Robotify a remote control car

Fun & Games Robotics Technology
Robotify a remote control car

Recently I have been taking apart and rewiring some remote control cars that I picked up at the town dump or local yard sales. Some of my students have also been in on the fun, and we are aiming to make them into programmable robotic cars. Take a look at the photos and see what is inside the cars.

Currently, we are working with the yellow Lego RCX’s, but it seems like this idea could be worked out with just about any processing platform. Make Controller, Basic Stamp, Arduino, ATTiny or…We can give them sensing abilities by using photocells, pressure switches and other sensors. One of the thoughts that brought this on was the desire of students to go beyond the Lego system, looking to work with other materials.

The Lego connectors are good, but not very universal. By using aluminum or copper tape, it is relatively easy to make a more compatible wire connector. Students can get some experience with soldering and working with systems without having to make the entire vehicle themselves. It seems that the yardsale or dumpscore cars are a good place to start, but often they have other issues from being played with. Often the worst of them have been driven on the beach with some pretty heavy salt water corrosion. By getting a good collection of relatively inexpensive cars, there can be a good level of consistency in materials, and a greater level of compatibility in parts.

This project seems like it has some good long term potential. The gear train for the rear drive wheels is much more sophisticated than would be realistic to make in most shops, the steering assembly is pretty solid and proven, and the chassis is a great way to hold the thing together. Some of the issues to resolve are: What else can be done with the remote control radio transmitter and receiver? How can you drive larger motors with a small microcontroller?

Have you messed about with remote control cars? What success stories do you have of controlling dc motors with microcontrollers? Do you have documentation of great projects done with your students, kids or on your own? What are the possible pitfalls in a project like this? What is the best way to program the Lego RCX, Interactive C, LeJos, Logo or something else? If you had access to a group of students and a few or dozens of small, cheap remote control cars, what would you do with them? Add your thoughts and comments below and contribute your photos and videos to the Make Flickr pool.

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