David Evans: Robots

I've never been terribly hard core about building robots but I always thought they were pretty neat. 7-Zark-7 played a farly significant role in childhood games around the playground, Vincent from The Black Hole was damn cool, and KITT...well...he always saved Michael just in time, didn't he? Anyway, back in the 80s I naturally couldn't afford a Heathkit HERO 1, so I looked at building the robot described in An Inexpensive Teaching Robot for an Inexpensive Microcomputer. Unfortunately, the mechanical engineering skills required were beyond those of an eleven-year-old. A little while later, The Transactor published Interfacing and Controlling the Armatron Robot. This project required no significant mechanical construction and I had a lot of fun building the interface and porting the software to run on the VIC-20. However, the Mobile Armatron had a lot of mechanical slop, making predictable movement all but impossible. There were no sensors, and the robot was tethered to the computer using a cord that always seemed to be too short. These limitations finally annoyed me enough that the whole setup went into the closet and that was it for robots for quite a while.

In late 2005, iRobot released the specs allowing control of their Roomba vacuuming robot. This was pretty cool because the Roomba is fairly mechanically robust, being designed as a cross between a piece of consumer electronics and a home appliance. It is certainly far beefier than anything I could have constructed myself!

So, while I was at Dalhousie CS, three of us decided to do something. You can read about our initial exploits here, which appeared in the Make blog. Enjoy!


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(David.Evans@cl.cam.ac.uk)