system from straight Linux.
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Re: Botvac with LiFePo4 mod

Postby carrierlost » December 31st, 2016, 6:02 am

Just a quick update. My LiFePo4 mod has been working now for about 9 months now. So far everything is ok. Haven't tested the capacity change, but it manages my cleaning area just fine in single pass.
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