Fast Stepper Motor Library for Teensy boards
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TeensyStep - Fast Stepper Library for PJRC Teensy boards


Problem to be Solved

A lot of interesting projects require the movement of things. An easy way to implement such a transport system is the use of stepper motors driven by readily available stepper drivers. Those drivers usually expect simple step and direction signals to move the motors. However, due to the motor inertia they can not be started at full speed but need a smooth acceleration or deceleration to the final velocity. Otherwise the step counters maintained by the application and the real motor positions can run out of sync (steploss errors). Practically all modern stepper drivers can operate in a so called microstepping mode where the mechanically fixed step positions (usually 200 per rev) are electronically subdivided into a number of microsteps. While microstepping is great to increase resolution and to reduce vibration at low velocity it requires high pulse rates at even moderate motor speeds. Lets look at a typical example: Assume we have a standard 1.8° stepper (200 steps/rev) and want to run it at a speed of 1200 rpm in 1/16 micro stepping mode. The required pulse rate r can be calculated by:

    r = (16 * 200 stp/rev * 1'200 rev/min) / (60 s/min) = 64'000 stp/s

Of course there are other Arduino stepper libraries available, e.g. the well known AccelStepper,  the standard Arduino Stepper Library or Laurentiu Badeas Stepper Driver to name a few. However, I found none which is able to handle accelerated synchronous and independent moves of more than one motor at the high pulse rates required for microstepping drivers.

Purpose of the Library

TeensyStep is an efficient Arduino library compatible with Teensy 3.0, 3.1, 3.2, 3.5 and 3.6. The library is able to handle synchronous and independent movement and continuous rotation of steppers with pulse rates of up to 300'000 steps per second. The following table shows a summary of the TeensyStep specification:

Description Specification Default
Motor speed / pulse rate 1) 1 - 300'000 stp/s 800 stp/s
Acceleration 2) 0 - 500'000 stp/s^2 2500 stp/s^2
Pull in speed 3) 50-10'000 stp/s 100 stp/s
Synchronous movement of motors up to 10 -
Independent movement of motors 4 groups of 1 to 10 motors -
Settable step pulse polarity Active HIGH or LOW Active HIGH
Settable step pulse width 1-100µs 5µs
Settable direction signal polarity cw / ccw cw

[1] Depending on Teensy model

[2] An acceleration of say 1200 stp/s^2 will accelerate the motor from 0 to 1200 stp/s in 1 second, or from 0 to 2400 stp/s in 2 seconds...

[3] This is the speed up to which the motor can start without acceleration.

Here a short video showing two steppers running at 160000 steps/s.



TeensyStep basically uses the following two classes to control the steppers

Stepper Class

The Stepper class encapsulates the following physical properties of a stepper motor and its driver:

  • Pin numbers of the STEP and DIR signals.
  • Maximium and pull-in speed of the motor (pull-in speed is the speed up to which the motor can be started without the need for acceleration).
  • Step pulse polarity, i.e., does your driver require active high or active low step pulses.
  • Setting for inverted rotation direction

Here a short snippet showing the usage of the stepper class

// define a few motors
Stepper motor_1(2,3); // STEP at pin 2, DIR at pin 3
Stepper motor_2(4,5); // STEP at pin 4, DIR at pin 5
Stepper motor_3(6,7); // STEP at pin 6, DIR at pin 7
void setup() {
    // Setup some motor properties
    motor_1.setMaxSpeed(64000);         // stp/s
    motor_1.setAcceleration(200000);    // stp/s^2
    // you can also use a 'fluent interface' to set the properties
        .setMaxSpeed(30000)             // stp/s
        .setPullInSpeed(800)            // stp/s
        .setAcceleration(150000);       // stp/s^2
        .setStepPulsePolarity(LOW)      //motor connected to an active low driver
        .setMaxSpeed(45000)             // stp/s
        .setAcceleration(200000);       // stp/s^2      .

Set Target Postions and the Internal Step Counter

The stepper class also keeps track of the current position and is used to set a new target position. Target positions can be set absolutely or relative to the current position.

uint pos = motor_1.getPosition();   // get current position of the motor
motor_1.setTargetAbs(pos + 100);    // sets the target position 100 steps ahead of the current position
motor_1.setTargetRel(100);          // does the same thing directly

Setting a new position:

int pos = motor_1.getPosition();     // get the current value of the step counter (position)
pos += 1000;                         
motor_1.setPosition(pos);             // set a new value of the step counter 

This would advance the internal step counter by 1000 steps without generating any movement.

StepControl Class

The StepControl class is responsible for actually moving the motors

Moving to targets

StepControl<> controller;                    // construct a controller object

controller.move(motor_1);                    // This will move motor_1 to its target position
controller.move(motor_2, motor_3);           // Moves motor_2 and motor_3 to their target positions

controller.move(motor_1, motor_2, motor_3);  // Move all motors back to the starting position

The move command is blocking. I.e., it will not return until the movement is finished. If you need to do some work while the motors are rotating you can use the non blocking moveAsync command.

controller.moveAsync(motor_1, motor_2);     // This will start the movement and return immediately

while(controller.isRunning()){              // wait until the movement is finished

Stopping a movement

You can stop the movement of the motors at any time with the stop() and stopAsync() commands. Both commands will decelerate the motors in the normal way to avoid steploss.

controller.stop()      // stops the movement and waits until all motors stand still
controller.stopAsync() // initiates the stopping sequence and returns immediately

In case of an emergency you can immediately stop the movement at any time by calling

controller.emergencyStop()  // stops the movement immediately

Since this command will stop the motor without proper decelleration a loss of steps is very likely.

Continuous Rotation

Instead of moving to a fixed position you can also initiate a synchronous rotation of one or more motors:


controller.rotateAsync(motor_1, motor_2);   // start rotation of both motors

controller.stop()                           // stop rotation after 5s

The motors will rotate synchronously with the given step frequencies. The synchronicity of the movement is also kept during acceleration and deceleration.

Negative values of the setMaxSpeed parameter will rotate the motor in the other direction.

Movement Modes

If you want to control more than one motor there are three different possibilities to do so. Lets assume the standard belt driven x/y transport shown in the figures below. There are two motors (M1 and M2) which move a load (symbolized by the blue ring) on linear guides (pale blue). M1 moves the load in y-direction and M2 in x-direction.

Sequential Movement

The simplest thing you can do is to move the motors one after the other:

StepControl<> controller;               


controller.move(M1);           // Move M1 to the target position (targetY)
controller.move(M2);           // Move M2_to the target position (targetX) 

The resulting movement is shown in the figure below.

Sequential Movement

Synchronous Movement

If you want to move on a straight line between the two positions StepControl needs to adjust the step rate of one of the motors in relation to the other. Of course, this adjustment is necessary during the complete movement including the acceleration and deceleration phases. StepControl uses Bresenham's line algorithm to do this adjustment.

Using synchronous movements with TeensyStep is easy: the controller accepts up to 10 motors in its move and moveAsync command. All motors which are passed to the commands will be moved synchronously.

StepControl<> controller;               


controller.move(M1, M2);        // Move M1 _and_ M2 to the target position 

The resulting movement is shown in the figure below.

Synchronous Movement

Independent Movement

Sometimes it is necessary to move one or more motors independently but at the same time as the other motors. Lets extend our example by another transport module (motor M3) which can move left / right only. This transport is supposed to bring fresh samples (red dot) to a transfer area. This transport shall be done independently of the x/y transport which is still moving around. To accomplish this we need to create a second controller for motor M3.

StepControl<> controller_1;
StepControl<> controller_2;
controller_1.moveAsync(M1, M2);   // synchronous movement of M1 and M2
// ... more controller_1 movements....

controller_2.moveAsync(motor_3);  // move M3 to the transfer station, independent of M1/M2 movements which run in parallel
while(controller_1.isRunning() || controller_2.isRunning()){  // wait until both controllers finished their movements
// do the sample transfer...

Independend Movement

Used Resources


Each StepControl object requires one IntervallTimer and two channels of a FTM timer. Since all supported Teensies implement four PIT timers and the FTM0 module which has 8 timer channels the usage is limited to 4 StepControl objects existing at the same time. In case you use TeensyStep together with other libraries reserving one ore more IntervallTimer the number of available StepControl objects is reduced accordingly. You can use the isOK() member to check if the Controller object was able to reserve a IntervallTimer.

StepControl<> cnt1;
StepControl<> cnt2;
StepControl<> cnt3;

if(!(cnt1.isOk() && cnt2.isOk() && cnt3.isOk()))

A StepControl object requires 96 bytes of stack or static memory.


You can define as many Stepper objects as you like. Stepper objects do not use any system resources except 56 bytes of stack or static memory.


The table in the figure below shows some information about the performance of the library. To estimate the generated processor load we need to know the time it takes for handling acceleration, Bresenham algorithm and switching the STEP and DIR signals. The experiment was done by setting a digital pin to HIGH when the processor enters the corresponding ISR and back to LOW when it leaves it. The actual times were measured with a logic analyzer, the processor load was calculated for various conditions and processors. (The .xlsx spreadsheet can be downloaded here).

Alt text

Summarizing: Moving one motor at 100kHz generates a processor load of about 10% for a T3.6 and some 28% for a T3.2. Handling 3 motors at that speed generates a load of 13% and 34% respectively. The results roughly fit to the difference in the clock frequency of both boards. Numbers in the table are linear in motor speed, i.e. half the step rate generates half of the load.