Beginning Robotics

Hey guys!
I was looking for some advice. I'm interested in robot-building as a hobby...do you guys have any idea where to start? I mean, I want to
take this seriously but don't want to spend thousands of dollars either. My goal is that in a few years to be entering robots into competitions and stuff.
I am a programmer, but I have very little experience with hardware and electronics.
In other words, can you please give me a starting point? Like a book/website/club or anything like that to get me started buildign robots?
I appreciate any advice.
Thanks! George C. Linderman
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snipped-for-privacy@gmail.com wrote:

I'm in the same boat; it sounds like I'm just a year or so ahead of you. For what it's worth, here's what I've found:
- Find a local robotics club. Some areas have very active ones; others not so much, but chances are you'll find a few gurus in the area who can help you with the tricky bits.
- Learn to solder. I resisted this, due to a bad experience with it years ago, but I've found that robotics without soldering is basically impossible for all but tho most limited of kits. Get a decent soldering station -- I got mine on eBay for $30, but spending $50-$100 is not unreasonable -- and if possible, get somebody experienced to help you get started. Then just practice.
- Since you say you want to enter competitions and such, you might want to start by deciding what sort of competitions interest you most. There are three main types that I see:
1. "Battle bots" -- basically armored RC cars with destructive weapons.
2. Small wheeled bots -- typically, with an emphasis on sensors and AI, doing tasks like navigation, line following, and autonomous sumo.
3. Robo-Ones -- mostly popular in Japan, but starting to catch on here too, these are little humanoid robots that do nondestructive "fighting" (trying to push knock down or push the other out of a ring) as well as other events (climbing stairs, working doorknobs, etc.), some of them autonomous and some remote controlled.
You can certainly dabble in all three, but if you're on a tight budget it might be sensible to pick your favorite and focus your purchases on that. The three categories listed above have rather different hardware -- battle-bots need a largish, heavy chassis and body plating, and really strong motors, and almost no sensors; small wheeled bots get by with light components but need lots of sensors and processor power; robo-ones consist almost entirely of servos (15-20 of them!) and brackets, and are probably somewhere between the other two categories in terms of sensors and computation.
Why not follow up with more information about what interests you -- or questions about the above categories, if they're not clear -- and we can direct you to some more specific resources.
You might also post what part of the world you live in; there's a chance someone else here lives nearby and will be willing to give you a leg up.
Best, - Joe
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first, come up with an idea for something simple you want to build, say a tea dipping machine or soemthing.
start: if (os == windows) { download("mirc", "http://www.mirc.com/get.html "); install ("mirc"); } else if (os == linux) { if (NO_XWINDOWS) { install("bitchx"); } else { install("xchat"); } } else if (os == macos) { getPC(); installOS(); goto(start); }
start( irc_application); set("server", "irc.freenode.org"); // or irc.linux.org set("channel", "robotics"); ask("who can help me build %s\n", robot_description);
/* at this point someone will tell you what you need to forridge for, printers, vcr's etc etc to make your robot. you may have to invest in some tools. */
dan
Joe Strout wrote:

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There's a bug (or at best, a serious performance problem) in your code here. There are dozens of good IRC clients for MacOS, any of which would be FAR more efficient than using a PC. :)
Cheers, - Joe
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I suppose not since they are using a freebsd core, but development applications are generally easier found and worked with on a pc
dan
Joe Strout wrote:

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Ah, thank you for this information.
I currently am in Cleveland area, Ohio. I'm going to be moving back to Albania in a month or so, and I'm almost certain there aren't any robot clubs there. So, unless there is some type of online club I could get into I don't know how else it would work.
As far as different types, I don't' really know exactly what I want. I was just thinking to maybe start making some small-wheeled bots to do useful stuff....then just keep on programming it to make it better. After I got some experience I thought some of those battle-bot competitions would be real cool.
For my first basic robot, would you recommend me making it from a kit? Like one of those lego things? I heard about that, but I'd really like to do something that's brain-intensive and involves much more than snapping pieces together. Are there any books you could recommend to get me on to some serious building?
I'm looking forward to your response.
Thanks, George C. Linderman
Joe Strout wrote:

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snipped-for-privacy@gmail.com wrote:

Well, that seems like an odd order of operations to me -- if you want to get into battle-bot competitions you'd be better off starting with RC cars (or trucks, or tanks) rather than the small wheeled bots. Battle bots have a lot more in common with the former than the latter, and RC vehicles are a very well-developed hobby that's easy to get into.

Hah -- I see you've never tried to build a LEGO bot (or at least, not without following directions)! They're very brain-intensive; the LEGO just makes it so you don't have to worry as much about fabricating custom parts. It's still nontrivial to build a good bot.
So sure, a Mindstorms NXT kit might be a good place to start. They're robust, mechanically flexible, and have a very strong online following where you could get a lot of help (e.g. http://news.lugnet.com/robotics/).
My main complaint with Mindstorms is that the controller can only control three motors, which isn't very many degrees of freedom. But then, I dream of building humanoids with like 15-20 DOF; many hobbyists have other ambitions, for which 3 DOF is just fine. You can do a decent job at robot sumo, for example.

Nope, I have a few robotics books but haven't used them very much, so I'm no help there.
Best, - Joe
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snipped-for-privacy@gmail.com wrote:

You can sign up for various clubs on line. Some are more chatty than others.

I've been in this hobby for 10 years and I still haven't managed to put together a robot that does anything "useful". They do entertain tho'. I hope that one of these days I will have a robot that actually does something useful
> then just keep on programming it to make it better.

The battle-bot stuff is really a lot closer to the RC car space than autonomous hobby robot space. We get along.

The Lego stuff is OK and there is a huge on-line community that you can tap into. I kept running into the Lego system limitations (3 motors and 3 inputs) so I moved on. The NXT system is better in that it is 3 motors and 4 inputs and you chain up to three NXT systems together.
For books, _Robot_Building_for_Beginners_ by David Cook is pretty good. He has a follow on book called _Intermediate_Robot_Building_. Gordon McComb's _Robot_Builder's_Bonanza:_99_Inexpensive_Robotics_Projects_ is an old standby. (It is the book that got me started.) The _Robot_Builder's_Sourcebook:_Over_2,500_Sources_for_Robot_Parts_ by Gordon McComb is also handy to have on the shelf. Gordon frequently posts on this list.
There are many many more Robotics books, the problem is picking and choosing between them. I use inter-library loan to prevue a book before purchase. Alas, many of the Robot books out their are "me to" books that repeat what is written in other books. Once you have one or two beginners books, you probably don't need any more.
Lastly, subscribing to some Robot magazines is a good idea. There are now two robotics magazines in the US that are focused on robotics -- "Servo" and "Robot". A number of magazines out there are now doing electronic delivery, so you can just download them over the internet -- Cicuit Cellar, Everyday Practical Electronics are two such. Both Servo and Nuts and Volts have an electronic edition, but you must be on-line to access them (no off-line viewing.) I purchase the annual Servo and Nuts and Volts CD for off-line viewing.
-Wayne

[snip]
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I'm thinking about just getting a LEGO Mindstorms kit. I wish there was a kit that was a bit harder to build...so I'm doing actual soldering and stuff like that. Do you know of any of these? Also, I had a question regarding programming robots. Can I use C# to program mindstorm and other robots? Or only VB? I ask because I know C#, and I would rather not learn another language.
Anyway, I really appreciate all the help.
Thanks, George C. Linderman
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Wayne C. Gramlich wrote:

Not the case! I download a fresh PDF of both Servo and Nuts and Volts every month. On line viewing not required.
Kevin
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snipped-for-privacy@glenevin.com wrote:

Kevin:
I stand corrected. When I went back and looked at the Nuts and Volts site, there was a download button for downloading the PDF. Either it wasn't there when they first offered their electronic edition, or I simply never saw it. In fact, I'll have to call up the folks at Nuts and Volts and Servo and cancel my paper subscription, since I personally prefer electronic delivery of magazines.
The reason for focusing on electronic editions of magazines is that getting paper versions delivered across the pond to Albania can be an expensive proposition. Electronic delivery is much more practical.
-Wayne
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snipped-for-privacy@gmail.com wrote:

hi neo its not hard to make robots, but you need patientce.first you need to know microcontroller programming. try programming microcontrollers for running DC and stepper motors then it will be easy to design robots.the other important thing is the building of body structure of robots.when you practice two or three bots you will get experience in this area also.just try.....dont hesitate.
all the best. regards kumaresh

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everything you need is all around you, the trick is knowing its there and what to do with it.
kumaresh wrote:

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snipped-for-privacy@gmail.com wrote:

If you're gonna be leaving the country in a month, then you better stock up on some goodies before you go. Probably less trouble to get them before you leave.
If you're a beginner, then I'd recommend starting with a small differentially-steered base, driven by 2 modified R/C servos, and an easily programmable controller board. I really don't care much for most full kits, as you probably have a lot more flexibility by putting together a few basic parts yourself. You can easily do this for $100-150 range.
I like the mini-sumo bases from junun, and the various differential steering bases from Gordon McComb's site ...
http://www.junun.org/MarkIII/Store.jsp http://www.budgetrobotics.com/
I also like the treaded tanks of Gordon's. I have one of his servo-tanks, which is pretty cool, but he has a couple of new ones too. The regular mini-sumo bases have a scoop on the front, and won't run well except on flat hard floors, unless modifed with some kind of a wheel/etc.
I'd probably stay away from the 4WD bases for a first bot. Also, R/C servos for drive are a lot easier to interface and control, compared to going with regular DC motors and h-bridges.
So you need, at minimum ...
(1) base (1) controller board (1) sonar (2) IR proximity detectors or bump switches
Also, maybe a serial LCD readout display, but you can also do a lot with a few flashing Leds, to indicate operating mode, etc.
For a controller board, I don't have a specific recommendation. I actually sell some oopic boards, but would actually recommend a Basic Stamp for a beginner. I don't like the BOEBOT boards myself, as they're big and lumpy, and not really made for small bots with semi-permanent interfaces to peripherals. So I don't know of any other specific carrier boards for the Stamp, but they must be out there.
- dan michaels www.oricomtech.com =====================
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George,
You have received a lot of good advice so far and, as you can see, there are many ways to start out. For very self-centered reasons, I would recommend that you get a subscription to Servo right away. The main reason is that Servo is planning to start publishing my series "Beginner's Robotics on $50 a month" in December. (Yes everyone, I FINALLY got it done!) This is a project I have been working on for around two years and it might give you a way to start. It is aimed at beginners who have no background in robotics and want a cookbook style introduction to the systems and techniques they will be using most often in designing and building small mobile robots at a low monthly cost.
The series starts by teaching basic soldering and then walks you through building a small robot that. Iin the series the bot is programmed in BASCOM (a type of BASIC), but can also be programmed in WINAVR (a type of GCC). By following the series, you will build and interface to a microcontroller a programming cable, H bridge motor drivers, IR obstacle detectors, bump sensors, and light detectors. You will also interface sonar, servos, an LCD display, and do interchip communication.
The series mostly covers hardware which will be the same no matter what programming language you pick. Wright Hobbies (http://www.wrighthobbies.net/index.htm ) is going to provide a kit for each month so getting parts won't be a problem (although, your shipping will nudge the cost a little above $50 a month).
Another option you might want to look at is Similey Micros "C Programming for Microcontrollers" and Butterfly project kit. (http://www.smileymicros.com/index.php?module=pagemaster&PAGE_user_op=view_page&PAGE_id=7&MMN_position=9:9 ) You don't build a mobile robot from the kit, but you learn all of the interfacing strategies you need to know in order to build one.
Doing either (or if you can afford to, both) will give you a good start in the hobby.
Good luck Catman (Paul Pawelski)
dan michaels wrote:

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That sounds like a really great series (Beginning Robotics)... But there is a problem. We don't really know when we'll be leaving to Albania again, and to subscribe to the magazine without a permanent adress would obviously not be wise. If they do international shipping I will definately consider that as a great option once I move to Albania (whenever that is).

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snipped-for-privacy@gmail.com wrote:

You can sign up for the electronic edition, thereby avoiding shipping issues; all you need is internet connectivity. Contrary to one of my eariler posts, which was incorrect, you *can* download a .pdf of each issue and browse the magazine at your convenience.
-Wayne
[snip]
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