Let's Make Robots!

How to start a hobby in robotics?

So I want to start making robots.

I've been programming for years, so i have that part down, but i dont know much about electronics.

I want to start with a project thats expandable once i get more confortable with the basics.

Lets say i have a budget of $250 but with a possibility for more.

 

 

I want to start with something simple like a small robot that drives towards open spaces or light, but i would like to move up to something like a semi heavy duty explorer robot, that i can drive remotely with gyroscope and accellerometer warnings when it is about to flip, a camera transmitting to a display back where i will be, and maybe robotic arms to do a few tasks when its there. Maybe i will also add a set of automatic actions for when it is sliding back on a steep slope or looses grip of an icy road. I also want it to be a little speedy, not crawling around some some of the other robots ive seen.

 

Which microcontroller should i use?

I heard of Arduino Uno, Axon Mote, Orangutang, Picaxe.

Are there others? What are the differences?

 

What are my options for power? i have a high capacity high power electric bicycle battery that i would like to use, but im sure it would need a transformer to work with the robotic parts. Are there cheap transformers that could be used for something like this? Do i need 2 power sources if i want high powered motors (1 for the microcontroller, sensors and servos and 1 for the motors)?

 

What is a motor controller and do i need it?

 

What are my options for wireless communication with the robot's microcontroller?

 

What are my options for a camera that transmits back to a laptop or separate display?

 

I have an Andriod phone (Galaxy S) can this be used with the robot in any way?

(as a camera, transmitter, microprocesor, remote controller etc?)


How about a laptop? can that be used as any of those or anything else except programming it?

Where is a good place to buy all of the parts?

 

Thanks in advance for any advice you guys can give!

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After I stumbled on the Arduino website I did some more reading on micro controllers and programming them. I ended up on this website looking for more information on what I could do with a micro controller. December last year I ordered 200$ of Arduinos, sensors and various electronics from Yourduino.com. I did all the example sketches I could find and started modifying them. Not much time later I bought a Rover 5 and got it up and running in a couple of weeks time.

I chose Arduino because of its popularity and great support forums. There are loads of books about Arduino and the internet is full of Arduino tutorials and example sketches. Almost all the sketches I have made are sketches that I have found online and adapted to my use.

You just need the will to learn. It's not easy when you know very little or nothing about electronics and programming. You need to be prepared to spent hours reading manuals and datasheets. Don't be afraid to try out lots of things, you learn the most from making mistakes... I've released quite a bit of smoke from electronics :p

This released smokes are fascinating. They look like little nuke explosions.

I am still fairly new. Started off with a kit bot. Learning programming and other information. I am a computer geek so the programming makes since. I have learned more about electronic here in the last month that I can even express. I am currently trying to get an old RC motor controller to work with an Arduino board. Also the Kit robot is no where near its original configuration. Parts scavenged for other test and new stuff added to see how it affects the program. Shon

Which microcontroller should i use?

Like vishu said, it depends on the programming language you want to use. I myself choose the Arduino due to its popularity, thus meaning ubiquitiness of resourses/help, and well I programming in C-ish language is a bonus :)


What are my options for power?

As for power requirements/handling this is my go-to reference: http://letsmakerobots.com/node/3880

It covers mostly lower power options, but I believe it's essencial to read this (or anything else on the subject that covers the same topics).

What is a motor controller and do i need it?

Well, you need it to control your motors... why? well mostly because the microcontrolers don't usually fancy the amount of current needed to spin motors and prefer to remain untoasted.

For controlling a couple of small motors this was my go-to source: http://letsmakerobots.com/node/32462


What are my options for wireless communication with the robot's microcontroller?

There are quite a few, using IR, bluetooth, 2.4Ghz, etc.. currently I'm starting to fiddle with

NRF24L01+ 2.4GHz

modules, they are said to be quite reliable and most important of all they are inexpensive (got a couple of them for $4 off ebay)

What are my options for a camera that transmits back to a laptop or separate display?

Just peruse this site, I've seen it done by some folks around here, but I haven't paid close attention to specifics of cameras and whatnot, however seems that camera+small wireless router seemed to me to be popular with the spy/surveillance bots, so to speak.

I have an Andriod phone (Galaxy S) can this be used with the robot in any way?

yes, most recently http://letsmakerobots.com/node/33968

How about a laptop? can that be used as any of those or anything else except programming it?

yes, browse/search around the site and you'll find people who did/do just so.

Where is a good place to buy all of the parts?

Well depending on what all the parts may be it can be either yes, but mostly no. The world is your oister, check the shops sections in lmr, then there's always ebay to peruse for nice bargins.
For an idea of the basics you might need check: http://letsmakerobots.com/node/25754

I started by buying essencial tools and consumables, an arduino, followed a few basic electronics tutorials, and then set off to do a basic obstacle avoidance bot, lots of learning while making mistakes on learning. alternative the already meantioned "Start here" has a nifty starting bot, well documented which can both be built either with arduino or picaxe.

 



 

 

Which microcontroller should i use?

I heard of Arduino Uno, Axon Mote, Orangutang, Picaxe.

   If you want knowledgeable help from this site, I would say of the ones you list either arudino or PICAXE. Based on your future plans I would lean toward arduino.

Are there others? What are the differences?

   There are many other microcontrollers. There are Parallax Propellers, PICs, ARM based dev boards, MSP430s, 8051s, older Motorola micros.

   Differences? Language, cost, availability, size of community. Hardware wise the Prop has no interrupts, only 8 cogs to share the workload, and, an 80Mhz clock, faster than many other hobby microcontrollers. The ARM based dev boards are likely to be SoC single board computers, but, not all are. ST has a line that are similar in nature to the microcontrollers we all use; I/O pins, Digital, Analog, USART, i2c, SPI, etc.

What are my options for power? 

   You can use the battery you have, if your motors can move it. For smaller, starter bots you may want to consider some kind of rechargeable pack, either AA or LiPo.

Are there cheap transformers that could be used for something like this?

   Voltage regulators are what typically get used to bring the voltage to a usable level for electronics. As OddBot pointed out, DC-DC converters are also a possibility when your bot is larger, because they are more efficient.

Do i need 2 power sources if i want high powered motors (1 for the microcontroller, sensors and servos and 1 for the motors)?

   See the answers above. 

What is a motor controller and do i need it?

   If you are going to use DC motors, you will need some way to control the current that flows through it. H-bridges are the first line of motor controllers. Once you move past the power that simple h-bridges can handle, or, you don't want to construct your own high power h-bridge, you will likely be looking for some kind of motor controller. SaberTooth controllers are popular.

What are my options for wireless communication with the robot's microcontroller?

   How far, how fast, how much do you want to spend are all questions you have to answer before an answer can be narrowed down. nfr2401, xbee, BT, wireless, cellular, IR are all options. There are more depending on your needs.

What are my options for a camera that transmits back to a laptop or separate display?

   Once again, the sky is the limit. This is more of a Google/Bing/Yahoo/etc question than one size fits many/all.

I have an Andriod phone (Galaxy S) can this be used with the robot in any way?

   There is at least one bot here that is using an Android phone. Hackaday has covered 2 or 3 Android based telepresence 'bots. Short answer? Yes.

How about a laptop? can that be used as any of those or anything else except programming it?

   There is a robot around here that uses a laptop and an arduino. The arduino is just there for the low level movement/sensor checks. The laptop does the heavy lifting.

Where is a good place to buy all of the parts?

   There is no "one place" to buy all your parts. Ebay will help you keep your costs down, if you don't mind China and longish ship times. Surplus shops may carry parts you can find useful. Salvage yards have window motors and windshield wiper motors; useful for moving larger bots.
My personal suggestion would be start with a smaller bot and add different components. Slow is good, that means that when it runs into something it will stop rather than run through it. :) Encoders may be something you will want to look at for your bots. Line following and/or RFID reading might be useful also.

 

I'll like you to open your eyes and see the start here tab above :P

Start small and build your way up the ladder...

The answer to your first question is that the µCU you use depends on what you can program (C or Picaxe). The answer to all the other questions is yes. The shop, there are millions, you can choose one you like or which suits you(SIDENOTE- Ebay is the cheapest ;)

I would start with Google. Heard about that?

Aye! Hostile towards newbees. Cool!

And on a more serious note: Look at the top, where it says "Start Here" ;)