First I want make sure everybody understand that this is a newbie
question. My expertise is with computers but I decided that I want to
study a little about robotic as a hobby. Now I wonder what kind of
artifacts I could craft using robotics that I can not simply buy on
stores or at least that are cheapest to craft than purchase. Any
examples you could provide me? Of course I understand that many times I
will build a device just to understand how it works but if I can create
useful everyday items it will be even more fun!
Welcome to the limitless potential of human brain, electronics and
mechanics! You have just entered the enlightened zone!
How about starting your understanding of basic robotics with an example to
be found in your own home if you have a furnace. Let's walk through this
system together as you visualize yourself pushing the thermostat control to
72 degrees. Look inside of the thermostat control on the wall, go inside the
plastic cover and you most likely will see a coil of copper-looking metal,
and a glass bulb on one end with silver looking liquid. This is the first
feedback sensor to your home comfort. As the temperature changes, the
metalic coil expands and in expanding changes the angle of the mercury in
the glass. If you watch carefully, the angle will reach a level then quickly
make that last minute movement that will let gravity take the mercury into
the opposite side of the glass. Inside the glass are two little wires
sticking up. When the mercury floods them, an electrical circuit has been
closed. The operative word here is, from zero to one. Enter the world of
digital electronics. The simple switch. Which will lead you to the yellow
brick road. But don't stop here. That closing of a circuit will now trigger
another set of logical building blocks. First, it will tell the pilot light
igniter in your furnace to turn on. To do this, a valve opening the pilot
light will open, and an igniter will turn on. Another sensor will detect
when the pilot has been turned on, and will signal the igniter that it has
done it's job, thank you, now shut up! As the pilot does it's job, another
sensor is monitoring the main furnace and will patiently wait for the main
gas valve to open, then will make sure the igniter has done it's job. When
the main gas is burning, another sensor tells the motor to turn on and keep
going while the firebox is lighted thus ensuring heat going into the home
and not burning up the furnace, then the home.
If you were to make a flow chart of this system, you will be years ahead of
most robotic enthusiasts who see the mechanics as one world and the
electronics as another world. You will see the infinite potential of
marrying the two brides: electronics/computers to the macho male mechanics,
breaking through yet another paradigm leaving human social order in the
Robotics allows us to break from the anchors of the past and fly into new
space and time constraints. Add artificial intelligence and eventually
mechanical learning and you will have a whole new world to explore.
Go ahead, draw a circuit diagram and logical electronic algorythm of a
typical home furnace. Then do the same for your automobile engine. Then, on
the side, keep a list of your thoughts as you go about this discovery.
Sooner or later you will have a list of things that you will convert into a
oops... a couple of 'corrections'.... the first scenario of coiled
bimetallic ribbon is shrinking with the chilling temperature changes in the
house, not expanding as envisioned.
Not a correction, but an addition... the circuit configuration is based on
relays, and the diagraming of this circuit would logically be, in guess
what? Ladder logic programming. The forerunner to most of all digital logic
stuff since the great divide in the mid 50's when the British Overseas
Airways Co. (BOAC) and United Airlines signed the document to pursue digital
training devices over analogue. Which turned the tide for all future
automation innovations. On that day, we went digital.
OK, I challenge you to find a device that will go into your back yard, test
soil for acid/alkaline, nutrition, moisture... compare to yearly rainfall
and temperatures, then select the exact plant to be sown into the soil for
harvest exactly on the even of your next thanksgiving dinner, define the
seed, search and find a supplier, order using barcode technology, receive,
plant.... along with a grape that can be squeezed into wine and fermented
and even chilled with mountain snow.... etc. Go for it!
Also, make sure the device has enough power at all times, so it will back
into a plug, sense the whole environment confirming humidity, temperature,
weather conditions and change programming accordingly.
PS - Ill buy the first model!!!!
Realistically, probably nothing much that's useful. A robotics hobby is
a form of education and entertainment; it's not something you do to make
things you couldn't otherwise get. Think of it like model railroading,
or RC car racing, or LEGO building. In all these cases -- as in
robotics for the most part -- to ask, "what is it good for?" is rather
missing the point.
Of course, in a very specific sense, each robot you create will be a
unique one-of-a-kind model, not available in any store.
I am speaking as a programmer and not a robotic's builder. (I am a
wannabe there.) What you get by building your own robot to fetch you
beer or what ever you choose to do, is the satisfaction of knowing YOU
The first computer program I wrote in Assembly was nothing more then
moving a Player Missle Graphic around the screen using the joystick.
(Atari 800) It wasn't even a game. But the first time that stupid
(looking back) tie fighter moved on the screen so fast I couldn't tell
what was happening. I about jumped for joy. After adding a loop which
counted from 1 to 255, 255 times, figuring out that what I was seeing
was in fact the graphic moving. There is a joy about building or making
something work by yourself. That is what you get.
Google 'BEAM robotics'. Since only masochists handcraft their own
you can't entirely dodge the issue of buying some off-the-shelf
However, one of the things that drew me to BEAM robotics years ago was
the fact that, while you *could* purchase components, circuit boards,
entire 'bots off-the-shelf, people were generally encouraged to, and
did, draw some or most of their parts from 'techno-trash'- dead pc's,
stereos, printers, vcrs, pagers, and the like. As for integrating
programming accumen into the picture (if you're interested), I'll get
to you with a link on some interesting work someone did with using
a PIC microcontroller emulate a BEAM microcore, and using the
PIC's functionality to implement an experimental version of learning.
Polytechforum.com is a website by engineers for engineers. It is not affiliated with any of manufacturers or vendors discussed here.
All logos and trade names are the property of their respective owners.