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A hands-on introduction to the field of robotics, this book will guide the hobbyist through the issues and challenges of building a working robot. Each chapter builds upon the previous one, extending a core robot project throughout the book. Examples of chapters include: Mechanical Platforms, Power Supplies, Adding Sense, Microcontrollers, Insect Robots, Pneumatics, More Behavior and Intelligence, Programming Projects, Robot Behaviors, and much more.
Of course, we didn't have the name "robot" for this creature until Karel Capec wrote his classic Rossum's Universal Robots in 1921. His machines, as in so many stories since, turned against their creators. Capec's "robots" were much like Dr. Frankenstein's monster, creatures created by chemical and biological rather than mechanical methods. The mechanical robots of popular culture are not much different from these biological creations. They look, act, and emote much like the humans they are designed to emulate. However, that isn't what robots are typically like.
The average robot today is used in the factory or assembly line and, at its anthropomorphic best, consists of an arm and a gripper, vaguely reminding us of a dismembered arm in service to an endless row of parts marching before it on the conveyor.
As hobbyists, we are not building Frankenstein's patchwork creature from spare parts dug up in the middle of the night, nor are we looking to recreate the high-precision, highly durable equipment used on the factory floor. We are here to learn, explore, and play. For our purposes a robot isn't a "specialized device with various programmed motions for the performance of a variety of tasks." It is a machine that senses its environment and reacts to it independent of human intervention.
The main thread through this book is a small, wheeled robot that serves as the test platform for a variety of experiments in sensing the environment and making intelligent choices in response to it. The "intelligence" of this robot is below any measur-able limit, yet through our efforts it will transform from a pile of inert parts into an entertaining "pet."
At a very basic level, a robot consists of:
The minimal tool set would include an electric drill and bits, small screwdrivers, small pliers, a wire cutter, wire stripper, soldering iron, and a multimeter. A better set of tools adds such things as an oscilloscope, higher-quality variable-temperature soldering iron, tweezers, and a third-hand vise. Whenever buying tools, get the best you can afford and you will never regret it.
Almost all problems can be defined using the black-box model of input, processing, and output. Without tools you have to guess at what is happening. Good tools give you good information. They take the top off of the black box and show you what is really going on. Since a project rarely works the first time, anything that helps with the debugging process pays for itself in time and frustration. When building projects, especially the microcontroller-based ones, a good sense of paranoia can be very handy. Trust nothing, rely only on what can be seen on the scope or through the readouts. Understand each chip in the project and know what to expect from each pin. Read the manufacturer's data sheets and try your best to understand them. And remember - nothing is ever entirely free of errors, so stay alert.
For electronics projects I recommend using something like the Global Specialties Proto-Board for all of the prototyping and testing (Figure 1-1). You can get this type of prototyping board at any electronics supply store, and they come in many different sizes and configurations. The one used in this book is a Global Specialties UBS-100 which has a connection pattern as shown in Figure 1-2. I like this board because of its two separate power distribution strips (one set on each side). If you use one with a different number of power strips, you will need to modify the board layouts for some of the projects. I always take a permanent felt-tip pen (such as a Sharpie®) and mark the holes on the power strips, red for power and black for ground....
A good tool in any experimenter's toolkit is a pad of grid paper. Take plenty of notes and keep them forever.
Finally, a tool that is easily overlooked is the online or mail order catalog. Many parts can be had quickly through the mail, purchased from catalogs or off the Internet. Before you begin the projects in this book, I recommend that you find the on line catalogs or order the paper catalogs from these companies....