Let's Make Robots!

Should Arduino based robot kits have the Arduino built in?

Now that I'm learning Arduino I've developed 3 Arduino robot kits. The first was fairly big and can take the Arduino Mega, Duemilanove or Nano. The second two have had the Arduino built directly onto the PCB so that little or no jumper wires are needed.

Which is better? The additional cost of the Arduino built in is less than buying an Arduino board and with all the basic wiring done it is much easier for those new to electronics.

The Kit that accepts an external Arduino is a bit more flexiable but will always have a tangle of wires on top.

The third robot is a secret and still under development.

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Here are my thoughts for the small robot:

Have you considered to design a backpack for the compound eye using a tiny to read the sensors and feed the readings as a byte on a serial or I2C interface to the Arduino? That would free up lots of pins and let the user add his own servos or sensors. Just make sure the user has some analog pins to plug in Sharp IR sensors. Remember, Arduino has a nice SoftwareSerial library that works on any pins, so the user doesn't need to use the hardware uart to communicate with the backpack.

Make the Arduino's I2C available to the user if you decide to keep the compound eye connected directly to the Arduino. These pins can also be used as digital or analog if needed.

Have the mega328 and FTDI chip soldered to the board (smd), easier to use by a beginner, no problem with damaging the mega if the bootloader is loaded beforehand and all fuses and lock bits set up properly. Always provide programmer pins, just in case the bootloader gets corrupted. And the smd mega has 2 extra analog pins. This will lower the cost of the robot and keep the small size factor.

Both robots look attractive and I'm sure they will be hot sales. Nice job!

I do want to make an improved version of the eye but for now our main focus is on the price. I am trying to get good sensors that will detect heat (different range of IR) so it can be used for fire fighting and hopefully have a better range.

As for the small robot, it does have the SMD atmega with the 2 extra analog inputs, FTDI chip and USB socket. It also has the 6 pin header socket which we use to download the software with.

At this point until we have a demand for the mega328 the mega168 is cheaper and still has half of it's memory available after the demo software is loaded.


hey odd,
im intrigued about that second robot.
it looks a fair competitor to the rp6
whats the price and what does it come with?

I had hoped this would replace the RP6 robot which we make now. Unfortunately it is just a prototype so I can't offer you a price.

The first little bot looks like a good starting off robot like a plug and play type. The second one looks like a development platform to me. So i think these are very much 2 different products.

Yes, the little one is more for begginers just to learn programming with. Only 2 spare digital I/O pins are available. This kit comes pre-assembled so that the customer only needs to add batteries and it's up and running with the Arduino bootloader and demo software pre-loaded. Then when the customer gets bored with it they can experiment with the code.

The second is designed to be a versatile experimental platform, Ideal for students and hobbyist.

Kind of depends on the ultimate cost but I'm more in favour of the external arduino and the more flexible chassis.

It also allows for a better learning experience given the fact that you're controlling DC motors and there's definitly space for adding sensors and/or other kit. 

Whatever you do don't get rid of the FTDI on your mini design, it's just so convenient and not that expensive.

IMHO an onboard Arduino is the better choice, because this would be cheaper.

  • Maybe you don't need to implement the FTDI chip and USB connector. Just a 6pin Header as used on the Arduino Pro or some Arduino clones. On this header you can connect an external FTDI USB UART module or a Bluetooth module like the Bluetooth mate from Sparkfun.
  • One nice feature would be to have the header pins for a standard Arduino shield onboard. Than it would be possible to attach a XBEE shield.
  • 3 pin Headers for all free IOs is also a good idea, to connect servos and sensors directly to the board. A seperate 5V power supply for servos should be possible.

I agree that it would be nice to have the headers for the shields. In the little robot at the top it was not practical because it is all hard wired. I have used 3 pin headers for the 2 free I/O pins so that an additional 2 servos or sensors can be added easily.

The larger robot does have a seperate supply for the servos, as it runs on 7.2V I just put 3 diodes in series. This just drops the battery voltage by 1.8V to give a simple 5.4V supply for the servos.

It is all a bit of a juggling act with robot kits. On one hand you want them to be versatile so as not to limit the customers creativity but you also need to keep the price down.

I agree, an onboard atmega is better;

1 - better package, out-of-the-box experience

2 - Most people are going to end up with more than 1 microcontroller, anyway (I have more than one Arduino, and more than one Propeller!)

3 - It's going to end up being cheaper for most users.

Maybe put the atmega in a socket, if blowing it is a big concern?