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Gordon McComb is helping us out on the site this month in support of the release of MAKE Volume 27, our latest robotics issue, and for our monthly Robotics theme here online. Gordon has also just release the fourth edition of his groundbreaking book, Robot Builder’s Bonanza. The first edition of this book was released in 1987 and pretty much launched the hobby robotics field. This was the book that got me into robotics, which lead me into electronics (and Forrest Mims’ book), hardware hacking, and most of my high-tech making interests.

The latest edition of Gordon’s book is fantastic. It reminds me a lot of Make: Electronics, and together with that book, I think makes these two volumes the Robot Builder’s Bonanza (1st Ed)/Getting Started in Electronics combo of the early 21st century. The new Bonanza is over 700 pages and has over 100 projects. It also has great tutorials, covering everything from robot body basics to using today’s microcontrollers, such as Arduino and PICAXE. You’d think that a 700 page tome would be phonebook-sized, but thin, reasonably high-quality paper was used, so it’s a very bench-convenient size (but it IS heavy). Gordon has also put together a great companion website, with code examples, additional projects, and other support materials.

To celebrate the release of Volume 27, our online theme, and Gordon’s book, we want to do a giveaway. Gordon was kind enough to send me four inscribed/autographed copies of his book to give to YOU. The eligible commenting period will run until Friday (7/22) at midnight Pacific. We’ll announce the four winners on Monday morning.

To be eligible, all you have to do is share with us some vexing question about robotics, some general or technical question about the robot kingdom. E.g. What’s the practical difference between the different types of navigation technologies (sonar/ultrasonic, infrared, radar, etc)? Is the Roomba Create a good platform for beginners? We’ll have our servoheads on staff try and answer. And, as always, readers can answer comment questions to be eligible for the giveaway. Good luck!


From the Pages of MAKE

MAKE 27MAKE Volume 27, Robots!
The robots have returned! MAKE Volume 27 features a special package with robotics projects for every age and skill level. They play music; they outwit your pets; they learn from their mistakes! In addition, we’ll show you how to build a special aquarium to keep jellyfish, create pre-Edison incandescent lighting, spy via the internet, and make a go-anywhere digital message board! All this and much, much more, in MAKE Volume 27.

On newsstands July 26! Buy or Subscribe

Gareth Branwyn

Gareth Branwyn is a freelancer writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture, including the first book about the web (Mosaic Quick Tour) and the Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Building Robots. He is currently working on a best-of collection of his writing, called Borg Like Me.


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Comments

  1. How young do you think children can be introduced to robotics?  A friend of mine has a son that is going into 1st grade and he is already 2 grade levels above that in his understanding of math and sciences.  Can you recommend what type of projects for the attention span kids have at that age?

    1. Anonymous says:

      I think, for kids this age, especially if they’re precocious, something like Lego Mindstorms is a great starting place. It uses “technology” he’s likely already familiar with (Lego bricks) and adds sensors, motors, programmability, etc. And the programming language is done using Lego brick-like programming components, so again, very Lego-like.

    2. I’d highly recommend teaching him Scratch ( http://scratch.mit.edu/ ).  I do before I teach kids how to use Mindstorms, and they benefit a lot from it.  You can really do “virtual robotics” in Scratch, if you’d like.  There are also some interesting mods to it:  Itchbots ( http://www.richardgoyette.com/ItchbotsIntro.html ), Scratch4Arduino ( http://seaside.citilab.eu/scratch/arduino ) [and don't forget modkit ( http://www.modk.it/ )], and then there is my own project, still in the early stages, for programming the Mindstorms NXT, Enchanting ( http://enchanting.robotclub.ab.ca/ ).

    3. LMR says:

      My son is seven and already pretty good at soldering. He loves to help out with my robotics projects. Sometimes he runs the camera when I shoot a video describing a robot I made.I love to credit him with for inspiring me with some of his questions.
      Robotics projects that are simple and creative help capture and hold kids interest. 

  2. R Hendery says:

    I’ve noticed that a lot of robot designs are not very modular – i.e. you can’t just take e.g. the light sensor part of the circuit or the navigation part and unplug it and use it in a different bot. Is this because it is technically much more difficult to design this way? Because it is inefficient? Or because robot makers would never want to dismantle their creation anyway? I’m wanting to build something more modular myself, but before I start trying to come up with plans, I’d like to know if there is a good reason not to.

    1. Anonymous says:

      That’s an excellent question. I think mainly the reason is that most bots are purpose-built or built without the intention of being modular. I think you could relatively easily design with modularity in mind and create a bot where many of the parts could be swapped out.

    2. Anonymous says:

      That’s an excellent question. I think mainly the reason is that most bots are purpose-built or built without the intention of being modular. I think you could relatively easily design with modularity in mind and create a bot where many of the parts could be swapped out.

  3. We’re doing an invention project at our High School called the Adaptive Sports Device designed for the deaf or hearing impaired to alert them to traffic approaching from behing while participating in a sporting activity. Our design uses a microcontroller and we are considering modifying the device to use a phototransisitor in lieu of a PING Ultrasonic Sensor, what would you advise? 

    1. LMR says:

      A phototransistor will detect light, but may not make the best traffic detector. If the device could be placed facing the road, and not moved, you could use a Pyroelectric (“Passive”) InfraRed sensors (PIR). This will detect motion of cars going by. You could then wirelessly transmit a signal that would alert a device worn by the deaf or hearing impaired person by vibrating or some other non-auditory indicator.

    2. LMR says:

      A phototransistor will detect light, but may not make the best traffic detector. If the device could be placed facing the road, and not moved, you could use a Pyroelectric (“Passive”) InfraRed sensors (PIR). This will detect motion of cars going by. You could then wirelessly transmit a signal that would alert a device worn by the deaf or hearing impaired person by vibrating or some other non-auditory indicator.

  4. How young is too young for kids to get started in? Have been thinking about getting the Lego Mindstorm for my 6 and 7 year old to get them started.

    1. Anonymous says:

      Hi James,
       I am 61 years old. Is that too old to get started? No. With supervision, 6 or 7 is a great age to get started. Kids today are technically savvy. Stress the importance of handling the electronics and he will have loads of fun.

    2. Dr. CroW says:

      I would have been the happiest child if I’d been given a Mindstorm at 7.

    3. Dr. CroW says:

      I would have been the happiest child if I’d been given a Mindstorm at 7.

  5. Does getting involved in robotics requires to spend lots of money? , because it seems like a quite expensive hobby, and I really like to start it.

    1. Anonymous says:

      No, Victor. You can start with so-called “junkbots” (with many parts taken from old devices) and BEAM bots which use commonly available, relatively cheap components and many parts from old electronics. See the Robotics section of Make: Projects for many junkbot and BEAM projects: http://makeprojects.com/Area/Robotics

    2. Anonymous says:

      No, Victor. You can start with so-called “junkbots” (with many parts taken from old devices) and BEAM bots which use commonly available, relatively cheap components and many parts from old electronics. See the Robotics section of Make: Projects for many junkbot and BEAM projects: http://makeprojects.com/Area/Robotics

  6. laefsky says:

    Could future robots have an interactive skin and “nervous system”

    1. yes there are quote a few groups out there working robotic skin right now. they range from having countless little buttons, fiber optic and more.

      honestly making the skin itself isn’t that hard it’s trying to deal with the information over load that’s the real problem.

  7. Mauricio Alonso Sánchez Herrer says:

    I’ve been trying to build a pendubot for a while, and even have bought some parts, except for the motors, I’ve looked at many projects but still can’t grasp the type of motor to use. Should I use a DC motor, a gear motor, servo motor? and why?

  8. Mauricio Alonso Sánchez Herrer says:

    I’ve been trying to build a pendubot for a while, and even have bought some parts, except for the motors, I’ve looked at many projects but still can’t grasp the type of motor to use. Should I use a DC motor, a gear motor, servo motor? and why?

  9. Anonymous says:

    What would be a good, inexpensive “boxed” kit to help nurture my 11 year old daughter or am I going to have to cobble something together for us both to learn on?

    1. Anonymous says:

      Do you mean a building set or a single-bot kit?

    2. Anonymous says:

      If you want a good multipurpose kit, I would recommend the Lego Minstroms NXT kits.  They run a bit under 300$, but come with the software you need to make it go.   There are also many resources online to help with building different configurations and programming.

    3. Anonymous says:

      If you want a good multipurpose kit, I would recommend the Lego Minstroms NXT kits.  They run a bit under 300$, but come with the software you need to make it go.   There are also many resources online to help with building different configurations and programming.

  10. Dr. CroW says:

    I got an arduino, motorshield, motors, servo & ping)))
    What is the best choice to build a body for my robot, using things you have lying around?

    1. Mauricio Alonso Sánchez Herrer says:

      I have seen many done with either wood or cardboard, if you want to go dead cheap, but I would personally suggest buying thin yet rigid plastic sheets and cutting them into the needed shapes.

    2. Mauricio Alonso Sánchez Herrer says:

      I have seen many done with either wood or cardboard, if you want to go dead cheap, but I would personally suggest buying thin yet rigid plastic sheets and cutting them into the needed shapes.

    3. efulcrum says:

      Mauricio has some good suggestions, and I’ll toss in another: foam core art board.  It’s rigid, cuts with a razor knife, glues up easily — it works like cardboard but has enough surface area along a cut edge to make a nice glue seam.  try it, and if you like it, phone up your local convention center, and find out where the signs go after trade shows.  A lot of the time, those signs are made of foam core, and just one “hit” could get you enough free foam core to build — literally — a hundred shoebox-sized enclosures.

  11. I’m really digging this Arduino thing.  After countless hours I finally got an electric wheelchair base to work using a wii nunchuck  (wireless in near future).  I would love to implement a GPS shield and a Compass shield so I could just tell it where to go within a certian vicinity.  Or use the shields to plan a set route.  Is there any good  examples of this already being done I could look into?

  12. I’m really digging this Arduino thing.  After countless hours I finally got an electric wheelchair base to work using a wii nunchuck  (wireless in near future).  I would love to implement a GPS shield and a Compass shield so I could just tell it where to go within a certian vicinity.  Or use the shields to plan a set route.  Is there any good  examples of this already being done I could look into?

  13. Peter S. May says:

    Say I’m a parent without a whole lot of extra time but with a fourth-grader who’s suddenly interested in figuring out robots. (I’m not, but I can see it happening in a few years—basically the same thing happened to my parents about two decades ago, but they couldn’t do much for me in this regard.) I have plenty of information to work with, but my family’s budget for parts is virtually nil. I’ve read here and there that there’s equipment that can be scavenged for parts (such as stepper motors), but information about who to ask locally, where to look, and which items are of particular interest seems to be pretty scattered and tricky to piece together, especially in my area (central Indiana) where the nascent developer scene is just as scattered and tricky.

    Now, say by some miracle I have next Saturday entirely free. I’d like to take my kid on a parts scavenging adventure, but I need a game plan. What is that plan? How do I compile a list of places to go? What do we need to make sure we do at each place?

    I don’t know these answers quite yet, but I’m looking forward to such a Saturday. :-)

    1. Craigslist!  Go to the electronics or free section and search for “broken”, “not working” or “fixed”.  I know this isn’t much of a scavenger hunt but it’ll get your fourth grader spinning a screwdriver in no time.  Good luck!

    2. I would pick a project first.   This will tell you what you need.   In a post above that has a similar question about where to find parts… Garage Sales and Thrift Stores are good places.   Any RC Toy that runs on batteries is a good place to find parts.   Also if you ask people you know if they have any broken electronics stuff you might turn up some free stuff too.

    3. efulcrum says:

      I included this in my earlier comment, but wanted to reply directly to you.

      Get set up on freecycle.org

      You go on there and post a “WANTED” with your list of desired objects, and see who answers.  It will amaze you what people are just dying to give away for nothing more than your time and effort to go get it.

  14. Peter S. May says:

    Say I’m a parent without a whole lot of extra time but with a fourth-grader who’s suddenly interested in figuring out robots. (I’m not, but I can see it happening in a few years—basically the same thing happened to my parents about two decades ago, but they couldn’t do much for me in this regard.) I have plenty of information to work with, but my family’s budget for parts is virtually nil. I’ve read here and there that there’s equipment that can be scavenged for parts (such as stepper motors), but information about who to ask locally, where to look, and which items are of particular interest seems to be pretty scattered and tricky to piece together, especially in my area (central Indiana) where the nascent developer scene is just as scattered and tricky.

    Now, say by some miracle I have next Saturday entirely free. I’d like to take my kid on a parts scavenging adventure, but I need a game plan. What is that plan? How do I compile a list of places to go? What do we need to make sure we do at each place?

    I don’t know these answers quite yet, but I’m looking forward to such a Saturday. :-)

  15. Betsy McIver says:

    I like to build junkbots.  I’m good at finding small bits and pieces for arms, legs, hands and feet but I have a hard time finding the right things for bodies and heads (stuff that is big enough and can hold some electronics).  What are good junk objects that work well for heads and bodies? 

  16. What are some good places to find junk parts?

    1. Thrift stores have worked well for me.  Dig through the old RC cars and find something that is basically “tank drive” .  A separate motor(s) controlling each side.  You could find cool robot platforms pretty cheap.

      1. Thrift stores are great for small electronics; for larger bits, check automotive junkyards for power window motors, wiper motors, power door locks, and power antennas.

      2. Thrift stores are great for small electronics; for larger bits, check automotive junkyards for power window motors, wiper motors, power door locks, and power antennas.

    2. Anonymous says:

      One of my favorite places is garage sales.  You would be astounded at what people will sell for a buck or two.  Another good idea is to take a robotic toy that is easy to disassemble (WowWee makes a great line) and then tweak from there.

    3. Anonymous says:

      One of my favorite places is garage sales.  You would be astounded at what people will sell for a buck or two.  Another good idea is to take a robotic toy that is easy to disassemble (WowWee makes a great line) and then tweak from there.

    4. Lots of good places.  As everyone else has mentioned Garage Sales and Thrift Stores.   I also find that if you just mention to your friends and coworkers you are looking for junk electronics such as broken toys, VCR’s, etc. that you will be given quite a bit of stuff.  I also occasionally will cannibalize a toy from my children’s toybox.. :) that they no longer play with.

      I find that Radio Control Toys are one of the best sources of junk parts followed up by VCR’s, Toys, etc.  Anything electro-mechanical that runs on batteries is usually great for parts.

    5. efulcrum says:

      I included this in my earlier comment, but wanted to reply directly to you, since you asked specifically.

      Get set up on freecycle.org

      You post a “WANTED” with your list of desired objects,
      and see who answers.  Toys. Electronics. Tools. Old. New. Broken or fully functional — the things people are willing to just GIVE away rather than send to a landfill…

      I recommend it.

  17. Betsy McIver says:

    Another question! What do you think of Obama’s robotics initiative? Do you think it will be successful? 

  18. Our 4-H club has a great interest in robotics and we’ve done some little projects like a bristlebot and beetlebot. Are the projects in this book simple designs that can be done from junk drawers or will we have to break down and buy standard off the shelf type parts? If so, will you have a kit available like the Make: Electronics book does? (Which BTW was a great idea!)

    1. Robot Builder’s Bonanza is a good reference book in my opinion.  It does have projects however they are not ones you would typically just throw together, at least for the beginner.  In addition to owning Robot Builder’s Bonanza I would recommend Junkbots, Bugbots, and Bots on
      Wheels by Dave Hrynkiw and Mark Tilden.   That book has many more “junk drawer” projects.

      From the description the 4th edition of Robot Builder’s Bonanza might have more projects in it than ever.

      I am on my 2nd copy (the 3rd edition) of Robot Builder’s Bonanza and use it as a reference all the time when looking for how something works and how it is implemented.   Get both books if you can!

    2. Robot Builder’s Bonanza is a good reference book in my opinion.  It does have projects however they are not ones you would typically just throw together, at least for the beginner.  In addition to owning Robot Builder’s Bonanza I would recommend Junkbots, Bugbots, and Bots on
      Wheels by Dave Hrynkiw and Mark Tilden.   That book has many more “junk drawer” projects.

      From the description the 4th edition of Robot Builder’s Bonanza might have more projects in it than ever.

      I am on my 2nd copy (the 3rd edition) of Robot Builder’s Bonanza and use it as a reference all the time when looking for how something works and how it is implemented.   Get both books if you can!

    3. Robot Builder’s Bonanza is a good reference book in my opinion.  It does have projects however they are not ones you would typically just throw together, at least for the beginner.  In addition to owning Robot Builder’s Bonanza I would recommend Junkbots, Bugbots, and Bots on
      Wheels by Dave Hrynkiw and Mark Tilden.   That book has many more “junk drawer” projects.

      From the description the 4th edition of Robot Builder’s Bonanza might have more projects in it than ever.

      I am on my 2nd copy (the 3rd edition) of Robot Builder’s Bonanza and use it as a reference all the time when looking for how something works and how it is implemented.   Get both books if you can!

  19. I’ve designed a Processing-based graphical interface for guiding a remote controlled vehicle via my computer.  You load in a map, draw a path over it, and the vehicle will drive that path (which can be saved and reloaded at a later date).  I see some applications for this, but . . .   

    The problem is accuracy.  I can get the wheels to move and turn on command, but I need some way of correcting course.  I’m confident that I can handle the math and programming, but I need sensor hardware to determine position and heading as well as info on how to interface it with an Arduino.  I’ve been thinking gyrocompass and odometer.  Do you have advice on that, or on alternative means of obtaining course correction data?  

  20. I’ve designed a Processing-based graphical interface for guiding a remote controlled vehicle via my computer.  You load in a map, draw a path over it, and the vehicle will drive that path (which can be saved and reloaded at a later date).  I see some applications for this, but . . .   

    The problem is accuracy.  I can get the wheels to move and turn on command, but I need some way of correcting course.  I’m confident that I can handle the math and programming, but I need sensor hardware to determine position and heading as well as info on how to interface it with an Arduino.  I’ve been thinking gyrocompass and odometer.  Do you have advice on that, or on alternative means of obtaining course correction data?  

  21. Isaac Doubek says:

    If you’re controlling an arduino through an android phone for a little robot, do you have to have it plugged into the phone or is there a relatively easy way to communicate wirelessly? Also I was wondering if anyone knows what kind of latency to expect from that sort of setup? Thanks a bunch if anyone knows the answer.

  22. Isaac Doubek says:

    If you’re controlling an arduino through an android phone for a little robot, do you have to have it plugged into the phone or is there a relatively easy way to communicate wirelessly? Also I was wondering if anyone knows what kind of latency to expect from that sort of setup? Thanks a bunch if anyone knows the answer.

  23. John Anderson says:

    I remember reading the local library’s copy of Gordon’s book growing up.  Doing so I dreamt of getting into hobby robotics, but at the time couldn’t afford to fulfill that dream.  I no longer have that problem, but still feel for kids who are faced with “capital” constraints. I’d like to hear your opinion on what is the cheapest commercial platform available for a serious start in robotics.  An example of such a  platform might be an Arduino, motor shield, motors, and a chassis.
     

  24. future robots will be chemical energy based robots

  25. Anonymous says:

    I don’t have much experience with robotics, only what I read on MAKE. I guess my main question is what kind of microcontrollers are used for very small bots, like the popsicle/brush or swarm bot types? 

  26. Anonymous says:

    What would be a good place to start for a complete electronics newbie? I’ve always wanted to build robots, but I have managed to not pick up any electronics experience thus far.

  27. Bryan Keen says:

    Whats the best why to make a robot with an old android phone!

  28. tonyvr says:

    How about this question — ‘What is a robot?’  Most stuff I’ve read ultimately wimp out on the answer and talk about what a robot isn’t instead.

    My definition: ‘A robot is an assemblage of mechanical and (optionally) electrical components aspiring to be a lifeform’. 

    I like this definition because it is succinct, honest (come on, admit it — you are all just mad scientists at heart!), and also because it helps establish whether one assembly is ‘more robotic’ than another.  For example, I think that even a lowly BEAM-Bug would be judged as ‘more robotic’ than a highly automated assemblyline.

  29. What navigation method would you suggest for a large robot chasis (built from an old electric scooter) . I would like to use it for things like grocery shopping. It would make getting the bags home (I live only 2 blocks away) a lot easier.

  30. Anonymous says:

    What is the best platform for an autonimous robot? Arduino, beagle board, etc??

  31. Anonymous says:

    What is the best platform for an autonimous robot? Arduino, beagle board, etc??

  32. Rob Colby says:

    Many years ago I found a website that dealt with building a robot from a floppy disk drive.  The site, or rather the project was called “Floppy The Robot”  I’m wondering if something like that would still be possible using a CD Rom drive with the laser lens being reset as a kind of detection sensor to make the robot back up and try another path?  I know that the drive can detect a disk or not, but is that because of data being read, or is it actually sensing if a disk is present or not.

  33. Przemysław Łomiński says:

    Whats better for a arduino based autonomous quadcopter- a 9dof imu or 9dof sensor stick? 
    The platform will be heavily loaded with other sensor, so id like to safe some computing power.

  34. tonyvr says:

    Here’s another often-asked question — what is the ‘killer app’ for consumer robotics (other than a roomba, that is…)?

    My idea isn’t sexy, but could be very useful to the older urban-dweller.  How about a lightweight, collapsable, wheeled electric basket that can simply follow you around, carrying those groceries or stack of library books home for you?

    What is YOUR killer app?

  35. Ryan Nakata says:

    What is the difference between life and robotics. Robots Look like humans they can replicate themself what is next skynet?

  36. mkv says:

    What methods of positioning robot in closed quarters (no access to GPS signal) are there available?

  37. raggd_46 says:

    Why isn’t robotics used to a much greater level in the aerospace industry, if innovations in robotics were extended to all levels of this we could have a much lower death rate of astronauts from mistakes, and space stations that do not need to cater for humans, therefore will be more efficiently used?

  38. raggd_46 says:

    Or following in Isaac Asimov’s footsteps, what are the problems involved with replicating robots using nature/insects as a template for our designs (and the subsequent problems of miniturisation)

  39. raggd_46 says:

    Or following in Isaac Asimov’s footsteps, what are the problems involved with replicating robots using nature/insects as a template for our designs (and the subsequent problems of miniturisation)

  40. I have heard allot lately about cloud computing and swarm robotics. I am only mildly familiar with each but from what I understand cloud computing is the decentralised distribution of software tasks and swarm robotics is the decentralised distribution of hardware tasks.
    Is this understanding accurate?
    Can these concepts be linked in any way?
    If not, why not?

  41. stevie g says:

    I read recently about RoboEarth, which is said to be a centralised system for robots to connect to which will allow them gain knowledge on the area that they are in, such as maps of the layout and the relationships between various objects found in that environment.  Do you think this will improve standardization of the evolvement of hobbyist robot technologies helping to push robotics more towards the mainstream?

  42. stevie g says:

    I read recently about RoboEarth, which is said to be a centralised system for robots to connect to which will allow them gain knowledge on the area that they are in, such as maps of the layout and the relationships between various objects found in that environment.  Do you think this will improve standardization of the evolvement of hobbyist robot technologies helping to push robotics more towards the mainstream?

  43. Bennett Benson says:

    I’m pretty good with electronics and microcontrollers and sensors and software but I really struggle with the mechanical aspects of robotics. I’d like to know if this book covers not only how to connect a motor to a wheel but also where I can find the different parts to do connect them.

  44. roland stolfa says:

    I’ve seen several of the inverted pendulum machines on the net of late. And the ability to “stand upright” is very cool, but how do you marry that to the idea of “roaming” and “obstacle avoidance”?

  45. Thomas says:

    What would be the weight and volume reduction of electronics (i.e. using modern controllers, sensors, storage, processors etc.) in classic robots from Heath – Hero 1, Hero 2000 if they were completely redone, preserving all functionality, but using modern components?

  46. I have a question about efficiency of mechanical drive systems. Any 4 wheel system, like any treaded system will have loses because they’ll drag some of the contact surface when turning. Common opinion is a 2 wheeled system eliminates this problem, but now you need a caster for a third point and your drive center isn’t the center of the robot (unless you want to add a 2nd caster). Holonomic drives solve both these problems and are way cool, but they require a third wheel and motor, not to mention the cost of a good wheel set). Common sense would seem to say that 2 motors will draw less power than 3, but sense isn’t common. A holonomic drive may, for instance, require less over all power to the motors for the same maneuverability over an arbitrary path (say a maze follower).
    The holonomic is more expensive and more complex to control, but if I’m building a battery powered robot drive unit to autonomously roam the halls, which drive system is going to get the better battery life and by how much?

  47. I have a question about efficiency of mechanical drive systems. Any 4 wheel system, like any treaded system will have loses because they’ll drag some of the contact surface when turning. Common opinion is a 2 wheeled system eliminates this problem, but now you need a caster for a third point and your drive center isn’t the center of the robot (unless you want to add a 2nd caster). Holonomic drives solve both these problems and are way cool, but they require a third wheel and motor, not to mention the cost of a good wheel set). Common sense would seem to say that 2 motors will draw less power than 3, but sense isn’t common. A holonomic drive may, for instance, require less over all power to the motors for the same maneuverability over an arbitrary path (say a maze follower).
    The holonomic is more expensive and more complex to control, but if I’m building a battery powered robot drive unit to autonomously roam the halls, which drive system is going to get the better battery life and by how much?

  48. I have a question about efficiency of mechanical drive systems. Any 4 wheel system, like any treaded system will have loses because they’ll drag some of the contact surface when turning. Common opinion is a 2 wheeled system eliminates this problem, but now you need a caster for a third point and your drive center isn’t the center of the robot (unless you want to add a 2nd caster). Holonomic drives solve both these problems and are way cool, but they require a third wheel and motor, not to mention the cost of a good wheel set). Common sense would seem to say that 2 motors will draw less power than 3, but sense isn’t common. A holonomic drive may, for instance, require less over all power to the motors for the same maneuverability over an arbitrary path (say a maze follower).
    The holonomic is more expensive and more complex to control, but if I’m building a battery powered robot drive unit to autonomously roam the halls, which drive system is going to get the better battery life and by how much?

  49. There are an incredible number of BLDC motors out there to be salvaged out of hard drives, but many of them are sensorless. The problem is of course, there’s no way to control this type of motor without sensors. So called sensorless drives (meaning no hall effect sensors) work by sensing the back emf on the unpowered coil. I hear that some of the RC controllers will run them, but that’s an expensive solution for someone trying to harvest hard drive motors. It shouldn’t be that hard to use an mcu, dare I say Arduino, to come up with a programmatic solution to this, but it’s beyond my little old scope.
    Can this be done? Would these motors make good drive motors for robotics? Would the technique accurate enough to use them like servos?

    1. I second Weldon’s call for a cheap solution to run BLDC motors.  I have a stack of them at home awaiting a purpose.  I salvage parts to save money, but I also do so to save the environment.  It seems like such a waste to throw away (recycle) high quality parts like these.

  50. If I want a robot to run around my home and do ???stuff??, it’s going to have to handle stairs as well as flat floors. bipeds seem “out of reach”; hexapods are expensive and slow; I can envision (dream up) a wheeled solution, but I don’t know it it will work. Most of the stuff out there seems to but so much into the stair climbing that they can do little else. Is there a simple solution… no there isn’t, but is there a hobbyist accessible solution, or at least a direction to go in.

  51. We’ve all heard of the cloud, and we’ve all heard of swarmbots which is sort of a bot cloud. How would I go about running a swarm out of the cloud? Just as dumb terminals can work on a main frame and anything connected to the internet can run on the cloud(ok that’s a stretch, but you get the idea), I’m thinking of Bots with built in behaviors (move on this vector, return data, etc) and is in 2 way communication with a “brain” in the cloud. This is getting out of hand,lol. How about this I want to have these robots trap another robot in a maze in a room with a router. Where do I start?

  52. JAmes says:

    If _someone_ wanted to put a lifelike synthetic skin onto a robot so that it feels more realistic, and is flexible, squishy, etc. what would be a good material to use?

    1.  I would look to a certain industry that makes adult toys for that answer.   Most likely would be liquid latex.  You can mold it and it makes relatively lifelike stuff from what I have seen.   Information about it is just a Google search away.  You may also want to look at Silcone which can be molded as well.  The RealDoll for instance was made first from Latex and then from Silicone.

  53. Tony Ptacek says:

    I have always watched the hobby of robotics from the sidelines. It has intrigued me since I was a little boy. I want to learn more about electronics (capacitors, resistors, how to build your own circuits, etc.) and I was wondering what would be the best way to go about doing this other than going back to school? Good books, etc? I think it would be very helpful for robotics projects that I would like to start. I also plan on starting a Quadcopter project as well as building my first robot and I would love to know what the recommended robotic platform is? I would be using arduino parts for the Quadcopter, so is there a good robotics platform that would share this hardware?

  54. Tony Ptacek says:

    I have always watched the hobby of robotics from the sidelines. It has intrigued me since I was a little boy. I want to learn more about electronics (capacitors, resistors, how to build your own circuits, etc.) and I was wondering what would be the best way to go about doing this other than going back to school? Good books, etc? I think it would be very helpful for robotics projects that I would like to start. I also plan on starting a Quadcopter project as well as building my first robot and I would love to know what the recommended robotic platform is? I would be using arduino parts for the Quadcopter, so is there a good robotics platform that would share this hardware?

  55. Tony Ptacek says:

    I have always watched the hobby of robotics from the sidelines. It has intrigued me since I was a little boy. I want to learn more about electronics (capacitors, resistors, how to build your own circuits, etc.) and I was wondering what would be the best way to go about doing this other than going back to school? Good books, etc? I think it would be very helpful for robotics projects that I would like to start. I also plan on starting a Quadcopter project as well as building my first robot and I would love to know what the recommended robotic platform is? I would be using arduino parts for the Quadcopter, so is there a good robotics platform that would share this hardware?

  56. Okay, here’s my robotics question:  Is there a decent reference somewhere for random motors pulled out of old printers, scanners, floppy drives, toys, cordless appliances, etc.?  Sometimes there are numbers you can find with a Web search, sometimes the numbers turn up nothing, and sometimes there are no numbers at all.

    1. Anonymous says:

      I’ve been doing the same thing recently.  I usually go to the manufacturers website and get the data sheets.  If information isn’t available I type in the model number to Google and look at pictures until I find one that looks similar and hope that the specs are the same.

    2. Anonymous says:

      I’ve been doing the same thing recently.  I usually go to the manufacturers website and get the data sheets.  If information isn’t available I type in the model number to Google and look at pictures until I find one that looks similar and hope that the specs are the same.

  57. Anonymous says:

    Here is a question for the robotics community; what is your favorite control processor and why?  I have done some work with Arduino and I have a couple of chips from Texas Instruments, but I know there are many more out there.  What are your thoughts on Parallax?  I have never worked with this system and know next to nothing about that one.  All comments and information is welcome!

  58. Anonymous says:

    Here is a question for the robotics community; what is your favorite control processor and why?  I have done some work with Arduino and I have a couple of chips from Texas Instruments, but I know there are many more out there.  What are your thoughts on Parallax?  I have never worked with this system and know next to nothing about that one.  All comments and information is welcome!

  59. Gerhard Didier De la mora says:

    Here is my question for Win a Copy of “Robot Builder’s Bonanza” from Gordon McComb.
    Why a servo motor is more powerful than a common DC motor?

  60. Bob DiRamio says:

    I have lots of Arduino experience and not much robotics.  I was wondering if iRobot Create and Arduino make a happy couple.  I know you can get the controller module for Create but Arduino just seems like there are more sketch examples and libraries.  I saw some information on building the serial cable and such, so it appears there’s some success.  Any thoughts or guidance would be appreciated.  thanks.

  61. As someone who is new to robotics and microcontrollers, is it better (easier) to build a platform from the ground up, learning as you go so to speak?  or does it make more sense to start with a commercially available platform abd learn from dissecting/modifying it?
    if commercial is the better way to go
    What’s a good commercially available platform to build off of (preferably one that pretty rugged)

    Thanks
    -Phil

  62. As someone who is new to robotics and microcontrollers, is it better (easier) to build a platform from the ground up, learning as you go so to speak?  or does it make more sense to start with a commercially available platform abd learn from dissecting/modifying it?
    if commercial is the better way to go
    What’s a good commercially available platform to build off of (preferably one that pretty rugged)

    Thanks
    -Phil

  63. Anonymous says:

    First some background info on me: I am a College Student graduating this year, and ever since I was a little kid I thought I was going to be a Mathematician.  Last year I took some Grad classes in Math and decided it wasn’t for me.  Then I decided to try out physics, I took an advanced Quantum Mechanics class, and once again decided it wasn’t for me.  I had been dabbling in Computer Science since I was in High School and was taking an Artificial Intelligence class last year when our Robotics instructor gave a guest lecture.  I had never really considered Robotics as a field I would be interested in, but after jumping ship on math and physics I thought I would give it a shot.  I have been reading a bunch of books on hardware, Electronics, micro-controllers, etc. since the beginning of the Summer and have been loving it, and am considering going to Grad School in the subject!   

    Now to my question:  I’ve been designing several projects, and it always seems that integrating the separate modules into the complete project is the most difficult task for completing the project.  What are some good methods (ways of planning, ways of thinking, etc.) to make this process smoother and easier?

  64. Anonymous says:

    First some background info on me: I am a College Student graduating this year, and ever since I was a little kid I thought I was going to be a Mathematician.  Last year I took some Grad classes in Math and decided it wasn’t for me.  Then I decided to try out physics, I took an advanced Quantum Mechanics class, and once again decided it wasn’t for me.  I had been dabbling in Computer Science since I was in High School and was taking an Artificial Intelligence class last year when our Robotics instructor gave a guest lecture.  I had never really considered Robotics as a field I would be interested in, but after jumping ship on math and physics I thought I would give it a shot.  I have been reading a bunch of books on hardware, Electronics, micro-controllers, etc. since the beginning of the Summer and have been loving it, and am considering going to Grad School in the subject!   

    Now to my question:  I’ve been designing several projects, and it always seems that integrating the separate modules into the complete project is the most difficult task for completing the project.  What are some good methods (ways of planning, ways of thinking, etc.) to make this process smoother and easier?

  65. Anonymous says:

    First some background info on me: I am a College Student graduating this year, and ever since I was a little kid I thought I was going to be a Mathematician.  Last year I took some Grad classes in Math and decided it wasn’t for me.  Then I decided to try out physics, I took an advanced Quantum Mechanics class, and once again decided it wasn’t for me.  I had been dabbling in Computer Science since I was in High School and was taking an Artificial Intelligence class last year when our Robotics instructor gave a guest lecture.  I had never really considered Robotics as a field I would be interested in, but after jumping ship on math and physics I thought I would give it a shot.  I have been reading a bunch of books on hardware, Electronics, micro-controllers, etc. since the beginning of the Summer and have been loving it, and am considering going to Grad School in the subject!   

    Now to my question:  I’ve been designing several projects, and it always seems that integrating the separate modules into the complete project is the most difficult task for completing the project.  What are some good methods (ways of planning, ways of thinking, etc.) to make this process smoother and easier?

  66. Some of you may remember an even older book which I still have on my shelf:

    Build Your Own Working Robot By David L. Heiserman; TAB Books No.841; First Ed. Apr 1976

    It’s all 555, 74xx ICs etc. but makes an interesting read discussing how to build up modular systems, old school style!

  67. keith osmar says:

    what is the easiest circuit for a photo-taxis of a robot? i REALLY mean the easiest!!!

  68. efulcrum says:

    Gordon, I have a bazillion questions about robots, and their subsystems, but — since you’re the Voice of Experience in this field — I want to know something about you.

    What is your very most favorite robot, why, and if you could improve on it, what would you change?

    ALSO, (a literal “freebie”) — for folks asking where to get parts on the cheap:  sign up with freecycle.org  You’d be blown away by what folks will flat GIVE you if you just ask.

    All the best!

  69. David Keys says:

    When scavenging stepper motors from junked electronics one often finds little controller boards wired between the motors and the main board. I always toss these in the recycling bin with the rest of the carcass of whatever I’m tearing down. But I can’t help but feel I’m throwing away something useful. After all, this was running the motor in it intended use.

    Any thoughts on whether these could be salvageable, useable, hackable? Are there any common interfaces or protocols for talking to these boards?  

  70. David Keys says:

    When scavenging stepper motors from junked electronics one often finds little controller boards wired between the motors and the main board. I always toss these in the recycling bin with the rest of the carcass of whatever I’m tearing down. But I can’t help but feel I’m throwing away something useful. After all, this was running the motor in it intended use.

    Any thoughts on whether these could be salvageable, useable, hackable? Are there any common interfaces or protocols for talking to these boards?  

  71. Anonymous says:

    Is it better to introduce college students to robotics through the use of a closed kit (Elenco) for the simplicity, or have them openly build their own for the freedom?

    Yes, there are many college students in engineering at my school with no knowledge of robotics. It is a little disheartening.

  72. Joseph Cho says:

    What’s a good (meaning cheap and accessible) skin-like material to use over joints that will resist along term wear fromt he joint moving back and forth?

  73. Joseph Cho says:

    What’s a good (meaning cheap and accessible) skin-like material to use over joints that will resist along term wear fromt he joint moving back and forth?

  74. Joseph Cho says:

    What’s a good (meaning cheap and accessible) skin-like material to use over joints that will resist along term wear fromt he joint moving back and forth?

  75. Joseph Cho says:

    What’s a good (meaning cheap and accessible) skin-like material to use over joints that will resist along term wear fromt he joint moving back and forth?

  76. Betsy McIver says:

    So who won? This is the second Make giveaway that I’ve entered where I haven’t been able to actually find an announcement of who won… so anticlimactic.

  77. Betsy McIver says:

    So who won? This is the second Make giveaway that I’ve entered where I haven’t been able to actually find an announcement of who won… so anticlimactic.

  78. Anonymous says:

    Sorry kids, it STILL is my today. I’m posting them now.

    The winners are:

    Rachel Hendery
    Christopher Favreau
    Stephen Brown

    And, believe it or not:

    Betsy Mclver

    (I swear I didn’t load the dice. It’s a random number drawing!)

    Congrats, you all, and sorry for the delay. My apologies. Please send your mailing addresses via email and I’ll get the books out to you. gareth at makezine dot com.

    1. Betsy McIver says:

      Ha! Awesome! Thanks so much Gareth!