Tune in each month for a heads-up on
where to get all of your “robotics
resources” for the best prices!
Robot Kits for
Ivividly remember the excitement of
building my first electronics kit. Okay,
so the kit was an old surplus reject that
used vacuum tubes instead of transistors.
But to an 11-year-old interested in the science of electronics, all that mattered was
the scores of tiny parts packed into individual numbered plastic baggies, and the
smell of smoldering solder as I methodically attached one wire to the next.
The thing didn’t work when I first
turned it on — in fact, sparks flew and
it tripped the circuit breaker when I
flicked the switch. But all was well after
my dad looked over my handiwork,
re-soldered some cold joints, and
corrected the connections I had wrong.
For years after, I enjoyed listening to
my phonograph player through the
three-tube amplifier that I built.
Kits are ideal for those wanting to
build things but that aren’t too keen on
having to round up all the parts beforehand. Just like with electronics, robot kits
help you make your own bot, saving you
lots of time — and even money. Unless
you have parts left over from a previous
project, it’s usually cheaper to build a
robot from a pre-packaged kit, because
you don’t have to buy all the bits and
pieces from several different sources, saving your gasoline bill and shipping costs.
In this installment of Robotics
Resources, we’ll cover a selection of
robotics kits and kit sources. There are
dozens and dozens of robot kits, and
hundreds of online retailers selling them,
so there’s no way we can cover them all.
But the assortment described here
should give you a good idea of what’s
available, and where you can get it.
72 SERVO 03.2008
All-in-One or Base Kits
Not all robotic kits are wholly
self-contained, providing absolutely
everything you need to build your first (or
second or third or ...) robot. Some are
all-inclusive, such as the Parallax BOE-Bot,
which includes the hardware, software,
and computer programming essentials to
construct a functioning autonomous
vehicle. These kits serve as an excellent
introduction to robotics, and are particularly well suited for those just starting out.
Then there are the base kits, such as
those from Zagros Robotics or my own
small manufacturing company, Budget
Robotics. These provide the hardware —
the mechanicals including chassis, frame,
wheels, and usually motors — but not
the electronics. You are expected to add
those yourself. This approach to robotic
kits allows you to reuse your favorite
microcontroller or other electronics, or
mix-and-match components so you get
exactly what you need. These kinds of
kits generally require a little more experience, but offer the flexibility of selecting
just the components you want to use.
Too, there are variations within the
theme of the all-in-one kit and the base
kit. Modular kits such as the SuperDroid
Robots Trekker line offer a means to
customize elements, including drive
components and sensors. The modular
components let you add custom features
if and when you want them — a sort of
attachments system for desktop robotics.
Construction set kits, which include
the Lynxmotion Servo Erector Set,
the Robotis Bioloid, LEGO Mindstorms,
and the Vex from Vex Robotics, are
comprised of multiple interchangeable
building parts. The parts are designed
around a common set of motors and
other electronics. With a different
arrangement of components, you can
build two-, four-, or six-legged walking
robots, robots that run on two or more
wheels, or tracked tank-like robots.
On the other end of the spectrum
are base components, which you then
use to build a robot of your own design.
The base components are pre-cut and
pre-drilled, saving you the labor of
shaping these parts in your garage. For
example, if you’re building a small desktop robot, you can find pre-cut discs and
other base parts made of metal, plastic,
and even wood. Added to the base
might be motor mounts and stand-offs to
construct a multi-tiered chassis. You are
expected to supply the motors, wheels,
battery and holder, microcontroller, and
other parts to complete the system.
Across the spectrum of kit types,
nearly all allow some form of modification and customization. Modular designs
work best with components made for
them, and you’ll get the most profession-al-looking results if you use components
specifically designed for the robot. Even
so, in nearly all kits you can fashion your
own solutions, and attach them to your
creation using small nuts, bolts, hook
and loop fasteners or sticky-back tape.
Bases made of wood or plastic are easier
to rework using ordinary shop tools.
The three most common robot