Monday, 24 March 2014

10 Tips to Build Your First Robot

Robot building is a great activity to keep yourself and your brain engaged in something that is useful. Building a robot could be something like "impossible" for beginners but with proper organization, knowledge, guidance,tools and materials required it would become a cakewalk.

Here are some tips to help you in building your first robot.

NOTE: Robotics is very addictive. Once you get into it, it is very difficult  to come out of it. Dive into it at your own risk!

Tip #1: Start by learning about basic electronics and programming
This may seem boring but it is very important. Building a robot heavily involves the interplay of electronics,mechanics and software. On the electronics part a robot builder must have the knowledge  of atleast the basic electronic components like resistors, capacitors, transistors, LEDs, sensors... along with the knowledge of actuators, which form the mechanical part of the robot. On the software side one must know programming languages like C, Processing, BASIC etc. Once you have the pre-requisite, move on ahead.

Tip #2: Learn by building simple robots
Robotics has already given us robots that can follow light,line,object or avoid obstacles and edges. It is always good to learn robotics by first building these robots. Try to search the internet. You can learn to make one of these robots using project guides that other people submit, then try to develop your own version of the same robot. Change its circuitry, enhance its performance, give it good looks and teach others to build your robot. This would improve your understanding about robots.

Tip #3: Get a good idea for your robot
Building a robot is all about bringing the knowledge about electronics, mechanics and programming ,that you have, together to make something that can do amazing and amusing things. Try to build robots that are weird, different, which have never been built as this would engage you in the activity of finding new methods and techniques to build the robot.

Tip #4: Make mistakes
Making mistakes is the best way to learn robotics. Feel free to blow up a transistor or two or some microcontrollers if you can afford as this would prevent you from commiting the same mistakes and also give you the skill of debugging the robot.

Tip #5: Subscribe to technology magazines and catalogues
Magazines realted to technology are a great source to learn about new or upcoming technology that you can use in your robots. For example: Nowadays wireless data transmission has become common. Radio waves or microwaves are used for this purpose but even sound or light can be used to transmit data. This piece of information may give you a chance to build a robot controller that utilises sound or light to communicate with your robot. Often you need some parts to build your robot that you may not find in local stores. Catalogues can solve this problem. These catalogues are often free. You get a whole list of supplies that a particular website or a shop sells and also their price.

Tip #6: Buy good books related to robotics
Books are the best source of information and knowledge even though  internet exists. Its always a good practise to read books and learn new things as reading stimulates your brain and improves your ability to think from different perspectives, outside the scope of the book, which allows you to learn further. For beginners - "Robot Building for Beginners" by David Cook is a good book to learn the basics of robotics.
"Robot Building for Dummies" by Roger ArrickNancy Stevenson, is also a good book. There are many others books for intermediate and advanced robot builders as well.

Tip #7: Feel free to spend money on your robot
It is not always cheap to build a robot unless you build the whole robot from scratch, ground up. This is not easy as one requires high level of understanding of the e-waste that one has. Usually the quality of the robot that you build depends on the quality of supplies that you have used to build it, though not always, so feel free to spend money on getting supplies that are of good quality.

Tip #8: Try to join some local robotic clubs
Robotic clubs are the best place to share and obtain information and techniques that one can use to build his/her robot. Usually a robotic club has engineers, tech enthusiasts and roboticists. Do not hesitate to join one. You sometimes get some free robot supplies and help from other members.

Tip #9: Enter a robotic contest
Contests are the best way to showcase you talent. You get to learn about different ways of building the same robot. Many robotic contests are conducted year long and if in your area there is no such competition, don't worry. There are many robotic contests online where you can upload the information about your robot and a video of it that can help you win a prize. The prize is often cash prize that you can use to build some other robot.

Tip #10: Choose good enclosures for your robot
Even though you succeed in building a ciruit for robot that works, you will not be successful in building a robot that works until you choose a good enclosure for the robot. From my experience, I have learnt that enclosures are as important as electronics, mechanics and programming that go into making a robot. Often times the robot that I have built have not worked beacause of the enclosure. You can use old lunchboxes for your first robot. But as you proceed in robotics try to design and build your own chassis from wood or plastic. I would not recommend metal chassis as metals are heavy and as they are good conductors of electricity you may short circuit your circuit if you do not provide it with proper insulation.

This were some tips to build your first robot. A good place to start building your first robot is here. This is a light following robot build from 555 timer chips that I built almost an year ago. Here are some websites that might help you in robotics: