Let's Make Robots!

General Blackbeard

Like so many other posts, I'll start this one off with the worn out statement: This is my first robot. I have some past programming experience in a few languages and some soldering experience, but never the two together in one project. I blame my 8 year old son for this one. He got interested in the robots a year ago and while researching Chrstimas gifts for him I discovered the world of DIY robot kits and got intrigued. I'm an engineer at heart that likes to build things so building a robot really interested me as a knew hobby. Like most people I can't spend much money on a hobby, so we'll see how far I can take this. So far I've been pleasantly surprised by how inexpensive a lot of the parts can be.  

After some researching I settled on the Mr. General kit as a basis for my first robot. It sounded challenging enough, yet not too much so and looked to provide a good base to add to and experiment with, both in coding and with new gadgets and sensor add-ons.  Among the ideas I have I would like to add an LCD display for feedback,  a focus light source that will beam on the moving object he tracks, additional LED's (because blinky things are cool, and an Ultrasonic sensor to complement the IR sensors in object detection and navigation. I purchased a Picaxe 40x2 for the brain of Blackbeard, but also a 28x1 to experiment with on a standalone breadboard.

I bought the  the kit, cable and 28x1 off Ebay from Dicksonhamshop and the 40x2 from Peter Anderson.

Wish me luck! 


Jan 31, 2011

Here are the results of steps 1 and 2:

1) Not so good. The USB to Serial cable did not work for me. Or, more accurately I should say the Driver for the cable didn't work for me. I tried it on three different systems: Windows 7, Vista and XP. None worked. I rebuilt the circuit twice so I'm pretty sure it's the cable/driver.  So much for going cheap. I'm about to submit my order to Peter Anderson to the USB to Stereo cable.

2) Pretty Good. I only had time to build the Compound IR eye. Here is a picture of it:

Compound IR Eye

I did have one question while building the Eye and that was which way the 7 pin header should be oriented. I decided in the end it probably didn't matter so I picked a direction and went with. The alligator clamps on my board holder scratched up the paint some, even though I wrapped them in tape. The transistor was a little tricky for me since the holes are so close together. I had to wick out my first solder attempt and do it again. You can see the results in this picture.

Orientation of 7 Pin header

Hopefully this week I'll get a chance to build the main PCB. I'll post a picture of it when I do.


Feb 2, 2011

Slow Progress

Had a little bit of time this evening to solder on most of the resistors and the diodes.



Feb 2, 2011

Had a few minutes to fire up the iron and add the last 6 resistors (the 6 slots missing the bottom left of the picture above). Hope to have time to finish the board this weekend.


 Feb 3, 2011

Got my new AXE27 Picaxe USB cable in the mail! Assembled the little AXE29 breadboard adapter for the stereo connector and downloaded and installld the driver.  It works! My little blinking LED circuit worked! Also connected up the  Compound IR Eye and wrote the program to callibrate it. It worked! They eye works and is ready to go.

BTW - I have a trivia question for you - in my picture above the assembled Eye, can you spot anything missing? I did after my first attempt of connected it up. :) Oops.


Feb 6, 2011

Completed more of the main board over the weekend, but didn't have time to finish it. My soldering skills must be rusty.  I found soldering the transistors and the headers a little difficult and spent some time cleaning up solder that accidently crossed contacts a few times. I need to add the headers for the other power rail, the corner IR sensors and the recharge jack. Here's a picture of where I'm at now:



Feb 10, 2011

 Finally made time to finish the board for General B. For my first modification I decided to simply add a few more LEDs that would be triggered by pan and tilt movements and IR activity in the eye. I also added another IR LED/phototransistor pair looking forward since I decided to use the corner sensors for edge detection.  I started to put the standoffs on for the the wheel servos, but found that one of the four screws supplied is different. It's the right length, so I know it's the one meant to be used, but the head and threads are different. The nylon nut doesn't engage on to it. I circled the head of the incorrect screw in the picture. It's not a self tapping and there are no more in the kids this long. Guess I'll have to figure out a work around (aka hot glue).


Feb12, 2011

General Blackbeard (GB1) has been assembled. See picture below. The only change I made as to make use of a single 4-AA battery holder instead of the two separately mounted holders in the kit.  It doesn't look very tidy right now, but I hope to work on that.

Next step is to wire up the servos and sensors. I plan to set it up first with the 28x1 processor before rewiring and modifying the code for the 40x2.  Decided not to change too many variables all at once. I want to verify that the basic Mr. General is working correctly first. Once I verify that I'll do the mods for the 40x2 and also wire up the additional LEDs. After that I'll mod the code for using the additional IR sensor I mounted on the front.


Feb 13, 2011

I'll have to get to pictures/video monday or tuesday, but here is where I'm at. GB1 has been wired and programmed using the 28x1 processor but the initial results of execution not very good. Here is what I see when I turn him on:

1) The power-on LED doesn't light.

 2) Corner green LEDs light and the IR Eye goes fully to the right and twitches like mad for a few seconds then stops while the speaker plays happy B-day

3) Once the song ends he does one of two things:

     If the background light is low he will twitch about once a second with the eye turned fully to the right. Corner LEDs blink

     If the bacground light is high the eye will twitch like mad (instead of once a second) while turned fully to the right. Corner LEDs chase (or seem to).

4) With hand movement in front of him he occasionally will move the eye slightly up ro down, but only a little and not consistently.

5) Wheel servos don't move at all.

When I get some time I plan to recheck the wiring of the servos and IR LEDs to the breadboard, map out what voltages are going to the servos and eye and take some video. I'll also reinspect all my solder joints as best I can. My chief concern is the transistors- they're tricky things to solder with the leads placed so close together.


Feb 14, 2011

As promised, here are a couple pictures, but video will have to wait until tomorrow. The edge sensors are detecting the edge (all 4 work), but the head only twitches and the wheels only turn on short impulses.

Feb 20, 2011

Getting closer, but still some curious behavior going on here that I haven't had time to completely troubshoot.

Here are some screenshots of the Debug Screen and a video so you can see what I'm looking at. The IR values are way too hight and the servo control is either going batty because of it or something squirly is going on there too. I added the two LEDs on the breadboard to confirm signals being sent to the servos and the IR LEDs.

The video for some reason is being inserted at the top of blog, but the link is also below.



Feb 21, 2011
Ran some tests on the eye and took pictures.
The values bounce around a little, but re-using the eye calibration code I got the following:
No obstruction:
~170, ~150, ~85, ~130
With Obstruction:
~130, ~120, ~65, ~90
Pointed directly at LED desk lamp, distance about 8 inches:
~300, ~300, ~170, ~350
It's possible I overheated them and thier sensitivities were signifcantly reduced as a result.
I would recommend for beginners that the eye should be done last since it has the more sensitive Phototransistors so close to the board. I probably would have done better after all the practice on the main board.
The batteries are NiMH, Sanyo eneloop rechargiables.
Here are the pictures:
Finally ordered the new compound eye from Robotshop. Also ordered a SRF04 Ultrasonic ranger finder to play with. Can't wait!
Now all I need is the time to experiment with the changes I wanted to make....
FINALLY! I got the new compound eye a while ago but never had time to install it. Tonight I finally did it. I've been passing my workdesk for weeks wishing I had time to play and tonight I finally made some time for it.  I finally got Mr. General working! While I've already designed 2 more robot projects I'm anxious to work on, I still want to try some of the things I had planned for ol' General Blackbeard- add the SRF04 sensor and a navigation routine and ad the display. Pictures and video to follow.
5/18/11 Here is the video!

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What do yout think it means when the Happy B-day song plays at high speed? I got the resonator in, at least I think it's in, can't tell if the leads are actually making contact in the breadboard, I used the option of bending the them to go in the right holes. The song such zips on through like a playing  record too fast.


That is normal with the Picaxe. It is a good sign that the external 16MHz resonator is working properly. If it played slowly then it would have indicated that the chip had defaulted to the 4MHz internal oscillator.

Sounds like your almost there now :D

Thanks, I'll give that a try. I had planned a number of troubleshooting tests, but I'll re-wicker the resonator first and see if that changes anything. I haven't had time to truly troubelshoot it, but it's been on my brain all week. Last time I did the debug option to watch the IR sensor readings from the eye, it didn't seem right to me. Even if the servo was going goofy I think it would react more that it currently is to changes in those sensor readings. My solder job on that transistor may have been weak. I plan to look at that.  My electronics knowldege is weak too, so I need to figure out how best to test that the IR LEDs are lighting on command. 

In other news, I had planned to put an 8mhz resonator on the 40x2 to get 32 mhz, to account for the additional functionality (and code) I hope to add. Sounds like I can scrap that idea. Thanks for the tip! I'll use a  4mhz resonator on it instead.


Quick tip for checking IR LEDs - look at them through a digital camera. Many digital cameras (DSLRs, cellphone cams, webcams, etc) are sensitive to near IR, so when you look at the IR LEDs through the viewfinder/screen/whatever you should be able to see them light up, usually appearing as violet. It's not exactly a perfect method, but you can at least see that the IR LEDs are turning on, and it can be good for comparing the brightness of several grouped IR LEDs.

I replaced the PN100 on the eye with a 2N2222 that I had on hand. I read that the too are similar transistors. It worked! All 4 IR LEDs now light up when signaled! I really screwed up the holes in the board though. To get the replacement on I had to gently scrape away the blue coating on the 3 traces coming away from the transistor on the back side of the board and solder the leads directly to them. Getting late here, so I'll try to find time tomorrow to put ol' GB back together again and see how he works.

I found that tip on LMR just this evening! I confirmed that the IR LEDs are not lighting. Checking the signal wire to the Eye against ground and found the signal wire is sending 5 volts . I expected something smaller ~ 1.2V or something. In any case, the processor is telling the IR LEDs to light, but they aren't. All the corner ones work. I am suspecting the transistor on they eye. It was the first transister I soldered and I had a hard time with it and may have ended up overheating the transistor or having cold solder joints.

Song still plays really fast. Is that expected at 16 mhz?  I'm going to try commenting out the IR Eye and Follow subroutines to see if I can temporily make him a simple edge avoidance robot just to check the rest of him works. Also need to determine why the power-on LED doesn't work.


It doesn't matter which way you put in the 7 pin header, depends how you want to run the cables. Either way works fine.

It will be interesting to see how you go with the 40 pin IC. It will be a tighter fit on that breadboard. With the extra memory, I/O and prototype area under the breadboard you should be able to add a fair bit of extra capabilities.

I would really like to see someone add a speakjet to this robot. The prototype area under the breadoard should provide enough room. A small amplifier like the TDA2822M would give it good volume.


Speakjet? You mean an audio amp? Thought about it...but decided to wait until I have the basic robot working before tinkering with it too much. I have a small 2 line LCD I hope to add, and some extra LEDs. I also have an extra servo I thought about connecting to the small speaker on a rotating standoff that would match the movements of the pan servo so that the speaker faced the same direction the robot was looking. Just for grins. Also thougth about some blue LED underlighting with a photoresister to turn them on only when the ambient light was low.Also thought of Hall-Effect sensor on each wheel.... no shortage of ideas. Like you said, there should be plenty of room to try these things out.

Since your using a picaxe I was suggesting something more like this with the speakjet:


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