Let's Make Robots!


Drives until obstacle detected, plus colour object tracking

I've spend too many years thinking about building my own robot and feel like I've found a group of like-minded folk with this site. :-)  I'd like to share my adventure with you as I progress, if that's ok.

My background as a PC-based computer programmer has given me confidence that I could give a robot of mine a very good brain... it's just the mechanical and electrical lacking that has held me back. Not a lot to overcome then! I've read a couple of books now and scribbled a couple of ideas down on paper for how i might progress.

To get the best from my software development skills I wanted to use Borland Delphi v5 running on a windows os. This means I've been looking for solutions that integrate directly with a laptop, preferably via USB, to keep it simple for me.

I'd investigated a few options that may have been suitable and I came across www.pc-control.co.uk
Before even trying their products and software I fired a few questions to them via email and can't fault them for their customer service. Having proved everything is suitable for me I've taken the plunge and have started my first robot project.

As a father of 2 girls (currently 8 and 10) my overall aim is to create something that will keep them entertained (hence my corny name FunBot), as well as challenge myself.


- indoor-only
- no need for great speed (i'm not aiming to have races with this)
- no soldering required (could be challenging, but inital investigation shows I might get away with this)
- simple to construct (as my lack of skills here will hold me back)
- design for future expandability (but start fairly simple)
- get the brain functionality data driven and parameterised well so I can easily enhance the robot's capabilities
- keep expanding the robot's abilities as time goes by

Purchased, so far:

- motor bee controller (from www.pc-control.co.uk)
- 2 x easy roller robot wheel kit (from www.warburtech.com)
- servo motor (from www.pc-control.co.uk)
- stepper bee controller (from www.pc-control.co.uk)
- 2 x stepper motor (from www.pc-control.co.uk)
- sharp ir distance sensor (from www.oomlout.com)
- dig bee + (from www.pc-control.co.uk)
- micro bumper switch (from maplin)
- 6mm plywood (from B and Q)
- second-hand dell 910 notebook, running XP (the brain!)
- AA battery holders and heaps of rechargeable AA batteries
- various other bits to get it to hang together, e.g. spare wire, terminal blocks, small metal brackets

Functionality ideas:

- simple wandering ability, obstacle avoidance using distance sensor and bumper switch
- speech using pre-recorded files and text-to-speech
- dance, utilising music playing capability and random sequences of music
- attach 'finger' gadget to a dc motor capable of kicking or flicking a ball, e.g. play a game with kids,
- speech recognition (using dragon naturally speaking software)
- use roborealm vision software (www.roborealm.com), I got in when it was freeware, along with webcam to identify objects, movement and anything else I can think of, e.g. follow people
- attach anamatronic hand gadget to grab and carry items
- ...etc, etc... all a bit ambitious, but no harm in aiming high, eh!


Now I just need to start to put all my ideas together and make it work.
I have actually started to build my creation so I'll get some pictures up soon to show my design and progress.

Any comments or suggestions are welcome. I'm very new to all this.

Thanks for reading.

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Here's the design:

- plywood base (light, strong, easily worked)
- dimensions of 36cm x 36cm (based on grid of 4 x 4 lots of 9cm x 9cm squares, because all the components, battery boxes and circuits seemed to fit comfortably in this range... basically to give me options as i progress)
- vertical supports for notebook to sit on



The wheels:

- fit firmly to base
- underneath so inside robot perimeter



Dell 910 notebook (The brain):

- lightweight
- decent battery life
- decent processor
- good connectivity

Dell 910


Attach techinque:

- shows hook and loop tape and battery box attached
- easy implementation
- easily reconfigured
- not very permanent i know, but should do for my indoor robot i hope
- shows room left outside the batteries for future enhancements (sensors, limbs, etc...)




- shows hook and loop tape attached
- these will placed on the inner square of the robot (beneath the dell)


I figured it was a safe bet for me in the long run. Brings a few things to the table ready packaged for me, like:
- usb connections (and all the possibilities that brings)
- microphone connection
- easy updating of software for brain
- decent output screen (might just use it for a big friendly face for now)
... etc ...

... all for less than a hundred quid.

Using a laptop for a controller is something I've been wanting to try for a while. But when you want to move on from a computer, the Arduino system would be a great way to begin more advanced electronics. I like the Arduino because while the programming is harder than a BASIC stamp, it teaches you a more versatile language (almost like C) and it keeps the electronic knowledge required to a minimum.

 Anyways, I'm excited to see how this project will turn out!  :)

But solder is Fun!!

Makes your fubot more fun

Thanks for the comments folks. Will get a video up here as soon as it's moving about.

The beauty of going with the stuff from www.pc-control.co.uk is that I've already tested all the individual components simply by hooking them up to a usb on my main desktop pc and using their supplied software. Point, click, done. Nice!

Just need to put it altogether and see where it goes from there. Now I just need to stop my youngest daughter from being helpful(!) while i do stuff on it!

Tag on another idea that should be possible: using the roborealm software to identify a suitable target (e.g. a person or one of our cats or anything that's moving really) and shoot a missile of some kind at the target! Evil, but fun i think.

This would be the perfect use for one of those USB Missile Launchers! Dang, why hadn't I though of that! :D

I went about the same way and biggest problem I encountered was that the digibee+ and the motorbee can only control 1 servo (from the motorbee ports) together. The Digibee+ can set digital inputs/outputs either to on or off but is unable to move a servo (better used for lights etc).

Finally(!) got to the point of having the thing mobile.
Test 1 is a simple matter of showing the ability to drive forward when no obstacle is detected in front.

It's not well shown on the 'test 1' video, but I've got the IR sensor mounted on a servo and able to look side to side and both of the front bumper switches are working too.

I'm currently undecided about the best way to mount the front bumper switches. I'd like them to work together as one big front bump detector.

After that I'm aiming to get the brain to the next level to start doing something slightly more impressive than simply driving forwards!

Close Front View

Close Overhead View

Things have moved on a little again now.
I've still managed to avoid any soldering!

Here's a few pics to show the progress.
Low down from the back. USB leads need to be considered. I've got a few very short ones for when it needs neatening up, but the longer ones are handy when I'm testing on my main PC.


Low down from the front shows the sharp IR mounted on the servo (using one of my kids mini jenga pieces!). Front bumper switched still to be attached. I'm thinking of attaching them underneath the main platform to allow other bits to be smoothly attached on top. Also shown are the 2 stepper motors I've got going.


Latest shot of the inners. Bit messy, but I should be able to tidy that up as areas are finlaised. First LED can also be seen (just). I'm thinking of adding plenty of those soon.


Low side shot on the right shows batteries and wheels more clearly.


A potential face for the robot. I've got him smiling and frowning in response to stuff too.


A "Test 2" video, showing inidividual components working, will be up soon.