Not sure what I need for my remote motor project

I’m so glad I found Pololu as I had yet to find anything remotely “off the shelf” for motor control that doesn’t require a ton of advanced electrical and programming knowledge. Despite that, I’m looking for some advice on what I need for my project. I’m pretty sure the 18v7 is going to work overall, but I’m not certain of additional components I might need. Here’s what I’m doing:

I have a motor that will be turning a large vacuum variable capacitor (this is on a DIY amateur radio antenna). The motor will be located remotely in my backyard about 100’ away and out of sight from where I’ll be operating it. For those unfamiliar with vacuum variable capacitors, they can only be adjusted so far in either direction. Spin the shaft too far to the left and it will fall out. Spin it too far to the right and it will eventually bottom out and the resulting sudden dead stop of the shaft would probably tear the motor right off its mount and/or damage the capacitor.

My first thought was I need a couple of limit switches, but further consideration leads me to believe this won’t work well. The in/out movement of the capacitor shaft is small enough that properly triggering a limit switch is going to be problematic. As an example, the switch might get triggered to shut off the motor at some distance before “dead stop,” but there might actually be several more safe rotations the motor could make before that point. Stopping it too early could easily cut me out of a band or two of transmission capability. So what I’m thinking would make more sense would be some way to control the specific number of rotations of the motor in either direction. Through visual observation testing, I could calculate the maximum number of rotations I can safely make to the left or right. What I can’t determine, however, is if the Pololu software is capable of such a level of control? Or perhaps some additional accessory is needed to accomplish what I’m trying to do?

If the motor or capacitor has a shaft with a free end, a shaft encoder will allow you to count fractional rotations (e.g. 16ths, 64ths or higher).

Most shaft encoders are relative, which means you need some way to set the encoder position to a known value every time the system is powered up. A limit switch at one end of the rotation, activated by a lever, works well to set the zero position.

Depending on the torque required to rotate the capacitor shaft, you could consider a stepping motor and driver (typically 200 steps/rotation). Shaft position is again relative, so you need a limit switch to set the zero.

For all of this you will need a microcontroller to take commands, control the motor driver and count fractional shaft rotations.

Thanks very much for the advice, Jim! I’ve done some reading on the rotary encoder option and that might be a bit more complex than I need (not to mention they aren’t cheap either). I might play around with a couple of inexpensive limit switches I have laying around to see if I can make them work without losing too much accuracy. Thanks again!