In my travels on the internet, I have witnessed DIY’er attempting to make motion base platforms from various items. From drill motors to wood, these systems are ingenious, but in my opinion seem unsafe and will not last over the long term. Let’s explore why…
What does it take to build a motion base? At the least, one would require something to move the axis with. This is typically a motor of some kind. This can either be hydraulic, electric, pneumatic or magnetic. Hydraulic would be a little out of reach of a DIY’er due to requiring a pump, oil container and the like (hazmat anyone). Magnetic doesn’t hold a load very well. Pneumatic is hard to control with a servo loop (you either go or not) and the pump is loud. So the simple solution is an electric motor.
So which type of motor? AC or DC? DC motors are the simplest to control in my opinion, but can be expensive (not steppers). AC motors require knowledge on how to obtain full torque at zero RPM. This seems easy (hey! Tesla Motor Cars is doing it, so why not me?) but, it isn’t. Many DIY’er don’t even consider AC motors for their systems due to being able to make a stable servo. If they even consider making a servo loop at all. We will get to why a servo loop is required in a moment… The motor also determines how much payload that you want to pick up.
So you have picked a motor… now what about the other parts. Is the actual driving mechanism going to be linear or non-linear? Linear means that the assembly moves up and down. Non-linear means that the motor uses some sort of crank and pushrod assembly. Linear assemblies are nice in the fact that there are less parts to design, but they have their flaws. One major flaw in a screw type linear mechanism is that the bearings that make the system move induce chatter into the system and the bearings wear out over time. Eventually, they will need to be replaced (usually in a relatively short amount of time). Non-linear requires more parts to be designed, but the movement of the system, if designed properly, will be nice a smooth and should last basically forever (so far, we last decades). A gear box of some sort can be used with the motor to facilitate lifting the payload which has to be matched to the crank.
So now you have designed a working mechanism… so how are you going to drive it and know where it is? DC and AC motors require some sort of signal to know where to go and how fast (servo loop anyone?). Most motors have a matching drive amplifier. This has to be wired to the motor, to some sort of control device and to the feedback device. This is the servo loop. Why is this important? In order to control the axis, you have to know where the motor is and how fast it is going. In this way, you can control the position of the driving mechanism and how fast or slow it reacts. This is important. Everything reacts a little different. Different aircraft react differently to each other. Same with cars, boats and the like.
So now, what do we use to actually control the motor? Depends on the drive amplifier for the motor… typically, this is either an analog or digital signal from something. I have seen everything from a computer with a digital to analog conversion board to a PLC to a simple waveform from a signal generator. The better the resolution of the control signal, the better the system will respond. X-Plane and MFS send out data for the aircraft and to some extent, they actually send the information for the motion base. But, is this information correct for the system that you have designed
Do you have to design and write software to interface into the simulation software? Most of the time. The complexity of the software is dependent on how realistic you want the motion base to be. For example, an airplane’s center of gravity (where it actually rotates about) and a helicopter's center of gravity are different. They require different math models for the motion base geometry to get the motion base to react properly. Is the system linear or non-linear for the driving mechanism? Does the user of the motion base platform require the non-linearity of the motion platform to be removed from the system? If so, the math that the software has to accomplish is very difficult which adds to the complexity of the software to control the motion base.
So all of that has been engineered… now what about something to mount the motors and the driving assembly plus whatever is required to mount the items to the whole assembly (like a top for example). The geometry has to be designed so that you get the angularity that is required for what you want to simulate. Sometimes this is quite large and sometimes this is quite small. The overhung load and the center of gravity of the payload has to be calculated to make sure that the geometry to the motor and the like can actually move the system.
Now, get all the parts designed and manufactured, engineer all the electrical, wire all of it, built it and tested it (don’t forget about your safety stops). So how much does all this cost? Depends on your design, but the biggest cost that DIY’er forget to take into account is the engineering, build and testing time - actual labor costs. Those costs are high… very high. Most DIY’er do not take their actual time into account because its a hobby! If it takes a DIY'er a year to design, build and test the system... that is a year of labor, therefore, you have to add a year of someone's salary into the actual cost. But, those of us that actually design these systems, it is not a hobby, it is our business. It is our business to make sure that the system does exactly what it is designed to do. If we do not, we lose business and we could possibly hurt someone or something or worse.
So is building a motion base for $5,000 USD feasible? The simple answer is no.
So is $5,000 USD per axis feasible? possibly… as long as it is a basic design.
So a basic standard 6DOF motion base (just the motion base and the electronics, not the controller and software) would cost about $30,000 for an average for a single rider system (around 500 pounds) with about ±15˚ in roll and pitch. The cost does not reflect the cost for the controller, possible software and customization of the system.
So there it is… this is why motion base platforms are so expensive. There is extensive engineering that is involved with designing everything from the mechanical to electrical to software to make it all work. If for some reason, the cost of the motion base system that you are researching is less than $5k per axis, you should ask for the structural analysis, design analysis and mean-time between failure for the system from that manufacture. If they cannot provide it for you, they haven't done it. Ask them how long that they have been in business... if it is less than 10 years and their motion bases look like someone else's that has been in business longer... it might not be their design. And if it looks like ours, then they are not ours... they are stolen. We have been in business for 38 years... we have photos from the 1990's... we have the drawings and the design documentation. Just ask.
So now that you know a few of the reasons behind designing a motion base platform system, you can understand why they are not inexpensive and should never be.