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Ask Slashdot: How To Begin Simple Robotics As a Hobby? 166

First time accepted submitter nedko.m writes "I would describe myself as more of a 'software guy' rather than somebody who likes to play with hardware much, but I've wanted to start doing basic robotics projects as a hobby for quite a while now. However, I was never sure where to start from and what the very first steps should be in order to get more familiar with the hardware aspects of robotics. For instance, I would like to start off with a simple soccer robot. Any suggestions on what low-budget parts should I obtain, which would provide me, subsequently, extensibility to a bit more elaborate projects?"
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Ask Slashdot: How To Begin Simple Robotics As a Hobby?

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  • Lego Mindstorms kit (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 03, 2013 @02:13PM (#43898275)

    Get a kit, start building/programming. Work from there.

    • Second this. Not too expensive, and lots of examples and help are available on the web.
      • Could either of you give a bit more details about a particular kit that you have got in mind, please?
        • by ArcadeMan ( 2766669 ) on Monday June 03, 2013 @02:25PM (#43898403)

          There's only one main LEGO Mindstorms [] kit.

          • by Marxist Hacker 42 ( 638312 ) * <> on Monday June 03, 2013 @02:40PM (#43898587) Homepage Journal

            Actually, there are at least five I'm aware of, centered around 5 different "brains" that can all talk to each other over infrared.

            RCX 1.0, RCX 1.5, NXT 2.0, NXT 2.5, and Scout. RCX/Scout modules all use the same sensors and motors, and NXT is backwards compatible with the proper cabling. RCX/NXT can accept and store programming, Scout can only either use built in programming or accept commands directly from a computer or another smart brick.

            If you are going for cost- I'd suggest RCX 1.0/1.5. If you are going for complexity, get all 5, though this will run you close to $1000, it will give you the most flexibility.

            There are also tons of add on modules/home built sensors and motors out there to use with these brains.

            • You're correct about the five versions / two generations, but if he wants to buy something from a store he's most likely to get an NTX 2.5 kit.

              And FYI there's RCX 2.0, too.

              • They are also about to release a new one - EV3 - in a few months. Apparently this one will run Linux on the brick so I am finally looking forward to being able to program the thing in python....well technically my son is but I'm sure he will need some "help"!
                • Roger: Honey, we should have a kid.
                  Wife: Why the sudden change of heart?
                  Roger: I want to play with LEGO again.

            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              by Anonymous Coward

              Next generation Lego Mindstorms EV3 will be out soon -- better CPU, Linux OS under the hood -- supposed to be backward compatible for sensors etc. Don't know about the "stock" programming environment -- it may be just as bad as NXT-G has always been -- who creates a programming environment without arrays? -- no easy averaging signals for you in NXT-G.

              If you are going to use NXT 2.x then get the free LabView+Mindstorms and skip over the NXT-G software if you can.

              The alternative is to look at something lik

            • Way to oversell it... Just but the latest Nxt system and call it good. There is the new EV3 system due in July, but hey, Legos are Legos... The biggest cost is BRICKS not the electronics.

        • Read the LEGO Mindstorm [] site for details. In short, there is a central computer to which you can attach motors and sensors. The kit comes with a visual programming language that you use to program the computer. You upload programs to the computer with USB. The basic kit comes with three motors, bump sensors, distance, and color detector. Other sensors are available as add-ons. You use standard LEGO bricks to assemble your creation. Search YouTube, you will get a ton of examples of the kit in action.
      • by Dins ( 2538550 )
        I'll third this. We bought my son a Lego Mindstorms NXT 2.0 kit for Christmas a year or two ago and I'm amazed at all the stuff you can do with it. Very easy visual programming "language" but it can do a huge variety of cool stuff. He already built a robot that analyzes and solves Rubik's Cube with only one kit (using plans he found online). It's great for teaching theory and fun to play with.
      • Second this. Not too expensive,

        "Not too expensive"... LOL!

    • by TWX ( 665546 )
      NASA apparently has something of an unofficial LEGO requirement for rovers and other space probes and space-borne assemblies.

      In short, if you can't build it in LEGO or build something close to what you have in mind in LEGO, you probably won't get far in getting it funded.
    • Absolutely- especially if you get an RCX 1.0 brick/kit off of e-bay, with a USB tower, and one of the great open source programming languages available.

      My son recently had a science fair for the first time in his life, and parents were allowed to help. He and I *together* designed a simple electromagnetic crane with a $66 kit I picked up off of e-bay, adding some magnet wire, string, an eye bolt, and two washers two nuts. We were even able to run the electromagnet off of a motor output, and coded the whol

    • by Jane Q. Public ( 1010737 ) on Monday June 03, 2013 @02:49PM (#43898665)

      "Get a kit, start building/programming. Work from there."

      Definitely not, in my opinion. Lego Mindstorms are toys designed for children, not something for someone serious about either robotics or programming.

      For the mechanical components, FischerTechnik [] is vastly superior, and has been for decades. It is used at universities for mechanical engineering and robotics projects.

      For real-world programming and automation that are suitable for both hobbyists and professionals, few things beat the Arduino family of devices.

      • by matfud ( 464184 )

        Depends on how deep you want to get into it. A cheap logic analyser and get that soldering iron prepared plus lots of bits and random software from micrcontroller manufatures. Or you could just buy one

      • Lego mindstorm might be a toy designed for children, but that doesn't disqualify it from being a tool you can use if you're serious about robotics and/or programming. Just as an example, when I taught at the university we used Lego mindstorm for the introduction course for automation and control engineering. And believe me, we're very serious about both programming and robotics.

        • "Lego mindstorm might be a toy designed for children, but that doesn't disqualify it from being a tool you can use if you're serious about robotics and/or programming. Just as an example, when I taught at the university we used Lego mindstorm for the introduction course for automation and control engineering. And believe me, we're very serious about both programming and robotics."

          It was just my opinion. As you say, it was an introductory course.

          For a hobbyist, where possible, I would recommend where practical to learn on the same platform you intend to use later. Of course, that is not always practical. But since Arduino has a very low learning curve and is also suitable for professional and permanent projects, I believe it is a better fit in this case.

          And frankly, it's probably cheaper. For the brains, that is. Mindstorms is probably cheaper if you count both the control and

        • by gl4ss ( 559668 )

          it's just not very good bang for buck.

          it works and is simple to get running though.

    • by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Monday June 03, 2013 @02:57PM (#43898741)

      Get a kit, start building/programming. Work from there.

      NO! STOP!! WAIT!!! Lego is coming out with a major upgrade to Mindstorms. It is called EV3 [].I had a chance to play with it at a recent Maker Faire and it was really slick. It is definitely worth waiting a few months.

      Also, if you are a "software guy" you will quickly outgrow the built in GUI programming environment. I used brixcc to help my son build a solar robot for his science fair project. Brixcc allows you to develop on Linux or Mac, and write code with any editor, and also gives you access to stuff like homebrew voltage sensors that the GUI can't handle (we needed this to keep the panels pointing at the sun). There are also APIs for java, python, etc.

    • Ill second this: this is what we used in Introduction to Robotics course in my college.
      During practicals we had to build and program robots to accomplish some moderately complex tasks on its own. It was great fun trying to program and work around hardware limitations in my teams robot - we overcomplicated it quite a bit and it turned out a bit inferior to its competitors. Still it gave me great impression of difference between controlling pure software stuff vs a real life hardware.

    • Arduino are about to launch a new Robot...

    • by kbg ( 241421 )

      Install lejos [] (Java for Lego Mindstorm) and you have a much better programming language instead of the crappy language RCX code language included.

  • by Shotgun ( 30919 ) on Monday June 03, 2013 @02:14PM (#43898287)

    EMC2 at

    Robotics is about controlling motors via a computer. Building a mill or router will get you started.

    • A mill or router is a very large project for someone who has never done this before.

      Lego Mindstorms. Or here [].

      • Or he could combine the two and build a LEGO CNC machine [].

      • by Shotgun ( 30919 )

        Well, it is what I started with 8*)

      • It may be a very large project but it allows you to create projects more easily afterwards.

      • My first robotics project was a Reprap. A mill or router wouldn't be that different. Doable if you're persistent, I'd guess.

    • by HEMI426 ( 715714 )

      Also, a 3D printer. Easier start-up than a mill or router, lots of guides out there and if you're frugal you can do it for a few hundred bucks.

      • Our local library had a "Maker Faire" recently. Mostly not maker stuff, but one table where a guy brought in his home-built 3D printers. Two of them. One wasn't working. The other was busy making 3D gimcracks and geegaws. Very low resolution stuff.

        While it was, indeed, cool (or 'hot', since it was a hot-melt glue based system), it wasn't impressive as anything more than a cool toy for making toys.

        • by HEMI426 ( 715714 )

          Eh, mine has practical uses, at least for me. I use it mostly to facilitate other projects...Need an odd-shaped vise insert? Just design and print! I did that with mug-rack pegs. Need a re-usable layout template for drilling holes? Just design and print! I did that for the rear shackle mounts when I wanted to design casters to carry the back of the car when there was no suspension mounted.

          There's lots of uses for them...But yeah, a lot of it is printing out parts for other printers---my RepRap's plastic bit

          • I did that with mug-rack pegs.

            I'd buy a dollar's worth of 1/4" dowel and cut to length. Heck, I'd make it a school-themed rack and use pencils cut to length, and leave the eraser part on. That's even faster than trying to print them out. Using a 3d printer for this would be even more overkill than using a 12" lathe to turn them out of stainless steel stock. Right tool for the job, eh?

            Need a re-usable layout template for drilling holes? Just design and print!

            This guy's printer wouldn't have made anything sturdy enough for one use, much less a reusable template. Punch holes in a piece of cardboard would have b

            • by HEMI426 ( 715714 )

              Well, everyone does things differently. I used hat pegs for the mug racks; the "flare" at the end holds the mugs on better. Those pegs didn't hold well in a vise...So printing an insert worked really well and made drilling pilot holes for the screws that passed through the slats of the racks trivial. See [] if you want to see what I'm talking about...That was the first one I built, before I printed the vise insert.

              Drill templates...Mine se

            • by gl4ss ( 559668 )

              well sounds to me he had a badly calibrated printer.

              you really should need to check some properly calibrated and filled prints.. they're quite sturdy.
              also the materials are many nowadays.. pla, abs, nylon work fine on my printer, if you print a 5cmx5cmx5cm cube with 4mm walls it's sturdy enough to stand on. if the layers can be delaminated by hand then the settings are not right, temps are wrong, the extruder is not working properly or something else is wrong with the machine - which gets us to the point th

              • and it's a simple way into it and has a clear defined goal

                Simple is an opinion. I'd say a several month project that could result in what I saw (not) working at the faire isn't "simple" and isn't likely to help. While the goal is clearly defined, it doesn't match the stated goal and doesn't get him closer to it.

                at least it's more interesting than buying a bionoid and having it go through motions to sit.

                If your goal is to learn about doing something more than "move to position x,y, drop a dot of glue, rinse repeat", then I'd say a "bionoid" is a lot more interesting. Where is the ball? Where is the goal? How do I calculate the vector to push it? How do I

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I'm in the same boat. I've learned CNC machines are simple robots and a lot of them work in very similar ways. A high end 5 axis cabinet CNC mill isn't much different from the cheap 3d printer from Staples, as far as software is concerned. Now CNC controllers are made from Adrino boards and are dirt cheap with whatever options you program to them.

    From there, feel free to move into other areas, but with basic CNC knowledge you understand stepper motors and controllers, the basics of software controlled ro

  • There are several simple robotics kits using basicstamp or other single board computer systems. They tend to be fairly inexpensive and easy to mod & upgrade.
  • by sundru ( 709023 ) on Monday June 03, 2013 @02:20PM (#43898349)
    A "Robotics" project sounds way to generic, A little more detail on your end goal would help you focus better. If you want a premade solutions with all interfaces I'd start here Lego Mind storms If you want to try your hand at control algorithms without spending a penny I'd start here (sharp learning curve) [] If you want to visually do something with your robot i'd start here, various boards and controls are included. [] If you want a bit more advanced hardware I'd start here [] For pure visual processing fun, this actually is rolled into ROS and DRC sim i believe []
    • Thank you for the provided references! The (initial) "end goal" was actually mentioned in the original post - I would like to start off with a simple soccer robot, capable of detecting the ball, moving towards it, and "kicking" it, and then try to make it do a bit more interesting stuff. Since I've never worked with any hardware other than that of a PC (various desktop computers and laptops over the years), that's the actual area in which I need more particular advice - which solutions available on the mark
  • Arduino (Score:5, Informative)

    by spire3661 ( 1038968 ) on Monday June 03, 2013 @02:22PM (#43898361) Journal
    Get an arduino, some wire and a cheap motor and start there. Dont worry about going full-blown robotics, jsut get experience controlling the motor, programming the microcontroller, etc.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Arduino is great for a software guy. They've got libraries that do everything to make the hardware piece much easier to handle. You don't have to write the modulated signal to control the motor's rotation, but just use a library that already does it. There's even an Arduino expansion circuit that adds wifi so you can communicate with your computer as the "robot" is running (does one motor count as a robot? I say yes!)

    • by Idbar ( 1034346 )
      How much power can you draw from Arduino pins? I would have expected you'll need a driver to handle motors without blowing pins. I guess that should be a good first laboratory for the submitter.
    • by chrylis ( 262281 )

      I'll pile on the Arduino bandwagon here. For somebody who knows software (specifically, C with a bit of kinda-C++ for libraries), it's quite simple to get started, literally just requiring plugging in the USB cable and clicking the "upload" button to send a program to the board. You can get "shields" (stackable expansion boards) like the already-recommended Motor Shield to handle high-power or specialized connections, and you get a USB serial port to talk to the Arduino board from a computer (necessary if

  • by Anonymous Coward

    There is a lot that can be done using the Arduino platform. More sensors than you can shake a stick at, wheeled platforms, motors and motor drivers. If you want to program a control AI that's more complicated than you can fit on a chip, add a Rasberry PI to the stack.

  • Robot toy shops (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 03, 2013 @02:22PM (#43898367)

    Everything you need:

  • You can find starter kits at []
    If you want to go for the soccer project, perhaps the biped kit would do.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Arduino is a hugely popular platform, from which you can create robots and do all sort of things. Sparkfun has an excellent starter kit with awesome tutorials at:

    The IDE is pretty easy to use, and if you're used to 'C', you're gold.

  • by Bearhouse ( 1034238 ) on Monday June 03, 2013 @02:29PM (#43898465)

    Like this guy... []

    Learn the basis of managing comms on a Arduino, Pi, whatever, (but load of easy add-on stuff for Arduino if breadboarding is not your far), then grab a cheap Roomba or suchlike.

  • It all depends... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 03, 2013 @02:31PM (#43898489)

    Robotics generally consists of 3 disciplines -

    Mechanical (structures, wheels, chassis, arms, etc.)
    Electronics (hardware - resistors, sensors, motors, power, etc.)
    Software (the programming)

    If you want to focus mostly on the software, since that's where you have experience - then I'd suggest finding something where the mechanical + electrical is already taken care of for you in the form of a kit robot, and you just focus on the software side. Something like a small "Mini sumo" kit is a great place to start. It'll get you used to the whole "Sense-Decide-Act" control loop theory. Other options here are the Lego Mindstorms or the Vex kits, but you might find them a bit annoyingly limited.

    If you want to delve a bit into the electronics, then pick up something like the Arduino Inventor's Kit from Sparkfun, which will include all you need (including some instructions) to get you started with basic electronics with a programmable microcontroller. Arduino is REALLY easy to get started with.

    Another suggestion is to see if there's a local hobby robotics club. I learned a LOT from the folks at the Atlanta Hobby Robotics Club ( There are several really good robotics for beginners websites out there as well....

    Good luck!

    • Holy crap, an AC just posted the most intelligent suggestion. Mod him up!

    • by diodeus ( 96408 )

      Arduino is a good start. The Arduino robot kit is a a better one. []

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Robotics generally consists of 3 disciplines -

      Mechanical (structures, wheels, chassis, arms, etc.)
      Electronics (hardware - resistors, sensors, motors, power, etc.)
      Software (the programming)

      Being in robot development myself I can confirm this. Skipping attention on one is likely fatal for the other two. The question is what to do about the first two which isn't the right field for "a software guy"

      If you want to focus mostly on the software, since that's where you have experience - then I'd suggest finding something where the mechanical + electrical is already taken care of for you in the form of a kit robot, and you just focus on the software side. Something like a small "Mini sumo" kit is a great place to start. It'll get you used to the whole "Sense-Decide-Act" control loop theory. Other options here are the Lego Mindstorms or the Vex kits, but you might find them a bit annoyingly limited.

      I disagree a bit with you here. Lego mindstorms are great in the sense that they take care of electronics and brings the mechanical part down to a level where "regular people" can handle it. They also make it easy to modify your hardware after you get the idea to make it do something else as well. Mak

  • by chrysrobyn ( 106763 ) on Monday June 03, 2013 @02:36PM (#43898541)

    Lego Mindstorms isn't a cheap way to go, and it's even worse if you don't already have lots of Lego lying around.

    Head to Radio Shack and take a look at their Arduino kits. It's not any cheaper, but it's the popular way to start these days. That will familiarize you with some stuff that's available these days. Once you're familiar with the terminology of what interests you, head to the Internet and see what they have to offer.

    • Only if your time is worth nothing. Mindstorms takes out all of the headaches and lets you focus on the fun parts of robotics. If you go the arduino route, be prepared to spend hours figuring out how to get things up and running, soldering, messing up things, breaking them, and scrounging for mechanical parts.

      • spend hours figuring out how to get things up and running, soldering, messing up things, breaking them, and scrounging for mechanical part

        But breathing life in to a pile of scrap metal it the fun part. The satisfaction and relief of seeing your device working after a sea of sweat is on par of sexual orgasm.

  • VEX Robotics (Score:3, Informative)

    by BlueGMan ( 1215404 ) on Monday June 03, 2013 @02:36PM (#43898551) Homepage
    VEX is a good place to start.. modular, compatible... worth a look.. []
    • As a mathematics teacher and robotics club adviser to 7th and 8th grade students (12-14 years old), I very much second the VEX Robotics angle. They now have three different levels of complexity that scale nicely from one to the next with a C++-based programming environment.

  • A someone who knows a bit about robotics and electronics, I'd recommend the new Arduino Robot: [] It has all the essentials you need to build pretty sophisticated robots; the Compass, IR Sensor, 360 degree turn on the spot, 2 micro-controllers, LCD, sensor ports distributed around.... it's a really well thought out, sound basis for robotics. Here's an interesting account of the story behind it: []
  • by Drachs ( 29694 ) on Monday June 03, 2013 @02:43PM (#43898605) Homepage

    And here's what I recommend to get started on this long and rewarding journey. First of all, if you want to be successful, you need to make friends that are into this subject to learn from, and get inspired by. I teach at the local Makerspace. A Makerspace is where people go who like to build things congregate. Mine is called the Qc Co-lab, and you can view information about us on facebook or at to get an idea of the sorts of things we do. Makerspaces are also often called hackerspaces.

    Next, you'll need a point of entry, a place to get started, and parts. Now, you've got a long road with many disciplines to master in order to actually create a soccer robot yourself. You can get started on the programming/electronics side or the mechanical/servo/motor side. In any case, I don't consider a soccer robot a good starting point unless you have help.

    If you want to play with the programming and digital electronics, things like sensors and and control, I suggest you get an Arduino ($35). Get an Arduino kit with a good book and some toys to plug in and play with. Learn the electronics. Learn the C programming. "Getting Started with Arduino" is a good foot in the door of a very long hallway.

    Next up is the mechanical/servo/motor stuff. Picking up a radio control hobby is a good way to get started with this. Remote control Styrofoam trainer plains can be purchased for $30. A good remote control can be purchased for $30. (Don't let them sell you a $200 control off the bat. By the time you're good enough to want a $200 control you'll decide you don't like the one you bought because of X, where X is some random reason related to your favorite parts of the hobby). Often these plains require you to do some assembly. You'll get experience with servo's, electric motors, batteries, and how all these things come together. Remote control cars are also very fun and exciting if you find those more interesting. (Make sure you get one that requires assembly and is customizable).

    If you do want to buy a robot kit to knock around, I recommend the Arduino version of the boebot. I use this as a teach aid because Parallax produces very good documentation and training materials. See I do not recommend the basic stamp version, because if you get into this hobby you're going to need to learn C, so don't waste your time learning some other language. What I linked is for the Arduino version. The Arduino uses C/C++ on an industry standard chip. It's important to develop skills that are going to give you the most bang for you buck because the rabbit hole you're heading into is deeper than any one person can ever plumb the depths of alone. The downside here is this kit is expensive at $120. For the people in my class I build them a clone of the kit for $40. Maybe your local Makerspace has something similar going on, check them out.

    Best of luck. I'll keep an eye on this thread, so if you have questions I'll try to help.

  • Check out Lynxmotion products. [] They have a whole line of hobbyist-level mobile robots, arms, controllers, components, and software, all of which work together.

  • by Alomex ( 148003 ) on Monday June 03, 2013 @03:02PM (#43898787) Homepage

    Soccer isn't really a good case study for robotics. A vacuum cleaner is still a better one, as is a "waiter" robot in an industrial setting. In the first version assume the path is painted on the floor. Obstacle detection/avoidance and navigational error detection are enough of a challenge to begin with.

    • I'm kind of surprised we haven't seem more robot vacuum kits become available. Seems like the kind of thing everybody would want, something that is useful AND tweakable.

  • I'll add in Boe Bots: []

    These are really simple to set up (especially if you're not really a hardware/circuits guy) and are a lot of fun to play with. Very limited processor, but that's not such a bad thing to start out. There's quite a lot of add on sensors/motors, etc, so you can accomplish quite a lot.
    It's great for building path finding/obstacle avoision types of projects. If you take a liking to robotics though, you'll probably want to move into something more powerful

  • Teensy++. Cheap, easy, full featured.
  • by NEDHead ( 1651195 ) on Monday June 03, 2013 @03:24PM (#43899007)

    to get all the moves right. Start with the very basic head rotations: begin with just 3 positions each side of center. Practice until moving your head in jerky increments becomes second nature. Add other moves cautiously, perfecting each in turn.

    You can easily add verisimilitude by only answering to 'Robby'.

  • There has never been a better time in history to dive into robotics from where you are coming from. There are a solid handful of really high quality, on-line vendors that sell individual parts and complete robot kits. For many items there is extensive documentation and a community of hobbyists who help each other get over the growing pains.

    My three favorite "robot stores" are

    • Pololu Robotics and Electronics
    • SparkFun Electronics
    • RobotShop (based in Canada)

    I don't work for any of these companies, but in

  • A kit is what you want, building hardware is not as simple as it seems if you have no experience. Once you have the hardware its mostly software dev. During that phase you learn how and why hardware works as it does. And then when you have played around with a kit long enough, maybe you will want to make your own terminator. By then you might have a clue how to go about it.
  • This is how I started: 1) Start by getting an arduino and a servo (requiring 5v). 2) Figure out how how to turn the servo Now I fabricate my own frames and elbows and I professionally deploy them to customers. Someone above is suggested lynxmotion. That is a good option if you are not willing to make your own frames. Good luck.
  • by Bram Stolk ( 24781 ) on Monday June 03, 2013 @04:04PM (#43899363) Homepage

    Start with Fischertechnik.
    It's like LEGO, but German, and much much better.
    It even does things like computer controlled pneumatics. []

  • This is my current set up:

    Robot Controller: []

    Servo Controller (if you need more than the 8 provided with that particular robot controller): [] - these can be hooked up to the robot controller's serial interface and daisy-chained for a maximum of ~255 servos

    Servos: [] - this one happens to be a giant scale servo for more torque

    http://www.pol []
  • Rules: []

    You can get kits for $100 or less, focus on the programming issues of controlling mechatronics, and reading sensors. Contests happen all over the place, and the robot is a decent starter platform for other contests, like line following.

  • I see numerous responses for the Lego kits, but is that really what you want? Serial expansion boards were way better for learning in my opinion. Find out what applies what voltage to where, signal passing and processing, etc.. are all required for robotics. While you are not going to get a crawler going in a day, you set up the groundwork for building one of your own later. My son did great starting at that level, and has gone much further because he understands the low level stuff. Making servos turn

  • from Craig's list or your local goodwill/SVdP store and then go here: [] and many other sites on the web that deal with modifying Roombas. Most of the mechanical stuff is taken care of for you so you can concentrate on programming and adding/reading/using sensors and actuators.

  • I picked up one of these: []

    Arduino based, controlled via bluetooth or USB. Python on the host side, $250.

    Not a bad way to start. A lot of possibilities to enhance the code on the Arduino, and on the host side.

  • by griffinme ( 930053 ) on Monday June 03, 2013 @05:57PM (#43900307)

    Get to a Maker Faire. Several years ago I spent awhile talking with Bre Pettis about his new machine from MakerBot without realizing who he was. Take the kids! Solder your own badge! Learn how to make your own air powered rockets! My kids aren't even into robots think it is a blast. A word of waring... they make you sign a serious waiver for a reason. They expect you to pay attention to your surroundings and not blindly walk into that quadcopter demo. Make sure your kids are not texting as they walk. Look for some of the small booths/tables with guys that brought in their home brewed stuff. They were you not that long ago and would love to talk about hot to get started. The fancy booths are people looking to sell stuff. If your not looking to buy your own laser cutter.... they will let you look and they will be polite but they are looking to sell stuff. []

    If you decide you want to start now and want to learn how things work....

    Get this kit for $49: []

    Follow the tutorials starting here: []

    Soon you will be a master of blinky lights. Think of it as "Hello world" for robotics.

    If you think, "HOLY CRAP. I AM MAKING IT REALLY DO THINGS" Then continue. If you went, "HOLY CRAP, I JUST WASTED $50 AND A FEW HOURS OF MY LIFE TO MAKE A STUPID LIGHT BLINK" you might consider some of the more expensive options or re-consider your desire to do this. If you want to continue...

    If you have an old printer laying around then rip some motors out of it. In fact anything that has a motor or is older electronics will soon be looked at with, "Hey, that has a nice transformer in it. Those are some nice through hole resisters. Would you look at those hardened steel rods! I wonder why they did it this way?"

    Things to consider furthering the addiction:
    motor shield with some basic motors
    digital multimeter
    Soldering iron, do not get one of those nasty Radio Shack $20 pieces of junk. You wouldn't try to build a small deck with a handsaw. This is one of the more expensive pieces you will buy, but it is one of those tools that you will use and will appreciate not having a junk one. This does not mean you need to get a super solder re-work station. Get one with a base station and dial control. Temp controlled would be great.
    Go to a nearby electronics place that sells this stuff and buy some general wire, breadboard etc. They will appreciate the business and might be there someday when you really need that one part and don't want to wait for shipping. I was amazed to find one near me. They were rather knowledgeable compared to some certain chains (they had a soldering iron on the counter just in case)
    An old computer with the following ports: MIDI(computers used to have a port with real IO, oh my), serial, USB, parallel. You might want to eventually talk to ports and individual pins without the OS in the way. Windows stopped allowing this with XP. A P4 is fast but gets warm and very power hungry. A PIII not so hot or power hungry but not as fast. An old laptop works great for this since it has a small footprint.

    Start to follow a few web sites: [] [] [] [] [] [] []

  • Lego Mindstorms is cool, but expensive and plastic. is stronger aluminium, has an arduino core and compatible with Lego (to a certain point).
    You can use a Raspberry Pi to control either of the above (brickpi is stil on kickstarter).

    have fun!

  • by peter303 ( 12292 ) on Monday June 03, 2013 @06:56PM (#43900649)
    The PI gives you a cheap, but fairly capable Linux computer in size of a cigaratte pack and under $50. Then you can plug sensors,e.g. range finder, and actuators, e.g. rolling motor feet, into its I/O ports. Some of the other vendors mentioned in this thread sell these devices. Then you stick a monitor & keyboard temprarily into the PI to program it as a computer.

    I havent done this myself, but saw a demo. []
  • has a pair of courses that may be useful here
    [to be found under Science / Technology]:

    1. Reverse Engineering (showing where some parts come from)

    2. Bit-Zee Bot (uses those parts & others, incl an Arduino board)

    (A Win 8 app can download these & the other courses cost-free.)

  • []

    (disclaimer: it's my site)

  • I assist at a local high school with their Robocup program (admittedly we mostly use LEGO Mindstorms, but some of the senior students use Arduino) and I think that is an awesome way in.
    Robocup []
    Get yourself whatever kit you like and try to make a soccer robot, or a rescue robot, it will give you a nice and clearly defined target to aim for, but will also allow you to experience the little technical challanges that you will need to overcome. Even if you have no intention of competing, it is a good base to sta

  • This is a neat little book [] that gave me a lot of neat ideas back when I still had the energy to dedicate to mobile robotics as a hobby. This is an invaluable reference for any mobile robotics hobbyist.

  • I would first suggest to use the rule of KISS === Keep It Stupid Simple

    Blog your experiences, in Robotics.

    Suggested reading about Robots are "R.U.R.", and "I Robot"

    I would then suggest using Blender3D to design your Robot

    A great game and movie idea, "how could robots be used after a disaster?"

"The Avis WIZARD decides if you get to drive a car. Your head won't touch the pillow of a Sheraton unless their computer says it's okay." -- Arthur Miller