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Q. The other day, I stumbled
across a mini Sumo kit from
Solarbotics called a Sumovore.
I was wondering if this is a good robot
kit for beginners. It looks really cool.
— Jackie Butler
A. You can’t go wrong with the
Sumovore kit from Solarbotics
( www.solarbotics.com). This is
an excellent robot kit. Many people
think that BEAM (Biology, Electronics,
Aesthetics, and Mechanics) robots are
too dumb to make an effective robot,
especially a mini Sumo robot. I would
have to say they are dead wrong. This
robot can track another robot better
than any of the other mini Sumo
kits currently available on the market,
in my opinion.
Though the basic kit is not
programmable, it will stay on the mini
Sumo ring all day long, and will search
out and push any opponent on the
ring. This basic kit will produce a very
competitive robot for mini Sumo
contests. It is a little lighter than the
maximum weight for most events, but
a few lead weights can easily fix that.
If you want to program the
Sumovore robot, Solarbotics sells add-on boards for the BASIC Stamp, Atmel
Mega8L, and PIC16F877 microcontrollers. With these microcontrollers,
you will be able to add just about any
motion control feature you want.
Keep in mind, this is a kit that
requires a lot of soldering. Depending
20 SERVO 09.2007
on your soldering skills, it could take
from a couple hours to a full day to
assemble. If you are not comfortable
with soldering, get some help. By the
time you are done assembling this kit,
you will be an expert at soldering.
Q. I found an old pistol grip
soldering iron in a junk pile at
school. It gets really hot and
melts solder fast, but it is really hard to
use to solder electronic parts. The tip
can be taken off with a screwdriver.
Are there any tips that come to a
smaller point for this soldering iron?
— Adam Salie
A. There is probably a reason that
that soldering iron was in
the junk pile. These pistol grip
soldering irons do put out a lot of
heat, but they are not very good at
soldering modern electronic circuits. In
the old days when vacuum tubes
were common, they were great
tools since many of the electronic
components were soldered wire-to-wire, component-to-component, and
on the phenolic circuit boards, the
component spacing was far and wide.
These soldering irons do work well
at soldering large diameter wires
together, and it will even solder small
brass parts together (if you use
soldering flux). It is a good tool to have
around in case you need a lot of heat.
But for circuit boards? It is too bulky,
and the soldering iron tip is too big
to solder a single integrated circuit
Yes, the tips are replaceable,
but not with the fine tips needed for
routine soldering of circuits. I would
recommend that you get a basic
pencil style soldering iron that is at
least 25 watts in power and has a
replaceable fine tip for soldering your
Q. A friend of mine gave me a
huge box of old electronic
components, like resistors,
capacitors, transistors, ICs, switches,
LED displays, etc. Some of the
RadioShack receipts in the box are
from 1976. So my question is, do electronic components go bad with age?
— Bob Cook
A. From my experience, electronic
parts generally don’t go bad
when they are sitting on the
shelf not doing anything. Your biggest
problem will probably be some corrosion on the lead coated component
leads/wires. I personally have components that are over 30 years old, and
they still work like a charm, and I use
them all the time. Mix and match
the old with the new. You might find it
difficult to find a data sheet for some
parts that have long become obsolete,
With the electronic world moving
towards 3. 3 volt electronics, those
older components may become