Looking for interesting ideas: remote control via a PC

Hello,
I'm pretty new to robotics, but I've been in IT for a long time and I'm pretty good with all things systems (including C/C++, memory I/O,
etc). I'm looking for ideas on a Master's project in software engineering. I'm really interested in embedded systems of all types, so I was thinking of writing a program that would remotely control some sort of a toy robot, say a toy car, from a PC. The control protocol would be either IR or Bluetooth or RF, or something similar. Since I'm new to the actual control part, I'm looking for some advice on where to start, which protocol/solution to spend time on, etc.
Thanks.
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I was thinking it would be cool to demonstrate remote control of a toy car from a Window CE handheld. Of course this assumes that the toy car has built-in intelligence to understand IR or Bluetooth. Any advice on the resources I should pursue is appreciated!
Thanks.
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First of all, I would suggest you stick to RF control instead of IR. IR, being line-of-sight, is very limited for RC car control.
Many RC cars are controlled with 2-channel PWM RF signal, one for throttle and one for steering. If you google "hobby servo" you can learn all about it. So you could hack into the transmitter that comes with the car and control it at a low level with the CE box. I've never done this. It would probably be challenging.
Us robot geeks would normally put a microcontroller with some smarts on the car to command the throttle and steering, add some environmental feedback sensors, and just send higher level commands and data from/to the PC via RF (using something like Zigbee serial).
BRW
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Indeed, quite challenge.
You have to make a choice between two methods: 1- as pointed out in BRW's message, you follow the trade and apply RF transmission as in any RC vehicle on the market 2- you follow the high level one which means that you apply either Bluetooth or Wireless as it is often the case in mobile robotics.
In the first case, I would suggest not to apply any form of navigation, path control or higher level at the vehicle level. But, you will have to temper with the RC vechicle in many ways: - Vehicle electronics: in order have the sensor readings returned to the remote "control" box through some channels with an transmitter. - Remote electronics: add a receiver, buffer circuit and interface for a link to your computer through a serial link or USB or any other. - Vehicle mechanics: You will also have to fit a least two sensors on the vehicle, one for the drive speed and one for the steering position. - Control: your feedback loops could be done either at the remote "control" level with a special circuit or PC level.
This becomes a much more complex problem being now mechatronical, meaning you have to master mechanics, electronics, control and computer science (for this last issue: you seem to be capable). It is one of my master student's project proposals.
In the second case, this becomes a classical mobile robot problem. But, here, you will have to strip the RC vechicle out of its electonics circuit and replace it completely with a true robot control system.You will have to fit sensors in. You could do like they did for the Surveyor SRV-1 robot: http://www.surveyor.com/SRV_info.html In the system demo, the control is completely done at the PC level and the vehicle does not do any type of control. This approach has its advantages if your not going to have transmission problems or crowding, but this approach can be very risky since hackers can come and take control of your vehicle.
The originality there could be to determine the distribution of control in order to have reliable and safe operation.
Bests
BRW wrote:

...
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On Fri, 9 May 2008 11:09:41 -0700 (PDT), usenetjunkie

You may want to look into the Zipit gizmos. They are often available on ebay, with the version 1 going for ~$20 or less. Other options might be cell phone/laptop adapters and reflashed wireless routers.
http://www.openzipit.org/ http://www.zipitwireless.com/linux.html http://www.aibohack.com/zipit/index.html http://tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/zipitwireless /
http://search.ebay.com/search/search.dll?from=R40&_trksid=m37&satitle=zipit&category0
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Try Endurance RC. They've got a great module and it's only $50 USD.
http://www.endurance-rc.com/pctx.html
Also here's a simple robot by Net kit.
http://www.robotstore.com/store/product.asp?pid21&catid
Good Luck.
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