For our anniversary, a wealth of new solutions for you

What better way to celebrate the one-year anniversary of PI's marriage with miCos than to announce a host of popular miCos stages newly compatible with PI's cost-effective and easy-to-use Mercury DC servo- and stepper-motor controllers?

This development brings the write-once benefits of PI's General Command Set (GCS) to the burgeoning world of miCos' superb linear and rotary stages.  GCS is the command set used across PI's modern product line of motion, nanopositioning and hexapod controllers, and it allows code built for one  PI model to be used alongside or ported readily to other controller and stage models.  In addition,
  • Initial setup is greatly facilitated by automatic configuration of standard parameters based on an extensive database indexed by stage model numbers, while custom parameters remain easy to implement in non-volatile form.  
  • PI's standard tuning and diagnostic tools are supported out of the box.  This makes customization straightforward and safe.
  • Your productivity will benefit from PI's extensive and well-documented support for programming environments as diverse as LabVIEW, MATLAB and textual languages like C and VisualBasic.  Rich and well-supported options for Linux as well as Windows are also offered as part of the Mercury's standard feature-set.
Since many applications involve a variety of motion form-factors, having a single programming platform to deal with and a single global support resource to rely upon has proven to be highly beneficial to our customers.  And since software is the face of instrumentation when architecting an application and as well as in everyday use, having a consistent, well-wrung-out set of development and support tools is increasingly important.  So we think this is big news-- and good news, especially for anyone contemplating a complex application, or one that might need to scale.

The Mercury controllers deserve a special spotlight of their own.  Highly popular for their combination of performance and value, they feature responsive RS-232 and USB interfaces for snappy communications, with built-in networking for painlessly creating multi-axis configurations.

C-663 supports stepper motor stages while C-863 supports DC servo-motor stages.  Each features a bank of programmable TTL lines that let you trigger motion or trigger external equipment or processes, and you can easily configure them via a single GCS command to provide deterministic, real-time position increment indication or instantaneous in-motion/on-target status.  The Mercury controllers' integrated amplifiers support mechanisms with surprisingly powerful motors while also providing compatibility with our stages featuring onboard ActiveDrive™ amplifiers.

PI miCos stages newly compatible with C-663 and C-863 include:



As ever, contact your local PI miCos applications professional for guidance and world-class support.

Enabling Curiosity with PI and PI miCos

Landing a rover on Mars is an amazing accomplishment.  Landing one the size of a car, stuffed with scientific instrumentation, is downright astonishing.
Illustrations courtesy NASA

The initial excitement and pride over the Mars Curiosity rover's inventive descent to the Martian surface has given way to continuous, methodical scientific exploration using a variety of sensors and instrumentation.  The cameras get most of the press, with their stunning panoramic views and occasional amusing curious sightings.  But science is a patient discipline, and experiments which peel back the layers of Mars' composition and history are underway each day now.

Performance and reliability are essential for all research and industrial applications, but the prospect of a service call more than hundreds of millions of kilometers away poses special challenges, so it was critical for every component of the Curiosity rover to have proven reliability and robust performance.  We are thrilled that PI and PI miCos products are not only part of the rover's instrumentation package but already performing important science on Mars.

"Only through curiosity can we discover opportunities, and only by gambling can we take advantage of them."
--Clarence Birdseye
PI's award-winning PICMA® low-voltage ceramic actuators have been the gold standard for reliability in nanopositioning and are the heart of PI's nanopositioning stage products since their introduction several years ago.  They are the heart of our nanopositioning equipment.  NASA's testing of these actuators validated their performance over 100 billion cycles, which aided their qualification for use as the foundation for the Chemistry & Mineralogy (CheMin) instrument, now hard at work in Gale Crater.  

Sixteen PICMA actuators operate a precision oscillatory material delivery system feeding transmissive X-ray diffraction and fluorescence spectrometry experiments.  Thirty-two sample chambers (including five containing fixed references) are arrayed around a sample wheel; the chambers are arranged in pairs with a PICMA actuator coupling each pair. The actuators are used to load sample powder into the chambers and to unload it once metrology is concluded.  Clearly, their reliability is crucial to the mission's success.  Metrology is performed during the Martian night so that the CCD sensor can be efficiently cooled.  This rover never sleeps!

While the PICMA actuators are hard at work performing spectrometry on Martian mineral samples, another experiment called ChemCam is busy performing the first interplanetary Laser Induced Breakdown Spectrometry (LIBS).  This all-optical, non-contact technique utilizes a powerful, pulsed infrared laser to induce optical emission from interesting samples.  The visible, sparking flash that results from each laser pulse is evaluated by a fiber-coupled spectrometer, with chemometric analysis providing the material breakdown of the sample.

One key advantage of this methodology is that the geologic sample being tested can be a distance from the rover.  But it requires exacting control of the optical focus, and that's where a space-qualified variant of the PI miCos MT Series stage comes in.  This high-precision stepper-motor stage axially translates the secondary mirror of the telescope which collects the optical return from the sample while providing imaging information to place the sample within geologic context.

The shocks and vibration of launch and landing necessitated that every component in the stage from the stepper motor to the crossed roller bearings be validated and optimized to eliminate the possibility of failure or degradation.  The autofocus process places stringent demands on the stage's performance-- resolution, backlash, trajectory quality and stability are all crucial for responsive and predictable operation and reliable data.  The wide temperature excursions to which the stage was to be exposed in flight and on the Martian surface added significantly to the challenge.  Modeling and thermal compensation technologies and sophisticated vacuum-compatible components, coatings and lubricants were utilized.  This specialized variant of the commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) stage passed all preflight tests and validated the cost-containment strategy of leveraging COTS designs.

Of course, performance, reliability and cost-effectiveness have their place here on Earth as well. Contact your local PI sales engineer for the finest products and applications advice in the solar system.