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

samzenpus posted about a year ago | from the playing-in-the-lab dept.

Robotics 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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Lego Mindstorms kit (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43898275)

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

Re:Lego Mindstorms kit (2)

azadrozny (576352) | about a year ago | (#43898321)

Second this. Not too expensive, and lots of examples and help are available on the web.

Re:Lego Mindstorms kit (2)

nedko.m (2939079) | about a year ago | (#43898391)

Could either of you give a bit more details about a particular kit that you have got in mind, please?

Re:Lego Mindstorms kit (4, Informative)

ArcadeMan (2766669) | about a year ago | (#43898403)

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

Re:Lego Mindstorms kit (5, Informative)

Marxist Hacker 42 (638312) | about a year ago | (#43898587)

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.

Re:Lego Mindstorms kit (2)

ArcadeMan (2766669) | about a year ago | (#43898705)

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.

This guy is too impatient. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43898929)

He has kindergarten level skill in robotics, and wants to jump to college level stuff. I'm sure he's a smart guy, but either he's woefully impatient, or simply wants a toy. If the latter, just get that Sony robot.

Re:Lego Mindstorms kit (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43899371)

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 like the VEXRobotics stuff.

Re:Lego Mindstorms kit (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43899497)

The new graphical environment is vastly improved, from what I've seen. Its still LabView, though.

In any case, they've indicated they will release all of the tech docs (like they did with the NXT) so people can create other environments (LeJos and the like)

Re:Lego Mindstorms kit (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43898523)

There is 1 standard kit for Mindstorms. It's about 300$.

Note that a new version is arriving soon (this Fall I believe) with more capabilities (you can control up to 4 motors instead of 3. It's a big deal as you use 2 motors just to move and steer, so you usually only have 1 motor left for extra features.)

After that you can buy Lego Technic sets to complement your mindstorms and also buy additional more Mindstorms components by the piece from the Lego online store.

Re:Lego Mindstorms kit (1)

Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) | about a year ago | (#43899731)

Ya forget it with Mindstorm if you wanna do a hex or octobot. You'd have to buy many extra motors, and the brick can't handle that many physically, even if internally the I2C addressing supports it. I think there are 3rd party expansion boards, but at this point I would go full hobbyist and get a kit with sensors, legs, and motors.

Oh, don't forget your genius to invent something a little better than fancy remote control.

Re:Lego Mindstorms kit (1)

azadrozny (576352) | about a year ago | (#43898987)

Read the LEGO Mindstorm [lego.com] 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.

Re:Lego Mindstorms kit (1)

Dins (2538550) | about a year ago | (#43898399)

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.

Re:Lego Mindstorms kit (1)

Joce640k (829181) | about a year ago | (#43899187)

Second this. Not too expensive,

"Not too expensive"... LOL!

Re:Lego Mindstorms kit (1)

war4peace (1628283) | about a year ago | (#43899329)

So you're a poor bastard or cheap bastard? I'd go for the latter...

Re:Lego Mindstorms kit (1)

TWX (665546) | about a year ago | (#43898481)

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.

Re:Lego Mindstorms kit (1)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | about a year ago | (#43898725)

I think they have an unofficial modeling requirement, but I don't think it's only Lego.

Re:Lego Mindstorms kit (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43899553)

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.

I've been involved with a number of NASA missions and I've never heard of any such thing. I can't imagine making any NASA instrument out of LEGOs.

Re:Lego Mindstorms kit (1)

Marxist Hacker 42 (638312) | about a year ago | (#43898539)

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 whole thing to pick up ball bearings, raise them up until a magnetic sensor was tripped, then turn off the electromagnet to drop the ball bearing and start over.

Re:Lego Mindstorms kit (3, Informative)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | about a year ago | (#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 [fischertechnik.de] 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.

Re:Lego Mindstorms kit (1)

matfud (464184) | about a year ago | (#43898841)

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

Re:Lego Mindstorms kit (1)

ThreeKelvin (2024342) | about a year ago | (#43899393)

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.

Re:Lego Mindstorms kit (1)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | about a year ago | (#43899723)

"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 mechanical components. But for "serious" construction, FishcherTechnik, while expensive, is unquestionably the superior product.

Re:Lego Mindstorms kit (5, Informative)

ShanghaiBill (739463) | about a year ago | (#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 [wikipedia.org] .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.

Re:Lego Mindstorms kit (2)

jarkus4 (1627895) | about a year ago | (#43899033)

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.

Re:Lego Mindstorms kit (1)

David F. (15140) | about a year ago | (#43899035)

Or alternatively take a look at VEX Robotics equipment, especially the new VEX IQ line:
http://www.vexrobotics.com/ [vexrobotics.com]

The VEX IQ stuff is on par price-wise with the Lego but appears more advanced and more capable than the Lego sets.

Re:Lego Mindstorms kit (1)

Joce640k (829181) | about a year ago | (#43899177)

Arduino are about to launch a new Robot...

I would NOT second this (0, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43899231)

Bought one for my son and learned it to be an assistant coach for his middle school robotics team, and have been disappointed with it. My primary problems with it were:

1) Limited to 3 motors at once, and 2 are usually taken for steering if you want a robot that can move/turn, which means you're limited to 1 for anything else you want it to do (the EV3 may have more than 3, not sure).
2) The "programming" is kid-friendly (consisting of a visible block you can drag-n-drop for each line of code) but the UI is kinda messed up and very unfriendly to anyone who knows they could write the lines of code 10-50 times faster.
3) The math part of the "programming" only supports integer math, and some versions only support 16-bit integers. There's no way to tell the robot "move X millimeters forward" (only turn the motor a number of degrees), and if you know how to use PI and the wheel radius to figure it out, you can't use 3.14159 in an integer-only program. Sure there are ways around that, but the "block" aspect of it makes it a major pain in the ass.

If you're not a programmer, it might be a decent primer to get you started. If you are a programmer, I predict that it will frustrate the heck out of you.

Re:I would NOT second this (1)

jarkus4 (1627895) | about a year ago | (#43899441)

about 2 and 3: get some normal programming language instead of provided blocks. When I played with it in college we were using some C API with it, so we pretty much had a normal language available. Obviously there were still API limitations on our hardware interfaces, but for normal calculations, delays etc we could do pretty much whatever we wanted (it was simple unix programing with some hardware api).

as for 1: yeah, number of in and out slots was always a bit of a problem. Still you can do quite a lot within those limits.

EMC2 (2)

Shotgun (30919) | about a year ago | (#43898287)

EMC2 at www.linuxcnc.org

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

Re:EMC2 (2)

Obfuscant (592200) | about a year ago | (#43898333)

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

Lego Mindstorms. Or here [lynxmotion.com] .

Re:EMC2 (1)

ArcadeMan (2766669) | about a year ago | (#43898431)

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

Re:EMC2 (1)

Shotgun (30919) | about a year ago | (#43898501)

Well, it is what I started with 8*)

Re:EMC2 (1)

ArcadeMan (2766669) | about a year ago | (#43898581)

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

Agree CNC mill (was Re:EMC2) (1)

WillAdams (45638) | about a year ago | (#43898945)

With MakerSlide, it's quite easy. There's a new version of the ShapeOko (Americas - http://www.shapeoko.com/ [shapeoko.com] ) / eShapeOko (Europe - http://store.amberspyglass.co.uk/eshapeoko-mechanical-kit.html [amberspyglass.co.uk] ) and it's quite easy to assemble / use, and can be used to build parts for robots as described in the ``Guerrilla guide to CNC machining, mold making, and resin casting (Home manufacturing tutorial for robot builders, model makers, and other hobbyists)'' http://lcamtuf.coredump.cx/gcnc/ [coredump.cx]

Re:Agree CNC mill (was Re:EMC2) (4, Insightful)

Obfuscant (592200) | about a year ago | (#43899625)

With MakerSlide, it's quite easy.

Many things are easy for people who already know what they are doing. If the question had been "I want to build a CNC mill..." I'd agree, a kit is the easiest way to do it. Note, I didn't say "easy", I said "easiest". "Easy" is calling the vendor and having a completed mill show up in a box ready to run.

But for someone who says "I want to play with a soccer playing robot...", then a mill kit isn't going to be the best place to start. When/if he finishes the kit, and it works, and he doesn't get distracted or disappointed or burned out or simply tired of the process, he'll have a CNC mill and will have learned how to put that kit together. That's not much closer to a soccer playing robot than when he started.

I don't think a "software guy" is really going to need to start milling his own robot parts until he gets to generation three, or maybe two if he's really into it, of the robot. Having to build your own parts detracts from the other necessary parts of the project, like "how do I detect the ball", and "what are the necessary steps in doing this task?" It isn't until he's at "how do I make the hardware better" that a mill comes into play, really. Maybe for a mechanical engineer it starts there, but not a "software guy".

Re:EMC2 (1)

HEMI426 (715714) | about a year ago | (#43899099)

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.

Re:EMC2 (1)

Obfuscant (592200) | about a year ago | (#43899681)

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.

First! (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43898299)

It's my time.. let me enjoy!!! Good luck with the question though.

CNC (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43898311)

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 robots.

great post (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43898331)

i'll be following this, i'm interested in this as well

Basicstamp sumo bot? (1)

Kenja (541830) | about a year ago | (#43898339)

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.

A "Robotics" project sounds way to generic (4, Informative)

sundru (709023) | about a year ago | (#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) http://gazebosim.org/wiki/DRC/Install [gazebosim.org] If you want to visually do something with your robot i'd start here, various boards and controls are included. http://www.roborealm.com/ [roborealm.com] If you want a bit more advanced hardware I'd start here http://www.ros.org/wiki/Robots [ros.org] For pure visual processing fun, this actually is rolled into ROS and DRC sim i believe http://opencv.willowgarage.com/wiki/ [willowgarage.com]

Re:A "Robotics" project sounds way to generic (1)

nedko.m (2939079) | about a year ago | (#43898455)

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 market (that meet the low-budget criterion) to check out.

Re:A "Robotics" project sounds way to generic (1)

sundru (709023) | about a year ago | (#43898761)

Arduino boards as many have suggested is a good start for hardware. http://arduino.cc/en/Main/Software [arduino.cc] below is a good rule of thumb you can do almost anything autonomously on the arduino board itself as long as you dont require it to number crunch. Ex: Simple instructions like bump sensor registers send 90deg turn to some wheel servo you can keep it local to the bot If your bot requires visual cognition (locate a ball on a plane) and associated number crunching, offload that video even offload that camera from the bot - stream to a laptop or bigger comp so you send only control signals to the arduino board. So your bot would do something like below 1. Localized decision making (balance, servo speed, damping , breaking etc) 2. Overall decision making - bigger goal of the bot offloaded on laptop/Comp, control signal sent to compliment or override local controls. have fun ..

Arduino (5, Informative)

spire3661 (1038968) | about a year ago | (#43898361)

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:Arduino (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43898521)

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!)

Re:Arduino (2)

Idbar (1034346) | about a year ago | (#43899197)

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.

Re:Arduino (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43899251)

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.

You can draw about 40mA from the Arduino pins, but you can connect the Arduino easily to an H-Bridge and add a battery.

Re:Arduino (1)

spire3661 (1038968) | about a year ago | (#43899457)

I know my local microcenter has tiny motors that hook right up to the arduino.

Arduino + Sensors + Platform (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43898365)

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 (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43898367)

Everything you need:

http://www.sparkfun.com

http://www.pololu.com/

http://www.jameco.com/

https://code.google.com/p/ardurover/

I would go Arduino (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43898411)

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:

https://www.sparkfun.com/products/11227

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

Arduino (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43898445)

I was in the same boat: been working on software for years, a little experience with PC hardware. I tried a few older custom-made robotics tutorial things, and they were too far out of date and focused more on the components of electronics than anything useful.

I bought an Arduino Starter Kit with the accompanying text (see: http://arduino.cc/en/Main/ArduinoStarterKit or http://www.makershed.com/Getting_Started_with_Arduino_Kit_V3_0_p/msgsa.htm, was around $60 at RadioShack back then), went through the text, trying out the examples, and tinkering with the pieces. Once I ran out of those, I started writing my own code, building up little pieces into something trivial but fun. It kept me busy for a while, and I felt like it took the veil of mystery out of the robotics, so I could see how larger projects could be done.

I never went into doing any of those larger projects, thanks to life taking back over. But I still have my little kit, and some knowledge tucked away in my internal databases for another day. All told, I think it made for a great intro set.

Hurry up (1)

50000BTU_barbecue (588132) | about a year ago | (#43898459)

Re:Hurry up (1)

nedko.m (2939079) | about a year ago | (#43898503)

That, I think, is a bit pricey. Thanks for the suggestion anyway.

Re:Hurry up (1)

50000BTU_barbecue (588132) | about a year ago | (#43898659)

Well, it depends what you mean by robot. I'm getting started on quadcopters soon. Go to Hobbyking.com. You can probably find tons of parts suitable for robots as well.

Combine the two, on the cheap (3, Interesting)

Bearhouse (1034238) | about a year ago | (#43898465)

Like this guy...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3-13NSDqIzA [youtube.com]

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 thing...so far), then grab a cheap Roomba or suchlike.

It all depends... (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#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 (botlanta.org). There are several really good robotics for beginners websites out there as well....

Good luck!

Re:It all depends... (2)

ArcadeMan (2766669) | about a year ago | (#43898747)

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

Re:It all depends... (1)

diodeus (96408) | about a year ago | (#43899205)

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

http://arduino.cc/en/Main/Robot [arduino.cc]

Re:It all depends... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43899609)

+1 on the Arduino, you'll be instantly hooked. In fact, they were invented to get people like you interested. Their IDE isn't even all that bad.

Re:It all depends... (2)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43899673)

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. Making a robot as a hobby is most likely something where it isn't that well planned and the goal will change many times before it's done. Once it's done it will get an extra arm or something to solve another task while still handling the original task... or something.

Lego admitted that their software part is not as great as it could be. In fact they encourage 3rd party software for advanced programming. The best I can do is to provide you with a list where you can pick based on which language you want to use.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lego_Mindstorms#Programming_languages_2

a little off topic question. How do you make links clickable? :)

Mindstorms and Arduino (2)

chrysrobyn (106763) | about a year ago | (#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.

Robot Builder's cookbook (2)

DarkKaplah (861495) | about a year ago | (#43898547)

I've had a few editions of this book. The author has kept it up to date, and it's been very helpful in helping you pick out a toolkit as well as showing you some simple projects. http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/robot-builders-cookbook-owen-bishop/1113937705?cm_mmc=googlepla-_-textbook_instock_26to75_pt99-_-q000000633-_-9780750665568&cm_mmca2=pla&ean=9780750665568&isbn=9780750665568&r=1 [barnesandnoble.com]

VEX Robotics (3, Informative)

BlueGMan (1215404) | about a year ago | (#43898551)

VEX is a good place to start.. modular, compatible... worth a look.. http://www.vexrobotics.com/ [vexrobotics.com]

Re:VEX Robotics (2)

Kemanorel (127835) | about a year ago | (#43898907)

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.

Simple? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43898555)

I would like to start off with a simple soccer robot.

Hey guys, I know nothing about engines but I would like to start off with a simple rocket engine to launch a small satellite into space.

That's what you sound like.

Start as others have (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43898569)

Buy a Roomba and make videos of a cat riding it around.

Arduino Robot (2)

akellyirl (2939615) | about a year ago | (#43898599)

A someone who knows a bit about robotics and electronics, I'd recommend the new Arduino Robot: http://arduino.cc/en/Main/Robot [arduino.cc] 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: http://blog.makezine.com/2013/05/14/introducing-new-column-from-arduinos-massimo-banzi/ [makezine.com] As for the Lego Mindstorms ( I have one); it's good but basic and you're constrained by what your allowed to do. Put it this way... Mindstorms is the Apple iPad (polished and fancy) whilst Arduino Robot is your fav. Linux machine (very capable, expandable and gives you a sound basis on which to build).

Hobby? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43898603)

It's a hobby, go figure it out and have fun with it. If you're looking for someone to tell you what to do, just get a job.

I tech getting started with robotics (5, Informative)

Drachs (29694) | about a year ago | (#43898605)

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 qccolab.com 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 http://learn.parallax.com/ShieldRobot. 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.

Re:I tech getting started with robotics (0)

Bearhouse (1034238) | about a year ago | (#43898777)

Great post. Thanks for sharing your experience and passion. Cannot mod as have already posted...

Lynxmotion (1)

Animats (122034) | about a year ago | (#43898629)

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

VEX Robotics Kit (1)

auntieNeo (1605623) | about a year ago | (#43898633)

The VEX robotics kits are much more versatile (think Erector Set) than the Lego kits. VEX robots use industry standard PIC microcontrollers, so for a programmer the C programming interface might actually be less of a hassle. They do the same line following or grasping type problems, but I've done things like attaching omnidirectional wheels, porting the code to other non-VEX PIC controllers, and sending instructions to the controller over a serial port from a laptop. VEX kits are still fairly pricy, but compared to the Mindstorm kits you can do a lot more with them. They don't fall apart as easily as Lego robots. I would highly recommend them.

Volunteer and Learn (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43898663)

I highly recommend volunteering with a FIRST robotics FRC level team. These teams are high school aged kids that are given 6 weeks to build and program a robot using a kit of parts, limited budget for extra parts, and a convenient API that covers most challenges. You can start by teaching the kids the programming side of things and learn the electrical aspects of simple robots at the same time. Check it out at www.usfirst.org

Re:Volunteer and Learn (1)

BBTaeKwonDo (1540945) | about a year ago | (#43899009)

Came here looking for FIRST recommendations, and was not disappointed. However, I would recommend FTC instead of FRC; you learn just as much about robotics, the time pressure is much less, and the cost is lower. Start at http://www.usfirst.org/roboticsprograms/ftc/mentors [usfirst.org] and check out the Mentor Guide and the "Start a Team" link under Game & Season Info.

Either way, this is the time of the year when it's good for FIRST teams to bring on new members and start learning the basics of robotics, like OP desires. I think it's better for OP to learn while s?he teaches.

It Depends (of course) (1)

kiick (102190) | about a year ago | (#43898755)

It depends on a lot of factors.

What is your hardware background? 0 electronics experience? Can wire a bread board? Can Solder? Make your own PCBs?

How much do you want to spend? A couple of paychecks? A couple hundred bucks? Coffee money? Pocket change?

What tools do you have available? Machine shop? 3-D printer? Garage full of power tools? Dremel and a glue gun? Swiss army knife?

What aspect interests you the most? Mechanics? Electronics? Programming? Artistry?

The answers to these questions will determine how you approach the field of robotics. You are getting in at a good time: there are tons of options. Here are a few to get you thinking:

  • Pre-assembled robots. Cost from $100 to $100,000. If you don't want to mess with building your own, and want to get straight to the programming aspects you can just buy a robot. They range from things like the Scribbler to something from Willow Garage. The more complex behaviors, actions and programming you want to do, the more it's going to cost you. Best option for a beginner: probably the 3pi from Polulu.
  • Robot kits. Cost anywhere from $25 to several thousand. These come with all the parts, but you put it together. Some of them allow customization, some of them are just the one thing. The simplest ones aren't programmable at all: they just have various behaviors. These may be a good way to get started if you need to learn to solder. Examples: mousebot, BOEbot, many many others (google!).
  • Robot construction sets. Costs a couple hundred to a few hundred $. If you don't want to get into the electronics, but are interested in mechanics and software, a construction set may work for you. You build your robot out of sets of parts and program it yourself. There's no soldering involved (usually) and you can get right to building something as soon as you open the box. Most notable examples are Mindstorms (Lego) and Vex.
  • DIY robot parts. ~$100. Basically, you pick out the parts you want to use, buy and assemble them and program your robot. Requires soldering skills, mechanical inclination and some engineering. For example, an arduino with a motor controller shield and a Tamiya tracked base. Takes a lot of work to get all the parts to work together smoothly. You'll spend a lot of time learning and building.
  • Scrap/salvage parts. Very low budget option, but lots of fun. Instead of buying robot parts, you get the parts by salvaging pieces of broken or abandoned toys, electronics and appliances. You may need to buy a microcontroller "brain", but everything else can come from garage sales and thrift stores (or just stuff tossed out by friends, family and neighbors). You could start with a remote-controlled toy as the base, add sensors from things like dead VCRs, flatbed scanners or burglar alarms, and program a microcontroller to give it behaviors.

And of course, you can combine any of those options. Lots of people start out with Mindstorms or a BOEbot and end up building custom parts for them, or using salvaged parts to add on to a pre-built robot like a Roomba.

Two suggestions. First, you will need a support group to talk out problems and ideas. Online is fine, in person is more inspiring. Second, find a good book on what you want to do. There are several mindstorms books, there's several arduino books, and of course there is The Robot Builders Bonanza for the DIYer.

Hope this is helpful,

teensy 3.0 (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43898775)

As someone who will do the same thing (and I'm more a software guy), I highly suggest learning arduino with the teensy 3.0. ($19)
This microcontroller is powerful and simple to use. And the creator is extremely helpful on the forum: forum.pjrc.com

Buy a 10-pack of ultrasonic sensors to play with ($2/piece)
Buy a resistor kit, a capacitor kit, and a diode kit. Buy a temperature controlled soldering iron. And of course some DC motors, a cheap stepper motor (28ybj-48) if you have use for one. And whatever other sensors, or actuators you want (photodiode, LED, etc). I highly recommend getting pjrc's microSD card adapter which is amazing with the sdfat library. The performance on all fronts is nothing short of amazing to me. I spend every hour I can working with this stuff cause stuff just works for the most part.

If you are at all a software guy, you are gonna love this, cause the hardware stuff is pretty easy, and the microcontroller is powerful, and the teensy 3.0 code is much more optimized (but brain-dead simple to use) than the regular arduino code.

Going this path, I've been able to accomplish so much more than I ever was when I was working with an Arduino Mega. You will not be sorry.

Re:teensy 3.0 (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43899175)

Forgot to mention I connected a $8 bluetooth module and was communicating with my android app in no time.
You can even use free bluetooth rc apps, and control the bot thru on-screen buttons, or the accelerometer. You can trigger various code from running on the bot (ie sleep mode, search mode, etc). If you are programmer you can see real-time signals on the android. Pretty cool stuff.

No, not soccer. (2)

Alomex (148003) | about a year ago | (#43898787)

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.

Since others have mentioned Arduino and Mindstorm (1)

tool462 (677306) | about a year ago | (#43898831)

I'll add in Boe Bots:
http://www.parallax.com/go/boebot [parallax.com]

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 pretty quick. But it is a nice cheap way to get some experience with the basics.

Nuf said (1)

shellster_dude (1261444) | about a year ago | (#43898833)

Teensy++. Cheap, easy, full featured.

Society of Robots. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43898895)

start with the $50 robot
http://www.societyofrobots.com/step_by_step_robot.shtml

Parallax Boe-Bot (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43898919)

I start my high school students with the Parallax Boe-bot with the Ping ultrasonic sensor and mounting bracket. The accompanying manual is great because lays things out step by step, but also encourages experimentation.

Get this book (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43898947)

I was wondering the same thing about a year ago. Been doing software for 25+ years and basically got bored with it. Bought a ton of books. The absolute best book http://www.amazon.com/Make-Electronics-Discovery-Charles-Platt/dp/0596153740. I found a lot of books and documentation even so called beginners books assumed some prior knowledge and used terms I struggled to find a good definition of . For example, references to "pull up resister" drove me crazy. Everyone seemed to know what it was and assumed readers knew what it was. I finally found out what it meant and it was as simple as they made it out, but until you know, you dont know right? I started with PIC chips and trying to move a motor. Well, I have my motor moving and am now looking at USB stuff. Just start with the simple LED stuff and dont get frustrated. I usually spend a few hours every week on it and its the funnest thing I have done in a long time. Every time I learn a something new it is exciting and rewarding. Dont know if I will ever use it professionaly, but it sure is fun.

It takes Time (3, Funny)

NEDHead (1651195) | about a year ago | (#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'.

Visit on-line robot hardware parts vendors (2)

mcpublic (694983) | about a year ago | (#43899043)

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 the spirit of full disclosure, I did go to school with one of Pololu's founding partners.

Get a kit (2)

r2kordmaa (1163933) | about a year ago | (#43899247)

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.

Two requisites: Arduino and Servo (2)

mynameiskhan (2689067) | about a year ago | (#43899317)

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.

Parallax Development - Propeller, Basic or Javelin (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43899323)

Parallax makes stamp chip kits with integrated circuit breadboards. The Propeller uses a variant of C for programming your robot. Basic stamp is a proprietary basic language with an integrated breadboard. And while they are no longer made, there is the Javelin stamp with integrated breadboard that you can program with Java.

Additionally, Parallax makes and/or sells every kind of sensor you could possibly use.

www.parallax.com

Fischertechnik (2)

Bram Stolk (24781) | about a year ago | (#43899363)

Start with Fischertechnik.
It's like LEGO, but German, and much much better.
It even does things like computer controlled pneumatics.
http://www.fischertechnik.de/en/Home.aspx [fischertechnik.de]

ex robot (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43899399)

http://www.ez-robot.com/

DON'T get Lego MS or Arduino!!! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43899519)

DON'T try to run before you can walk.

Learn from scratch starting with each component and how to use test equipment (multimeter, bread board, etc.).

I highly recommend David Cook's Robot Building for Beginners' book for people new to the hobby.
http://www.robotroom.com/RBFB.html

This is the bot you will build piece by piece:
http://www.robotroom.com/Sandwich.html

His second book is for another bot that takes you into programming.

From personal experience (2)

x181 (2677887) | about a year ago | (#43899539)

This is my current set up:

Robot Controller:
http://www.pololu.com/catalog/product/1327 [pololu.com]

Servo Controller (if you need more than the 8 provided with that particular robot controller):
http://www.pololu.com/catalog/product/1356 [pololu.com] - these can be hooked up to the robot controller's serial interface and daisy-chained for a maximum of ~255 servos

Servos:
http://www3.towerhobbies.com/cgi-bin/wti0001p?&I=LXGLN4&P=7 [towerhobbies.com] - this one happens to be a giant scale servo for more torque

Documentation:
http://www.pololu.com/docs/0J20 [pololu.com]

Start from HERE (1)

GerardAtJob (1245980) | about a year ago | (#43899567)

Start by reading and testing their 50$ cheapo robot : http://www.societyofrobots.com/ [societyofrobots.com]

50$ isn't something that will make you broke, and you'll have a quickstart on electronic parts.
Then, if you wanna upgrade, go get an Arduino, and put it in your 50$ robots (now 80$robot ;) )
Them you can upgrade and add parts as you like, and all with a SMALL budget.

HAVE FUN!

Mini Sumo (1)

theguru (70699) | about a year ago | (#43899721)

Rules: http://www.botlanta.org/mini-sumo [botlanta.org]

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.

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