Ultimate Guide to How Electronic Speed Control (ESC) Works

Almost every single remote controlled vehicle has electronic speed controllers. Knowing how these electronic speed controllers work is very important so that you may make more informed purchasing decisions, handle your RC vehicles better, and have an in-depth understanding of what makes your remote controlled vehicle perform the way it does.

Understanding how electronic speed controllers (ESC) works is relatively complex, but understanding how they work will help you get a large picture of the workings of your RC machine and how feature plays off one another to create the performance machine you enjoy.

Two Different Aspects of Electronic Speed Control

How Electronic Speed Control (ESC) Works

There are two different aspects of electronic speed control with modern remote controlled vehicles. One of the aspects is known as a firmware electronic speed control. Some firmware electronic speed controllers are specifically programmed or tuned to certain vehicles or motors and can only control specific types. This is a relatively new technology that companies are implanting for proprietary vehicles and technology, to reduce the plug and play options associated with remote controlled vehicles and customization.

The second aspect is hardware or physical electronic speed control that is wired with the motor itself with firmware that can be interchangeable between devices. These are the more common electronic speed controllers that you will see in the marketplace today, as they have been around much longer than the specific firmware electronic speed controllers.

How Electronic Speed Control (ESC) Works

The basic definition of electronic speed controllers is that they help control information that is received from the motor and the transistors inside the motor. The electronic speed controller controls the rate at with the switching of the transistor occurs from the controller.

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The electronic speed controller receives a signal from the motor as to where the rotor is, so that it can channel on which transistor to switch on next, and the rate at which to do so. The electronic speed controller uses the signals given by the throttle channel from the receiver to help determine how much power is needed to go to the motor to adjust to the desired speed that is being sent from the handheld controller.

A similar comparison that can be used to better understand how electronic speed controllers work is how cars fire their individual cylinders to turn the camshaft. The camshaft of the car is then increased or decreased depending upon the throttle control. Electronic speed controllers work in similar aspects, but on a much smaller scale with magnets and rotor than pistons and crankshafts.

How Are Electronic Speed Controllers Used In Various RC Vehicles

Electronic speed controllers are used in a variety of ways for different remote controlled vehicles. Each remote controlled vehicle offers its own control interface and handling obstacles. As a result of these challenges for each different vehicle, electronic speed controllers have different uses for each machine.

How Electronic Speed Controller (ESC) Works

For remote controlled cars and boats, electronic speed controllers are used in cars that have reverse capabilities. Electronic speed controllers have been added to various RC cars to create dynamic braking capabilities. Electronic speed controllers are now being used to act as generators underneath the body lid and place an electrical load across the armatures, which then make the armature within the engine harder to turn. As a result of the armature slowing down as a result of this electric load being sent from the electronic speed controller, the RC car will slow down and brake at a much higher rate than before.

For remote controlled helicopters, electronic speed controllers help companies set fixed revolutions per minute speeds. This tool is great for companies who wish to control the speeds of their beginner models that might contain too much power for individuals looking to get involved with the RC hobby realm.

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In addition, new self-landing features that are available in models that have low battery functions, electronic speed controllers have enabled companies to set minimum RPMs to safely land by themselves. These functions are also used with RC airplanes in the event that a motor was to partially shut down. Electronic speed controllers would take over and apply enough electrical power to enable the ailerons, elevator, and rudder functions to safely land the RC airplane.

Electronic speed controllers are used in virtually every remote controlled vehicle you could imagine, and often times serving different purposes for different vehicles.

Just like other aspects of remote controlled vehicles, electronic speed controllers come in a variety of sizes and options. This allows for owners to customize their speed controllers or assemble their own depending on what they are hoping to achieve with the speed controller. Developing your own electronic speed controller is rather time-consuming and difficult.

Different Firmware Options Available For Electronic Speed Controllers (ESC)

There are a few different firmware options available that can be programmed onto an electronic speed controller. Different firmware options make it easier for certain goals to be achieved and will set automatic limits without having to add any extra tooling. There are three different firmware options available for companies to program and use: Traditional, SimonK, and BLHeli.

How Electronic Speed Control (ESC) Work

Traditional firmware is often used for plane and helicopter RCs. This firmware option is implemented into the electronic speed controller with a programming card or software via personal computer.

The second firmware option, SimonK, is great for those remote controlled vehicles that require a faster throttle response and offers users the ability to customize more. SimonK was one of the very first specialized multi-rotor firmware that became available in the marketplace for remote controlled vehicles.

BlHeli ESC

The third firmware option available is BLHeli. The BLHeli happens to combine all of the power that comes standard with the SimonK firmware but allows the most customization available that comes standard with the Traditional firmware. This firmware is often used for lower speed motors, as more customization is required to hamper the maximum RPMs that are associated with beginner remote control vehicle models.

One of the newest ideas to hit the marketplace is open source firmware that is available to the general public. With some of the more open-based firmware options we mentioned that aren’t specifically attuned to certain vehicles, motors, or company models, individuals are using these new open software firmware options to attune their vehicle to specific needs.

This means that owners can now attune their firmware associated with their electronic speed controller for certain activities like racing, all-terrain trails, etc. It remains to be seen how companies will combat this or if they will add additional features so that companies will add customization through their own portals and firmware options.

The Objective for Electronic Speed Controllers (ESC)

So now that you understand how electronic speed controllers affect the motor, and some different firmware options that come standard with electronic speed controllers, what is the objective for ESCs?

Well, the objective of electronic speed controllers is to create a balance between power available, and power required. Not only are electronic speed controllers about finding a balance between power available and power required, they also have an objective in regards to delivering this information in the most effective manner and quickest form possible. The end-goal objective is to provide the owner, the individual maneuvering the remote controlled vehicle with the most precision-based control available from a motor speed control standpoint.

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