Sunday, April 5, 2009

How To Build A Simple Robot

This is the first of a multi-part series on how to build a simple
robot. I will not be covering a lot of theory but instead will cover
the nuts and bolts of building a robot. In this first installment I
will cover some of the different options in building this robot.


You have several options for the base material.

1. Wood Depending on the size of your robot plywood may be a good
choice it is inexpensive or free and easy to work with simple tools.
You can get 1/4" and 3/8" plywood at Hardware, Home Improvement, Craft,
or Hobby stores. A good place to look for free material is at a Cabinet
shop they have lots of scrap too small for their use but perfect for a
small robot.
2. Aluminum Light weight and moderately easy to work can also be found
at Hardware, Home Improvement, Craft, or Hobby stores. You should
always be very cautious when working with aluminum as edges can be very
sharp and should be sanded or filed to round the edges.
3. Plastics Acrylic or Plexiglas are both easy to work and can also be
found at Hardware, Home Improvement, Craft, or Hobby stores. High-speed
tools should not be used, as they will melt the plastic. When cutting
or drilling use low speeds.
4. Old CD’s These can be easy to find most people get them in the mail
from AOL or Earthlink instead of throwing them away you can use them to
make a robot. They can be a little on the brittle side so go easy when
you do any cutting or drilling.

I will be using Plexiglas from my local home center but you can use whatever material you want.


1.Servos You can use servos for easy to get gear
motors. Hobby shops will usually carry several sizes and brands. You
will need to modify them for use there are many sites on the net with
different methods; the one I like is detailed at the PARTS website at
Servos already have all of the control circuitry built in and are easy
to control they have 3 wires signal, +, and ground by pulsing the
signal line you can go forward, stop, or backward. Servos are probably
the easiest and cheapest way to go but may not be the best for you.
2.Gear motors These are available from surplus stores or hobby shops
some people modify servos and remove the electronics to use them as
gear motors. Gear motors will require control circuitry normally an
H-bridge to allow forward and reverse motion and in some cases braking.
Gear motors can give the greatest flexibility but at a higher cost
compared to servos. Another source for gear motors is the toy section
of your locale department store. What you want are the radio control
toys that have differential steering, meaning they have a separate
motor for each side. To turn left they go forward on the right motor
and turn off the left motor and do the opposite to turn right. The
really good cars will turn right by going backward on the right motor
and forward on the left this will allow a vehicle to almost turn on a
dime. If you use gear motors you will need to devise a method to mount
the wheels I will be using a toy for my example.

You can use wheels from toys or you can buy wheels from a hobby shop
they have pneumatic or foam wheels for model aircraft that are very
easy to use.

Power System:

Batteries You will need to decide what type of batteries to
use. It can quickly become very expensive replacing batteries.
Rechargeable batteries are best; there are a number of different types
to choose from. Electronic supply stores or Hobby shops are good places
to look, you will need batteries and a charger to charge them with.

Power supply We will need a voltage regulator to drop the
voltage from the battery to the 5 volts needed by the Microcontroller
and other parts of the Brain for the robot.

I will cover using two different voltage regulators both are
available FREE from National Semiconductor as samples. Each part has
its good and bad points.

LM2825 Integrated Power Supply 1A DC-DC Converter is a
complete switching power supply on a 24 pin DIP although a little large
it requires no other components and has an efficiency of 80%. It does
require at least 7 volts on the input but your batteries will last much
longer than with a linear regulator.

LM2940 1A Low Dropout Regulator is a linear regulator in a TO
220 package it requires a couple of filter capacitors it is not as
efficient as the LM2825 the big up point is it only requires 5.5 volts
input to give a regulated 5 volts out.


We will use infrared obstacle avoidance and bump
sensors we will use the PNA4612M it is easy to use and inexpensive you
could substitute the infrared detection module from Radio Shack.

So what will you need to complete a robot as described in this series of articles?

Material for a base a piece of material 8" x 8" will be more than enough.


You will need 2 motors either servo’s modified
for continuous rotation or gear motors. You could also hack a toy that
has the motors and the wheels or even legs.

A toy called a Battle Scarab is a good candidate for hacking.

2 Wheels

Batteries and a holder if needed you will need between 6 and 12 volts depending on what
motors and regulator you use. Servos will run fine on 6 volts.

A voltage regulator LM2825 or a LM2940

A microcontroller ATOM, Basic Stamp or PIC16F876

Infrared detection module you will need 1 or more we will go more into these later.

You will need a development board a solderless breadboard or
perfboard to build on.
If you are using gear motors you will also need a motor controller
either a L293DNE Dual H Bridge with diodes or two 3952 Full-Bridge PWM
Motor Drivers available from Alegro as ree samples.

Basic Micro offers a 25% discount on their products to members of
Robotics clubs you can e-mail me at for
details on setting up your club to get the discount. Parallax also
offers a discount to robot club members you can e-mail them for info.

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