This is a robot named tracky and this is the Robot tutorial, in this tutorial we will cover a lot ground. One of the coolest things about the field of robotics is how interdisciplinary it is. There are mechanical elements, electronics, power requirements, sensors, software, artificial intelligence..etc going through this tutorial will require you to touch each of these areas in at least a small way.
This robot that we are going to build here is a great Arduino project, even if it is your first. It has both remote control and basic autonomous capability ( through an an ultrasonic sensor that looks like a pair of eyes). It might look like a lot to build and put together, but you’d be surprised how fast it can be built. It took me longer to type up this tutorial, then to actually build it.
Lets go over the stuff you’ll need to build tracky. For the electronics, we need a single Arduino Uno, Arduino Uno motor shield, an infrared remote with receiver, ultrasonic sensor, connectors and batteries. There are two batteries used, a 9v battery powers the Arduino Uno, and 4 AA batteries provide power to the motor shield. You might be able to get by with just the AA batteries, but you are only getting around 6V fully charged, once they run down a bit or get driven pretty hard, you might have trouble providing the minimum 6V required by the Arduino, I didn’t test it though.
If you are strapped for cash, you can omit either the IR remote, or the ultrasonic sensor, and save a little bit, or maybe just find some old toys, and rip the battery holders out of those. I could not find any documents on the small IR remote when I built this, so I had to reverse engineer the codes for it (this is easier than it sounds), and I walk you through that process in the IR Remote section. You should be able to reverse engineer almost any old IR remote using this process, from an old VCR, TV, DVD player, you will need to buy an IR receiver though.
You can order all this stuff from the links below. I hope you’ll consider supporting me and the tutorials I write by ordering through these links, through affiliate programs I can get a small commission on things you purchase.
You only need on Arduino Uno to build Tracky, but if you can afford it, a second one will save you from taking the robot apart a few times.
official starter kit: If you want to go the kit route, this is a good one, most of the contents of this kit are not needed to complete this robot tutorial.
|Part||Name||Where to buy||Part #||Price|
|IR Remote kit||Jameco||2152315||$9.95|
|AA battery Holder||Jameco||216179||$0.79|
|9V battery connector||Jameco||1949488||$0.29|
You don’t need any fancy tools/supplies for this, and probably have all the tools you’d need at home already. Here is the minimum I think you’ll need.
Hot melt glue: one of the cheapest and most used tools I have, it works well enough in all kinds of situations, on a wide variety of materials, and best of all it is very good about do-overs, for most materials you just get a small hobby knife or pliers, rip it off and do it again. I have been using the same $5 glue gun for over 15 years. I used it numerous places when building this robot.
Mounting tape: this isn’t cheap as far as tape goes, but is way more useful than other forms of tape, is surprisingly strong and so-so about do-overs. I mostly use ‘mounting tape’. I didn’t actually use a roll on this project, but the little breadboard that I used came with some already attached.
Velcro: also not the cheapest material around, but I like to buy it in large rolls, not the little packs you find in the department store. It is super versatile, not quite as strong as two sided tape, good about do-overs, and best of all is that it allows one to remove and reattach an object as many time as you want. I used Velcro in several places when building this robot. These are very easy to find. I have seen them at Home Depot, even Walmart.
|Part||Name||Where to buy||Part #||Price|
|Small screwdriver set||Jameco||226094||$3.95|
|Needle Nose Pliers||Jameco||34712||$5.49|
|Double sided tape||Jameco||285907||$19.95|
I remember one of my favorite classes in school was what we call a capstone class, this is usually a course taken your last year (often your last semester) where you and a few other students get assigned one project to complete, and get the entire semester to do it. You got to choose your own project, either from a list or come up with your own. This was an EE based course, so everyone there was mostly experienced in electronics and some computer science. The instructor had been teaching this class for years and was a pretty amazing engineer, he gave a very long talk about what things would cause projects to turn into nightmares for the students and sometimes fail altogether. His number one caution was that if you were to design your own project was to keep the hardware and mechanical elements extremely simple, as the failed projects of the past had usually occurred not because of software or electronics because the mechanical elements didn’t work, or proved to be so difficult that students spent a disproportionate amount of time on it and didn’t have enough time to get the electronics and software done. Granted part of this was because we were mostly electrical engineering students, and its easy for electrical engineers to scoff and say “aw we’ll just build the super doohickey like so and build a custom circuit that controls it” then proceed to spend all of our time on the stuff we’re most familiar with. Then midterms and all the other commitments creep up and you get left with a week to build some complicated contraption that had very little design forethought, and it requires skills and knowledge outside of where your expertise lies. My group was scared off by the instructors warnings and chose a project from a predetermined list that had very low mechanical complexity. There were two groups that did have a complicated hardware design and sure enough they struggled way more with those than the non-hardware parts, fortunately the instructor saw it coming and was able to intervene and guide them through to complete their projects, it was not without some pain though. .
I kept this lesson in mind when designing this robot tutorial and tried to keep the hardware as simple as possible. I love the hardware aspects, after all first got interested in engineering and making things from an interest in hardware, especially woodworking, I probably spend more time on hardware than software and electronics today, and don’t plan on changing that. I just think that when prototyping and building something as we learn it, we tend to naturally choose the simplest path for the electronics and software, and complicate the hardware and mechanical design. It is interesting to think about how 3D printers might affect this, provided you are experienced at the software modeling part of it, and depending on the overall design, you could make some pretty elaborate mechanical assemblies very quickly (the class I took was waaaay before 3D printers became popular). Anyway I have found that I am most productive at building a multidisciplinary project when I keep the mechanical design super simple, if hot melt glue, two sided tape, Velcro and fishing line won’t hold things together securely than I look at trying to simplify the design, at least keep it simple at first, once I’ve got a some good momentum going in a project, and am reasonably certain the design is correct, I’ll work on improving the hardware.