where do I begin ?

I have read the faq's, and received some good info there. I have been building electronic instruments and gadgets for about 5 years now. I have a
background in physics. Now it is time for me to start building autonomous vehicles. I know I have to start out slow to learn the basics, so I was wondering if anyone could recommend a book that would be suitable. I have seen on the faq a book called "Robot Builder's Bonanza". I think they have it at the local bookstore, so I will go and look at it tomorrow. For starters, I guess I need to know about the motors, wheels, drive trains, power, sensors and the brain. My goal is to build an explorer type vehicle that, eventually will be able to go off on its own, exploring terrain and sending back images from its video camera. It will be good sized, but still able to fit into the back of my pickup truck.
But I am a long way off from that right now, and just kind of need some advice as to where to start.
TIA, Joe
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Joe wrote:

Answering the question "Where Do I Begin": Start small and cheap. Build an RC servo-based robot as your first one. You can get a RTR (ready to run) microcontroller board for under $100. Some, like the OOPic-R, are designed for small robotics and are plug and play. Be sure to check out others at Parallax, Oricomtech, BD Micro, Junun (there are more; this is just a start). Get current copies of SERVO, Nuts & Volts, and Robot Magazine. They are a rich resource of articles and ads for robot parts.
Of course if you want to buy a copy of Robot Builder's Bonanza (I wrote it) I won't stop you! But bear in mind most libraries carry it, as well as other amateur robot texts. A good public library should be your first stop.
Once you get ytour feet wet the learning curve won't seem to steep. There is no need to learn "everything" about motors or batteries or sensors upfront. It all comes naturally as you play.
For some small expandable robot kits that serve as good starter models (sans brain, which you can add from a variety of sources) see the small outfit I run Budget Robotics. There are others that offer similar product: Lynxmotion, Rogue Robotics, Acroname, Junun, Solarbotics. and many others -- all been in business for many years and are well respected. This is a thriving hobby you will find exciting and stimulating!
-- Gordon
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Hello Gordon,
I have been tinkering around with radio control vehicles for some time. When they break, I take them apart and scavenge or "recycle" the parts.
an RC servo-based robot as your first one. You can get a RTR (ready to

Thank you for that info. That's what I needed. And, I did buy your book today. I haven't started to read it yet, but glanced thru it at the bookstore before I bought it. I had a 25% discount coupon so I just figured it looked pretty complete and I don't have to worry about when it would be due back at the library. Anyway, I am hoping to be able to start on something next week once my finals are over. I have a complete workshop and electronics bench with oscope, I have just never really worked with the mechanical things like the wheels, gears and pulleys, and I have never worked with microcontrollers either. It looked like your book covered these details in a comprehensive way, at least for a beginner like myself.
Thank you again and, who knows, you may be receiving an order from me soon !
Joe
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Joe wrote:

Joe:
_Robot_Builder's_Bonanza_ is now in the third edition and is what many of us started with. I would also recommend David Cook's _Robot_Building_for_Beginners_. Be sure to drop by your local public library, they usually have several beginners robotics books on the shelves. If not on the shelves, ask about Inter Library Loan; for a small fee your librarian can fetch just about any book you can imagine to the library for your to check-out and read. In addition, I would recommend subscribing to both Servo Magazine and Nuts and Volts Magazine (same publisher). Lastly, you should attempt to find a local area robotics club and join it.
There are two broad ways of getting started. Either get an all-in-one package like the Lego Mindstorms NXT or the Vex Roboticts package, OR build from components. If you go with the component approach, you will have to decide between modified hobby servos for motor drive or DC gear motors with an H-bridge. We can help you with that choice. Also, you will have the more difficult question of which microcontroller to use -- there are many choices and what is right for me, may be completely wrong for you. The "which microcontroller should I use?" is one of the most frequent ones on this list.
Start off with an easy robot, like an obsticle avoider or a line follower. Build up from there.
-Wayne
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Thank you Wayne,
I tried replying to Gordon's message earlier today, but apparently I pressed the 'reply' instead of 'reply to group', because I received a bounced email from his addy. I know he has that for spam protection. My bad.
But, to summarize, I did buy Gordon's book. Robot Builder's Bonanza. I had a 25% discount at the book store, so I thought I would just get it. It seems like it is more of a 'bible' for robot builders. I probably won't start work on anything until after my final exams next week anyway. I have lots of analog electronics assembly and design experience, but I know the mechanical part is going to be difficult. I have also never worked with microcontrollers, so that's another possible problem area. I also have a small workshop with the basic hand tools. As Gordon suggested going with a radio control for the first time, I have been tinkering with radio control vehicles for awhile now. That's why now iI want to try and build something that is autonomous. Anyway, I will be starting his book (probably tonite), and I am glad I found this group in case I have any more questions.
Thanks again for the reply
Joe
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Hello again Wayne,
You gave me an idea when you said line follower above. I am thinking about a 'fence follower'. I have a stockade fence around my yard. I guess it would be possible to program it to go around the yard and stay, say 10 feet away from the fence(ultrasonics, or IR, maybe). I am thinking about using one of those kid's wagons (radio flyer), beef up the wheels a bit to where they are inflatable (like wheelbarrow wheels), and use a 12 V deep cycle marine battery for the power source. I still have to figure out what type of drive I should use, but, well, I am supposed to be studying so I should really get back to that. Any ideas let me know.
Thanks again Joe
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Joe wrote:

[snip]
[snip]
A wall/fence follower is a good idea. It would be better to start with a small one that follows walls inside the house before going outside. The reason why is because you can use smaller motors, batteries, H-bridges, etc. that are less expensive. As your motors, batteries, H-bridges get larger, you have to be very careful about spurious resets occuring on your microcontroller. Once you have a small one working, then you should scale it up for outside use.
My $.02,
-Wayne
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Good idea, thanks Wayne.
Joe
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