Still at stage one, but I realized here that I'll need some sort of controller.
What I want to build is simple, but it all seems to center on the control. Which made me realize that it's not like I'll be able to buy an adaptor card that goes into my computer and I can just access "sensor 1, 2, 3...etc".
So can someone point me out to a good startting point? A book, a link, anything?
I see all these cool empty circuit boards, but that's beyond me. Maybe this whole thing is beyond me?
My unabashedly biased opinion: I wrote a book, now in its third edition, called Robot Builder's Bonanza. It's an "idea" book with lots of projects for various kinds of robotics things, from building a small little rover to some arms and grippers. It'll help you learn what you need to learn while giving you ideas for the future.
I suggest a kit to get you going if you don't want to start from scratch. The Parallax Boe-Bot is a good start, and it comes with a Basic Stamp microcontroller and an excellent tutorial book. There are some add-ons for the Boe-Bot, but you can also take the important guts from it and upgrade the pieces. I run a part-time company providing inexpensive parts for putting together a scratch-build robot for when you already have the other pieces, like motors and wheels. The Web site is
Most of the parts are compatible with the Boe-bot components.
I also have some ready-made kits if you want to keep your Boe-bot intact. (Mine still is.)
As you grow in experience, you might then look for other microcontroller systems, like the OOPic, IsoPod, MAVRIC, and others. By the time you get to that point you'll know what you'll be looking for. There's no point in worrying about that now, other than to know lots of neat stuff is waiting for you.
There are other sources for kits you might look into: Solarbotics, Junun, Robotics Connection, Lynxmotion (mostly higher end) and several others. Do a G or Y search and you'll find them. I also HIGHLY recommend SERVO magazine, which you can get at many newsstands, or through the mail. Their Web site is
I write a monthly column for them.
If you're needing to start even simpler than this, I recommend LEGO Mindstorms. The older Invention System (the ones with the yellow "brain") are available used for pretty cheap. Try eBay. The latest is the NXT system, which is more capable, but more money.
I haven't myself used an empty circuit board in years. Life is too short for all that soldering!
Those are very nice. Hobbyists have been using BASIC on STAMPs for far too many years because they had to learn to much to use the newer microcontrollers. Now, finally, small, cheap boards with a faster CPU and an easy to use yet hard-compiled environment.
Time for another unabashedly biased opinion: I agree that you want to have Gordon's book and you want to get a subscription to Servo magazine.
Servo is currently running a series I'm writing called "Beginner's Robotics on $50 a Month". The series started in December with an article talking about basic hand tools you will need, tips for shopping on-line and how to solder. This month's article shows you how to build a basic robot with an AVR microcontroller and program it in BASCOM (a type of Basic for the AVR microcontrollers). Next month's article will show you haw to build an infrared obstacle sensor, bump sensor, and attach an LCD display. Eddy Wright at Wright Hobbies will be writing a fourth article for the series which will add a servo positioned sonar and a second microcontroller. Wright Hobbies is also selling a kit for each month's article.
No matter which way you chose to start, don't be afraid to ask questions in this group whenever you get stuck. No matter what microcontroller, what programming language, or what kit you are using there is someone reading this group who has done the same thing and can help you out.