Mind / Iron
by Bryan Bergeron, Editor ;
Building on the Fundamentals
If you pick up a copy of the IEEE Transactions on
Robotics, the first thing you’ll likely notice is the relative
abundance of mathematics, relative to the predominance of
prose and photos in SERVO. This difference reflects the goals
of the readership of each publication. An enthusiast doesn’t
need to know the stress on the gear train within a servo as
long as the unit as a whole will handle a particular load. For
an engineer designing a servo mechanism, however, these
details matter. Moreover, the nature and magnitude of the
stress on the gear train is most completely and
unambiguously expressed in mathematical terms.
The reason for comparing the two publications is that
they represent different ends of the spectrum of robotics.
You may be content with kit building and working with pre-architected robots. On the other hand, you may have your
STEER WINNING ROBOTS
Perform proportional speed, direction, and steering with only two Radio/Control channels for vehicles using two
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with our mixing RDFR dual speed control. Used in many
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goes straight ahead, down is reverse. Pure right or left twirls
vehicle as motors turn opposite directions. In between stick
positions completely proportional. Plugs in like a servo to
your Futaba, JR, Hitec, or similar radio. Compatible with gyro
steering stabilization. Various volt and amp sizes available.
The RDFR47E 55V 75A per motor unit pictured above.
6 SERVO 02.2010
sights set on a career designing new robotics platforms,
sensors, and intelligent computing systems. If the latter case
describes you, then you’ll need to study the fundamentals of
robotics, from statics and dynamics to strength of materials
and biomechanics – either in a formal college program or on
If you opt for a traditional university education, then
you’ll probably have to enroll in an electrical engineering or
mechanical engineering program and fill your electives with
robotics-related courses. There are very few true
undergraduate robotics engineering programs in the world.
For example, Worcester Polytechnic Institute
( www.wpi.edu) established the first bachelor’s degree
program in robotics in 2006.
Going it alone is possible, but only if you have discipline
and time to study. And there’s really no such thing as going
it alone. You’ll have to find a mentor with similar interests to
get the most out of your studies. There’s nothing as
frustrating as studying with the nagging feeling that if you
only had a real teacher, you’d progress more rapidly.
Regardless of your path, you can and should start
working on the fundamentals now. The most fundamental
building block in robotics is mathematics — algebra,
trigonometry, statistics, differential equations, and calculus.
There’s an abundance of texts on Amazon and elsewhere. If
you’re more at home with online computer-aided instruction
and serious games for learning math concepts, then there
are a number of free sites on the web, including Wolfram
Math World (mathworldcom.wolfram) and Math.com
If your eyes automatically glaze over at the sight of a
math textbook, consider picking up a copy of The Manga
Guide to Calculus, published by No Starch Press
( www.nostarch.com), 2009. Other than reading from front
to back and depicting unadventurous costumes, the book
resembles every other Japanese manga book marketed in
the US. The paperback isn’t exhaustive, but it provides a
painless introduction to calculus within the context of a story
told in comics. Once you’ve mastered the book, you can
move on to more traditional treatments.
By the way, No Starch Press also offers a manga
treatment of electricity, The Manga Guide to Electricity,
which is a fun introduction to electricity for high school level
students. It’s appropriate for a budding roboticist who may
be mechanically talented but has yet to grapple with basic
concepts such as Ohm’s Law.
Good luck on your path. SV