Bipolar stepper motor control with Picaxe and L293D chips

I’ve now got a schematic and program for running a bipolar stepper motor via a serial interface (just as for the unipolar case). This is important for the robot arm cause because two of the three steppers will be of the bipolar kind.
Where driving the unipolar stepper required only current ‘pushing’ (ie all in the same direction through a common ground), a bipolar motor requires current to flow in both directions. The following image shows the difference.


In theory the control of this is very easy with two half H-bridges (essentially four transistors) controlled by several Picaxe output lines). The basic concept is shown below.



The L293D chip has the requisite transistors and a nice interface (with lots of extra features that my DIY skills couldn’t match). I’ve also used it in the mobile robot experiment to control the direction of 2 motors.

As with anything like this though, one needs to think through the sequence and outline a table of output values corresponding to the steps, as below.

Direction Coil 1 Coil 2
N + 0
NE + +
E 0 +
SE +
S 0
W 0
NW +

At first I was using 6 output lines (!) – 4 for each of the transistor inputs and 2 for enabling or disabling the L293D’s 2 ‘half h-bridges’. In this configuration it could be reduced to 4 by using an external NOT gate (because 2 of the controls are always the opposite of another 2). Such a scheme would look like this:

Direction EN1-2 1A 2A EN3-4 3A 4A
N 1 1 0 0 0 0
NE 1 1 0 1 1 0
E 0 0 0 1 1 0
SE 1 0 1 1 1 0
S 1 0 1 0 0 0
SW 1 0 1 1 0 1
W 0 0 0 1 0 1
NW 1 1 0 1 0 1

But while trouble shooting this (I had swapped LSBs with MSBs so it probably did work after all!) I came across a site tying the enable lines Hi and using 4 control lines. At the poles one of the loops must have zero current flowing through it. In the above scheme this is done by setting the enable line Low and ignoring the A values. In the 4 line scheme this can be achieved by sending the same control output to both ends of the loop (ie the potential difference across the coil is 0). Then the table looks like this (including half stepping):

Direction 1A 2A 3A 4A
N 1 0 0 0
NE 1 0 1 0
E 0 0 1 0
SE 0 1 1 0
S 0 1 0 0
SW 0 1 0 1
W 0 0 0 1
NW 1 0 0 1

That makes the schematic as follows:


…and the program as follows. Note that this program is designed to wait until it detects a serial input on input 0 (pin 17) in the form of three bytes: The first is a qualifier – 85 uniquely identifies this stepper motor – the second is the number of steps – 0-255, and the third is the speed – 0-127 is backwards, 128-255 is forwards.

'Serial driven stepper motor by DMT195

symbol posrotor=b0
symbol numturns=b2
symbol speeddir=b7
symbol direc=b8
symbol pulsegap=b3
symbol counter=b4
symbol modrotor=b1
symbol outbyte=b5

posrotor = 1 'set starting position

start:    'main sequence - wait for command then move the motor
 numturns=0   'sets a default number of turns
 high 7    'reset ready flag
 serin 0,T2400,(85),numturns,speeddir 'get serial data
 gosub getspeed   'get the direction and speed
 gosub move       'perform number of steps
goto start

 if speeddir>128 then  'find direction and store in direc (1 is +ve, 0 is -ve)
 'gets the speed 0-127 negative, 128-255 positive (higher =faster)

 for counter=1 to numturns
  pause pulsegap      'wait before moving again (set by speed)
 if direc=1 then
  posrotor=posrotor+1 'increase/decrease the step by one
   gosub moverotor  'set the rotor position for this step
 next counter

 modrotor=posrotor//8    'find out where the rotor arm should be (1 of 8 positions)
 lookup modrotor, (0x08,0x0A,0x02,0x06,0x04,0x05,0x01,0x09), outbuyte
 '(%00001000,%00001010,%00000010,%00000110,%00000100,%00000101,%00000001,%00001001) is (0x08,0x0A,0x02,0x06,0x04,0x05,0x01,0x09) in hex
 'looks up the step from the sequence and applies it to the output pins

Please leave comments if you’ve found this useful or if you think I’ve made a mistake.

I have something to say about accessing all these devices through a single serial port too but that will have to wait for one or two more tests…

Update: Of course this can be done with a PICAXE 08(M)  with the 4 outputs and 1 serial input to spare. The pinouts would have to change as would the respective program. If there’s enough demand for me to document this I will. Let me know in the comments. Consider using this little board from Technobots.

Update 2: I’ve reduced the code length by using a lookup table instead of the select/case structure. I’ve also use hex to reduce the size of that line (but included the binary values in a comment below for those that are interested).


14 Responses to Bipolar stepper motor control with Picaxe and L293D chips

  1. Lakes says:

    Just what I was looking for to drive a printer carriage motor.
    If could document the changes to use the technobots board, that would be very helpful.

    The serial data test program would be quite handy for the picaxe chip I already have… :)

    Many Thanks!

  2. bill says:

    PICAXE motor control is what I’m looking for. I saved DC motors from old garden tools, Okidata dot Matrix printers and old floppy drives plus a big junk box of old power transistors so I’m anxious to make something move across the floor. I am guessing that 1-2 amps 6VDC or more is needed for the larger garden tool motors and old electric screw driver motors. All the above info is good for me

  3. Chuck says:

    Nice write-up. Thanks for taking the time to share. Just trying to learn about stepper control with a PICAXE and this was very helpful. Chuck

  4. Lee says:

    Compact & efficient programme.
    I have been doing a similar one.
    I’d love to see, the numturns,speeddir.
    Do you plan to load these from serial port?
    Did you implement a serin @ “Data.txt” or inc#com1…

  5. Lee says:


    I also made a small change in the start sequence…

    serin 0,T2400,numturns,speeddir ‘get serial data

    now, run it this way & you’ll see a difference…
    when asked for input just enter the data,
    ie; 5, 138


  6. Steve says:

    Very useful I think. I’m keen to use cdrom steppers and their maechanisms into small sculptures so I’m also interested in laser cutting. A couple of asks: How much dirfferent would the programme for a Picaxe 08M have to be, do you have the code by any chance? And how do I code the input ( i.e output from Picaxe chp) to get the programme starting?
    Thanks loads


  7. is it possible to drive stepper motor with only 2 wires?

    • dmt195 says:

      I don’t think so. If you make a driver (like this) then you could use 2 wires to control it (ie via serial). I can imagine for unipolar steppers you could get away with 3 but I wouldn’t like to try it.

  8. determine the correct motor driver…

    Bipolar stepper motor control with Picaxe and L293D chips « dmt195 today…

  9. ikky says:

    hai im using L293 for driveing stepper motors ….it is very slow & if i reduce the delay it is not responsing …….and L293 getting heated up

  10. Basu says:

    Am driving stepper motor using L293D, its working.
    but the problem is the motor is getting heated up and it will going off(bad).

    Please suggest me where am wrong,!!!

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    Bipolar stepper motor control with Picaxe and L293D chips | dmt195 today

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