Build Your Own Robot!

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This book, a compilation of articles from Karl Lunt's long-running column for Nuts & Volts magazine, is a must-read for all beginner and intermediate-level robotics enthusiasts. Written in a friendly, straightforward manner, it contains entertaining anecdotes as well as practical advice and instruction. The author's stories about his various robotics projects will inspire you to try them yourself; and he shares his tips and code to help you. Possible projects range from transforming a TV remote control into a robot controller to building a robot from a drink cooler. You'll want to build them all; the author's enthusiasm for robotics is contagious!

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Editorial Reviews

A compilation of 55 articles from the author's "Amateur Robots" column for magazine. Chapters discuss software, electronics, mechanics, robotic projects, reworking electronic devices, the 68hc11 microcontroller, and robot competitions. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
Internet Bookwatch
Beginning and advanced robotics builders will find Build Your Own Robot! a rare coverage of all the basics involved in building a robot, from hardware to the author's own code used to program robots. Build Your Own Robot! is as much for the hobbyist as for the student of engineering and promises to reach a wide audience with in-depth details, tips for building very different kinds of robots, and specifics on circuitry and how to avoid problems.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781568811024
  • Publisher: Taylor & Francis
  • Publication date: 3/15/2000
  • Pages: 592
  • Product dimensions: 7.43 (w) x 9.22 (h) x 0.92 (d)

Meet the Author

Karl Lunt has over 100 published articles to his credit, including a five-year run as author of Nuts & Volts' Amateur Robotics column. Over the years, he has built dozens of working robots, many of them featured in his column and in his new book, "Build Your Own Robot!"

Karl has also released to the public domain several software tools for building robots. His SBasic and tiny4th compilers have become mainstays in the amateur robotics hobby. These and other tools, such as roboscrn, have helped hundreds of beginning builders get their first 'bot running.

Karl lives in Bothell, WA, with his wife, Linda, and a roomful of robots in various stages of workingness. On the third Saturday of each month, you can find Karl at the Seattle Robotics Society meeting, an organization where he has served as president and as vice-president.

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Table of Contents

Foreword xiii
Acknowledgments xv
Introduction xvii
Part 1. Getting Started 1
Inspiration and Implementation 3
Your First 68hc 11 Microcontroller 9
Allow Me to Introduce Huey 19
The Basics of Hobby Robotics 31
An Intro to 68hc 11 Firmware 39
Part 2. Software 49
My Tiny Forth Compiler 51
A First Look at SBasic 61
Remote Reloads with 811 bug 71
The Ultimate PC Robot Tool 91
Inside the 68hc 11 99
Part 3. Electronics 109
Quick and Easy 68hc 11 Expansion 111
Introducing the BOTBoard 121
A Simple DC Gearhead Motor Controller 131
A Gel-cell Battery Charger for Cheap 139
Build a Switcher with the MAX642 IC 147
Try This Junk Box Switcher Supply 155
Son of BOTBoard 163
More (and More) LEDs 171
Design of a Simple Line-following Array 179
Stepper Motor Basics 187
A First Look at the 68hc12 195
Check Out This New 68hc12 205
Part 4. Mechanics 215
A Basic Robot Design 217
And Now, Here's ... Max! 225
Build an Open-frame Robot Body 235
Adding an Encoder to a R/C Servo 243
Part 5. Robotics Projects 255
The Rapid Deployment Maze 257
Build BYRD, a Back Yard Research Drone 265
Rally 'Round the 'Bot, Boys! 275
The Dead-Reckoning Event 285
Hercules, My Smallest Robot 295
My Marble Maze Machine 303
Tackle-bot, a Backyard Explorer 309
Try Your Hand at a Mini-Sumo Robot 319
I Start on a Fire-fighting Robot 329
Part 6. Adventures in Hacking 345
Decoding a TV Remote Control 347
Wiring Up an RF Modem Link 357
A Dirt-Cheap 8051 Development System 365
A Dirt-Cheap 8051 Development System, Part Two 375
Hacking a 68302 Modem Board 383
Hacking a 68302 Modem Board, Part Two 391
The Ready-Set-Go Toy Truck 399
Reworking the GameBoy 411
Part 7. The 68hc11 421
A Look At the SPI 423
68hc11 Memory Expansion 433
Part 8. Way Cool Robots 445
A Visit to the MIT Campus 447
Designing an Interactive Robot Display 459
Deep-Sea Submersible Robots 467
Cleaning up the Tennis Court 475
Robot Soccer 485
The Extremes of Hobby Robotics 495
A Whole Lot of Robots 503
Part 9. Sidelights 515
The NCC Al-CDROM 517
A Typical(?) SRS Meeting 529
Some Powerful Software Tools 541
Appendix A. Contacts 559
Appendix B. Hobby Servo Mods 563
Appendix C. Web Pages 565
Index 569
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Building a robot fascinates people. Seeing the mechanical fruits of your labor roll, slither, stalk, or lurch across the living room floor has fired the imagination of tinkers of all ages. Whether your ideal machine mows the lawn, explores Mars, fetches beer, or just looks way cool, the feeling is, if you can imagine it, you can build it. Or at least, you can try to build it.

But first-time 'bot builders quickly hit one of many walls, and often call it quits. Unlike other high-tech hobbies, robot-building requires a workable tool set in a wide range of fields. You need mechanical tools for building frames and mounts, electronics gear for wiring circuitry, and software to write the code that makes everything work together. Few people, starting out, have a strong enough tool set in all three areas to pull off a first robot.

Even having a well-stocked workroom and a hurking PC isn't enough, because you also need the skill set to use all of these tools well. A strong frame loaded with top-notch electronics just gathers dust without robust software to drive it. The best robotics program written is worthless unless you can load it onto a working microcontroller with good mechanics surrounding it.

These seemingly insurmountable walls face anyone trying to build their first robot. Some people scale down their ambitions, opting for a simpler, though perhaps less satisfying, first project. Others charge ahead, sometimes creating a masterpiece but more often making a mess. All too many give up, postponing and eventually abandoning the dream of watching their own mechanical creation chase the family cat.

But the walls aren't insurmountable, only tall, and any task can be madesimpler if you follow in the footsteps of others. It was to break down these walls, or at least break a trail around them, that I began writing a column on amateur robotics in Nuts & Volts magazine, back in October of 1992. Each month, I tried to provide one more foothold for those dreaming the dream. Topics included how to write motor control software, how to wire up a microcontroller, or how to make a super wheel mount. Scattered through the hard-core robotics info was the occasional discussion of famous or fascinating machines built by others, and sometimes I would include full instructions on a complete robotics project. Each column was different and, I hope, useful. I know they were lots of fun to write.

Yet even writing about robots can become wearying, and after nearly 70 columns, I decided to call it quits, to change direction. But the calls from readers asking for a collection of my columns, and for copies of older columns missed or lost, was incessant and, finally, decisive. So I present here a selection of my past Amateur Robotics columns.

These are my favorites, written with the beginner and intermediate builders in mind. Those of you who have never seen a microcontroller should be able to pick up a working knowledge without too much effort. If you have already built a couple of large electronics projects, you will find useful information specific to making a robot run. And those readers with a 'bot or two behind them already will find ideas for new robotics projects.

These columns represent tools, built from my experience, to make the hobby of amateur robotics more fun and more rewarding. Most of the tools herein are my own design, the fruits of my own hours. Others are collaborative efforts, the results of projects I completed with fellow robot hackers. Regardless of the source, think of each column as one more tool that you can bring to bear on a large and intricate problem, that of building a robot to call your own.

Some of these columns show their age. Many appeared several years ago and deal with items no longer available. I doubt anyone will be able to find a Ready-Set-Go toy truck nowdays, and I'm sure all of the surplus bargains (and even some of the surplus outlets) have vanished by now. But the techniques I used for modifying or upgrading those items still have value, and you can learn a lot from the approaches I describe.

Other columns describe material that was novel at the time, but has since matured or even disappeared, replaced by newer and better. But the columns still contain useful information, and the recent history they provide helps illustrate how quickly this hobby is changing.

I tried to arrange these columns based on subject matter, but often an article covers multiple subjects. Thus, you might find a column that discusses IR sensor technology and how to write a 68hc11 interrupt handler. To help you sort out what column handles which subjects, I've provided short descriptions in the table of contents. You can also use the index at the back of the book for more help. But I encourage you to view this mixture of subject matter as an inducement to browse, to read through each column repeatedly, sifting it for information and for ideas on your next robotic project.

This hobby is as much about people as it is about hardware. The fun I've had building robots over the years has been multiplied tenfold by the joy of working with the brightest, most capable group of hackers I've ever known. The membership of the Seattle Robotics Society served as springboard, catalyst, cheerleader, critic, and incubator for all of the ideas you see here, and I owe them all more thanks than I can express.

Finally, my wife, Linda, deserves both praise and apologies for putting up with the long hacking sessions, the too-short deadlines, and the frustrations that come with the hobby. I know she enjoyed the successes, the fun of watching me finish another machine, but she also had to put up with the stress when that machine didn't work, and her patience and support helped make the column and this book possible.

Keep on keeping on...

Karl Lunt
Bothell, WA

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 29, 2000

    It's an OK book

    If you want to make your own microcontroller this book is for you. If you don't want to make your own microcontroller don't buy this book. Every project in the book requires your microcontroller for function. The book is made up of 55 articles written by Karl Lunt for the Nuts & Volts magazine. The projects range from a simple mobile robot to a firefighting robot and hacking a Gameboy for a robot controller.

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