Let's Make Robots!

RC car controlled via laptop

I'm an absolute beginner regarding of this --

I want to control my RC car through PC by means of using my keyboard as controller...

I want to connect to my laptop via USB, is it possible? USB only, no converter eh

From what I know is, connect the transmitter to a board, then from the board connect to the Laptop??


Can anyone help me out with this? Have any program kit regarding of this?

I would like to use MPLab, if there'sa source code regaring of this...that would be nice :)

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...is the short answer.

The long answer is that you have loads of options. I use my desktop PC serial port to control robots by an "umbilical" to the serial port and see no reason why you shouldn't do it with a laptop.

If you tell me what microcontroller hardware you already have I'll try to steer you in the right direction. (And then everyone will shout at me because I love MPLAB and everyone else around here seems to be a fan of PIC BASIC.)

Also, is budget an issue? If you want to use MPLAB, you need to either go with DIY programmer, which can be a little ropey if you don't have serial ports (do you have another PC which has serial ports?) but only costs about $10, or you can go with a clone PICkit off eBay for about $35. (I got one recently and I'm saddened to say I am very very impressed with it. I had been a devoted fan of the serial port prommer until then.)

If you main goal is "something" controlled from your PC, then you should make this the focus for now. Don't worry about servos, motors, mechnicas and building a robot for the time being. Concentrate on building a circuit and writing some code which can switch an LED on and off from a terminal emulator or something like that. If you can achieve this, you can do whatever you want with the PIC outputs!

PS - I have done this a hundred times with the serial port. When I get the time, I intend to port some of my efforts over to a USB device, but I'm not there yet!

Thanks for the reply eh, so happy to hear from a MPLAB lover hek hek! You might be my saviour.........Thanks alot for the information, very kind of you!

My laptop..it only has ...video connector...I supoose that is the RS-232?? 

Actually I haven't search on which MicroC that suits, there's whole load of them. Any recommendation? Go for the easy one lol. Excuse me for asking a noob question, correct me if I am wrong... The microcontroller is used as an interface (Communicate) between the serial port and the transmitter...is it?? (I'm a programming pig) Actually my project is to construct an RC car with an additional mini camera/spy cam onboard..the live image data will be captured and send back to my laptop so I can have a vision on the screen and hence steer the car.. Can be done~?~?

I only have one laptop eh. Regarding of budget...I am not rich LoL

In total we need how many Microcontrollers are needed to implement this project? The project is basically an RC car with "Eyes" controlled using laptop via serial port.. Two? Three?

Btw 1 question, let's say we are doing it using serial port; we can connect the serial port to the USB via a converter?? Does this kind of converter even exist? *laughs*


Video and RS-232 are not the same. Look closely. The video (VGA) connector has an extra row of pins, where the RS-232 com port only has 9 pins.

I don't understand the question about transmitter. I thought you wanted to strip out the radio gear and replace it with a laptop. Now, it's starting to look like wat you want is to control your R/C transmitter by a laptop, which is a slightly different ballgame. Unless your transmitter has an interface port (in which case, we probably don't need a µC at all) we'll have to have the transmitter and put a couple of electronic pots in place of the stick pots.

Let's be clear. Do you want to mount the laptop on your robot, or control your robot by radio from your laptop? If the car is to be remote, we need to consider that video data is BIG. So big you will probably need an additional radio transmitter fro the car back to the laptop. These are around $80.

To pic(!) a PIC, go to the PIC16 parametric search page of the Microchip website. Select devices which have A/E/USART (that's the built-in RS-232 transceiver). Also, select PDIP (it's unlikely you have teh ability to use surface-mount technology). Make other selections depending on your requirements. I usually go for something with internal clock (no worries about extrnal crystals, then), flash memory (reprogrammable), if you want EEPROM, low pin count, etc. Oh, and select a product that's "in production". Do you want analog inputs... That sort of thing.

The choice of µC depends on the laptop! Seriously. If you want to go with serial port (the one where I know what I'm talking about) you select A/E/USART. If you want to go USB (I can't help you there) you need to select a USB device.

Some folk have gone with my recommendation of the 16F690. This is in anticipation of the howto I am going to do someday soon (I promise). It has EEPROM, loads of RAM, 18 I/O pins, internal 8MHz clock, UART, I2C, but no USB.

Yes, we can use a USB/serial convertor to CONTROL this project. HOWEVER, the serial port programmers used to PROGRAM (put the software in the µC) are very very fussy and don't work very well, so I recommend a USB programmer if you don't have serial ports.

Check out this write-up for one that does not require a laptop. Or programming. Or a microcontroller.


Or a toy one commercially available :


I think there are some adapters that can take cheap NTSC surveillance camera video from a receiver and display it on a laptop if need be. Something like a Dazzle video capture device. 

For controlling with a laptop, perhaps something with the Zigbee devices might work. They have a longer range than Bluetooth, and the serial interface is pretty simple. Sparkfun has the XBee radios (with wire antenna) that I've seen operating over a 1/2 mile line of sight, and was told was tested out to over a mile. Range goes down with blocking objects though.


Sadly I don't think the video transmitter from a standard security set-up would reach that far, but I've heard of serial cameras. The Omnivision eval-kits have some possibilities. :


 I'd say you only need 1 micro on the RC car with it's own serial link, with perhaps another serial link for the camera. 


sorry 4 the lateness...got few academic test coming up, hav to bulk up..

lol means i don't have the port..so can I still implement this project like your way?

My knowledge regarding this is very noob, sorry for that --. I need to construct my project using at least 1 Microcontroller, without it my project equals to zero. So I think it shud be controlling my robot by radio. My meaning of transmitter is the remote controller. Originally i tot connecting the transmitter to my laptop is the most basic thing to do (with Microcon), sorry about that ... So in this case, the transmitter is completely useless for this project?

 I think I'll go for the serial port µC...but i dun hav a serial port..swt

 Thnx for the info robologist

OKay, I think your plan is to take a radio controlled car, stick a video camera on it and connect your PC to the R/C transmitter so it's actually controlled from the PC. I don't see what you need a microcontroller for.

Not as easy as that....

I need to control the Rc car via laptop...and view the video captured via laptop also eh...I need to have at least 1 Microcontroller. Like you said if using the transmitter to connect to the PC doesn't need any MicroC, then I can't do that.

My q now is..For using the Microcontroller, what I have to do 1st..? --

Sorry. Having established that we don't actually need a microcontroller, I'm not sure how I can advise you on how you might use one!

I think it's time to write a specification. Is this for a college course or something? Academics will be impressed by that sort of thing.

Here is the Surveyor SRV-1 :


It uses an ARM micro, and both it's serial port and the cameras seril output are connected to the XBee wireless link that transmits/recieves from the USB XBee radio attached to your computer. Pretty interesting setup.

What I'd suggested earlier was to seperate the wireless links. One wireless link was to whatever micro you'd like to use, whatever you are most familiar with. Your RC car should have a PCB on it that has an h-bridge or 2. Trace these out, and connect your micro (through small resistors) to drive the h-bridge(s) from the signals on your micro. Program your micro to accept keyboard input over a serial link (I imagine you do have USB) and send commands through a terminal window.

 For the camera, get one of the cheap wireless surveillance cameras, usually $50 - $80. They just transmit, and the reciever that comes with it can be connected to a video capture device, such as a Dazzle. The Dazzle (or others) converts the video to PC usable, and is generally also connected by USB. Actually writing the PC software to make a camera viewing window and a terminal link will be your wonderful joy that I have no real idea on,other than to suggest maybe Liberty Basic, cheap Windows programming stuff.

This is actually my College's project...a huge project, I can die from this...zz

I really utterly need to use a MicroC..by means of whatever method you connect the car to the laptop and control it via keyboard. And also with the camera. Like the site given by robologist, the interface that i want is something like that, either controlling via mouse or keyboard. But not Java cause I dun have any clue how to deal with Java..zzz!