The electric scooter controller is one of the most important parts of the vehicle, yet it is one of the most mysterious components that very few people are familiar with.
This guide will give you a good idea of why controllers matter, what types are better than others, what you need to do to maintain them, and pretty much everything you need to know about them to keep your scooter in the best shape possible.
What is an electric scooter controller?
A controller is often termed as the brain of an electric scooter because it manages the vehicle’s whole electrical system. It’s usually housed in a metallic rectangular box fitted under the deck of an electric scooter, often together with the battery. The controller communicates with all the electrical components to ensure the scooter functions smoothly. Some of the major responsibilities of an electric scooter controller include braking and regulating power from the battery to the other scooter components.
Which controller is used in an electric scooter?
Most modern electric scooters are equipped with brushless DC (BLDC) motors, and so they have brushless DC motor controllers to operate their electrical system efficiently. These controllers are popular for being noiseless and providing the scooter with smooth acceleration and braking.
There are also electric scooters with inbuilt controllers that have advanced features like torque control and regenerative braking.
Some lower-end electric scooter models are fitted with brushed DC motor controllers, which are simpler and less expensive. They are less efficient and more noisy than BLDC motors.
How do electric scooter controllers work?
The controller is a circuit responsible for communicating with all the electrical components of the electric scooter. It takes information in the form of signals from input components, e.g., throttle and brake, through different sensors. Then, it processes the received signals and translates them into commands for the output components, e.g., the motor.
Electric scooter controller functions
To get a clearer idea of how the controller works, let’s discuss some of its main functions.
Increasing the speed of an electric scooter
When you pull on the throttle lever to increase the speed of your electric scooter, the electronics from the throttle send a signal to the controller. The controller processes the received input signal from the rider using a speed control algorithm to determine how much power it needs to regulate to the motor.
Since the controller has to work in accordance with the overall electrical system, the algorithm takes into account the scooter’s battery level and some other parameters for its calculations.
The controller will then send the exact amount of power needed to the motor by regulating the voltage and current levels flowing from the battery to the motor. This is done by pulse width modulation (PWM), which regulates power by changing the width of the electrical pulses being sent to the motor.
In response to the modified pulses, the motor will increase its speed.
Stopping the electric scooter
Another major responsibility of the controller is to cut off the power when the rider brakes the electric scooter. Using the brake lever, the rider sends a signal to the controller that they want to stop the e-scooter. The controller processes the signal using a brake algorithm to determine how much the power that’s being sent to the motor needs to be reduced.
Once it calculates the exact amount, it accordingly starts reducing the pulse width of the electric signals going to the motor to slow it down or stop it. To make sure the deceleration is as smooth as possible and not abrupt, the controller constantly regulates power to the motor until the scooter completely stops.
Other main functions of the controller include protecting the electrical components from damage caused by over-voltage, low-voltage, temperature, and over-current. It also manages the scooter’s speed in cruise control mode.
Electric scooter controller specifications
The specification sheet of a controller can help you determine its performance and if it is compatible with the rest of your scooter.
The most important specifications mentioned in the sheet will be the controller’s voltage measured in volts, current expressed in amperes, and power measured in watts.
Other details in the specification sheet usually include the controller’s dimensions, weight, display type, and stored algorithms. You’ll also find what kind of throttles the controller is compatible with and whether it supports regenerative braking.
The most common voltages found in electric scooter controllers are 24V, 36V, 48V, and 60V.
Always remember to use an electric controller with the same voltage as the motor of the electric scooter to avoid damage. So, a 24V controller should be paired with a 24V motor, while a 36V controller should be paired with a 36 V motor. You get the idea.
The controller’s current should be compatible with the current of the motor and battery. To determine the appropriate current for your controller, you need to know the maximum current output of your battery and the maximum draw current of your motor.
If the controller’s current is more than the maximum output current of the battery, it can damage the battery and even cause a fire. For better performance, the controller’s current should at least be equal to the maximum draw current of the motor.
The power rating of the controller indicates the maximum power it can regulate to the motor as output. It’s important that you match the controller’s power rating to the motor’s to make sure both are compatible to work with each other. Pairing a controller with a motor that’s too powerful will end up damaging the controller.
What are the different types of electric scooter controllers?
Here are some common types of controllers found in electric scooters and how they compare to each other.
Brushed DC vs Brushless DC controllers
Brushed DC controllers are designed to work with brushed DC motors. These motors are equipped with brushes that make contact with the commutator to supply power to the motor’s windings. This makes the motor turn to move the scooter forward. A brushed DC controller works to adjust the direction and speed of the motor by regulating the power being supplied to its brushes.
These controllers are simpler than brushless DC (BLDC) motors, so they are cheaper and mostly found in low-performance electric scooters.
BLDC controllers can only be paired with BLDC motors which use electronic commutation with a permanent magnet instead of brushes to power the motor’s windings. These controllers are more efficient than brushed DC controllers, are less noisy, and require less maintenance.
However, they use complex circuitry and algorithms to regulate power to the motor, making them more expensive.
Sine wave vs square wave controllers
Sine waves and square waves are the common waveform types that electric scooter controllers use to drive the motor.
A sine wave controller uses sine waves to drive a motor, producing more consistent and smoother power outputs than square wave controllers. For this reason, they are more efficient and more stable in their operation. They are also quieter and offer better torque control.
Though these controllers are more expensive than square wave ones, their high performance is worth the investment, at least in my experience.
Square wave controllers generate square waves to drive the motor. Square waves are less smooth than sine waves and switch abruptly between positive and negative voltages. This is why they are less efficient, noisier, and cheaper than sine wave controllers.
They also produce more heat, which can affect the lifespans of the controller and motor.
Programmable controllers vs integrated controllers
Programmable and integrated controllers vary in terms of complexity and customization. Integrated controllers are perfect for entry-level electric scooters because they come pre-programmed and are easier to use. Since these controllers are simpler than programmable controllers, they are also less expensive.
Programmable controllers can be a real game changer for your electric scooter’s performance because they provide flexibility with a wide range of customization and modification options. This allows manufacturers to program in specific algorithms and adjust parameters like torque and speed according to the design of the electric scooter.
While these controllers offer more efficiency and performance than integrated controllers, they are also more expensive and complex. Also, only people with relevant expertise can program instructions into this type of controller.
Smart controllers are a step ahead of traditional controllers because they can use the Internet or Bluetooth to communicate with other devices and software. You can connect the controller to GPS software to track your movement and use advanced features like remote locking, for example.
These controllers can calculate an electric scooter’s precise position and motion using high-tech sensors, e.g., gyros, accelerometers, etc., to adjust and provide smoother operation. They can also quickly identify and troubleshoot any problem with your electric scooter, saving you time and money.
They are more expensive, but since they have advanced features and are more sophisticated than traditional controllers, I’d recommend investing in them if you have the opportunity.
What is the best electric scooter controller?
The best electric scooter controller for each rider can vary depending on the performance they want from their scooter. However, there are some controllers that out do the rest when it comes to performance.
The VESC (Vedder Electronic Speed Controller) is an open-source and programmable controller compatible with many sensors, motors, and batteries. It can be programmed using an open-source software of the same name, which can be used on Windows, Mac, or Linux.
The controller uses FOC (Field Oriented Control) technology instead of pulse width modulation to provide a smoother and more efficient output than a traditional controller. With VESC, you get precise control of the parameters of your escooter.
The only downside is that you’ll need technical knowledge to program it.
What is the price of an electric scooter controller?
Prices of electric scooter controllers can vary depending on the complexity of their design and the quality of the circuit components. You can get basic low-end controllers for a price between $10 – $20, but they aren’t that reliable or efficient.
Mid-range electric scooter controllers typically cost between $30-$100 and can be pretty good if you’re looking for a good quality controller that isn’t too complex.
Depending on its features, a high-quality controller with advanced technology can cost you between $200 to $500 or even more.
The cheaper price tag can be tempting, but I recommend investing in a reputable brand’s high-quality controller. Their controllers may be expensive but have longer lifespans and ensure high performance for your electric scooter.
How to maintain the controller on my electric scooter?
If your controller stops working correctly, it’s best to contact the manufacturer to get it repaired. You don’t want to mess with the complex circuitry without the necessary knowledge and expertise.
Signs of a damaged motor can include no or slow acceleration when you use the throttle, a burning smell, poor regenerative braking, the scooter not turning on despite being fully charged, etc.
While you probably won’t be able to repair a controller yourself without technical expertise and the proper tools, here are some things you can do to maintain it and increase its lifespan:
- Keep the controller dry by not riding your electric scooter through puddles and in the rain.
- Regularly clean your scooter with a microfiber cloth and a soft-bristled brush to get rid of any dust or accumulated dirt.
- Inspect the controller’s wiring from time to time for any tearing in the outer covering.
- Don’t overload your scooter by riding on hills steeper than it is designed for.
- Using an electric scooter excessively can cause the controller to heat up, so always make sure it has good ventilation and isn’t exposed to extremely hot temperatures. If you feel the controller is heating up, turn off your electric scooter and let it cool down. If you live in a place with high temperatures, I suggest checking out my guides on the best summer electric scooters and electric scooter summer tips.
- Always follow the instructions in the user manual on how to use your controller, and always use the manufacturer’s provided charger.
How do you replace an electric scooter controller?
If your controller is showing the following signs, it may be time to replace it:
- The controller is physically damaged
- You’re getting no response
- It’s supplying inconsistent power to the motor
To replace a faulty controller with a new one, you can follow these steps:
- Gather the necessary tools to open up your electric scooter, like suitable Allen keys and screwdrivers.
- Place your electric scooter on an elevated surface for a better view and easy access to the underside of your scooter where the controller is usually located.
- Most controllers are fitted under the deck of an electric scooter near the battery. Unscrew the battery cover and remove it.
- Disconnect the old controller’s connections with the other components of the electric scooter. Try to label the disconnected wires of the components so you can easily identify the connections when installing the new controller.
- Remove the old controller and install the new one in the same location by screwing it in.
- Connect the controller wires to the corresponding ones of the electric scooter components.
- Double-check the connections with a circuit diagram, if you have one, and screw the cover back onto the underside of the scooter.
- Lastly, test whether the controller works correctly and responds appropriately to user inputs.
You can also use this video as a visual reference to help you out.
How do you test an electric scooter controller?
To test if the controller is working correctly and responding appropriately to user input, follow these steps:
- Check if the controller speeds up when you use the throttle to accelerate your electric scooter.
- Next, test the controller by applying the brakes. If the wheels stop, it means the controller is working.
- Place the electric scooter upside down on an elevated surface and remove the battery cover from the underside.
- Disconnect the battery from the controller and measure its terminals with a multimeter to ensure the voltage range is correct. This verifies that the battery isn’t causing any issues.
- Use a continuity tester to detect any break-ins between the controller and the other components. Break-ins could mean the controller isn’t working properly.
- Measure the controller’s output voltage across the motor leads using a multimeter. Apply throttle and observe if the voltage value changes in response. If the value increases as you apply more throttle, it means your controller is working fine.
If you’re not confident doing these tests yourself, you can always have a professional do them instead.