Help! I Want to Know More About Building Robots

I get a lot of emails and comments posted from folks asking questions about robotics. Unfortunately, most of them are rather specific and I just don't have the time to answer them all individually.

Thankfully, that's where a few cool products, books, and websites come into play. Back when I first got started in robotics (back in 1998 or so), there were very few books on the subject and even fewer websites or nifty products.

But, times have changed folks! Robots are now almost as cool as iPods and Emo.

I've put together a small list of items that you can use to 1) start your journey into robotics and 2) enhance your knowledge. Feel free to leave comments on other useful items. This is meant to be a starting point. It's also a good place to find good gift ideas ... hint hint hint.


Purchasing a good quality kit is a sure-fire way of getting started in robotics. It takes all the hard work out of it, like finding the correct components and difficult machining and hardware issues. Below are your best bets for getting a good kit.

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1. LEGO Mindstorms

The venerable granddaddy of all easy-yet-powerful robotics kits, LEGO Mindstorms now comes in two flavors, the old version RIS 2.0 and the new version Mindstorms NXT. LEGO Mindstorms NXT sports an impressive array of new features, like ultrasonic range finders, powerful graphical programming environment based on LabView, and bluetooth, the old version Robotics Invention System 2.0 is still a good buy. You can pick up a set for under $200 off of eBay or perhaps find it on clearnace at your local toy store. Either way, LEGO makes outstanding building systems, and no roboticists shop is complete without it.

2. VEX Robotics Development System

I don't personally own a VEX system, so I can't say based on person experience, but I've heard lots of good things about them (if someone at Innovation First is reading this, hook me up). The kits are similar in design to an erector set of bygone years, and are very sturdy and well constructed. sells a wide array of add-ons and expansions that make the possibilities vast and varied.

3. Viper Robotics Development System

I recently did a complete review of the Viper robotics development system from Microbric. The kit is unique in that it has various modules that connect up to the central motherboard via little plastic connectors that also form the electrical connections. The kit is attractively priced and is well worth it, for the components you get.

The system is programmed in Visual Basic syntax and is based on the Atom processor from Basic Micro.


Why learn the hard way, when you stand on the shoulders of others? These books will expand your knowledge and give you confidence about moving to the next level. Check your local bookstore, or use the links below to order off of Amazon (and help out!).

1. Robot Builder's Bonanza, Third Edition (Robot Builder's Bonanza)

An oldie-goldie. Gordon McComb does a bang-up job of introducing robotics to the real world. Check out our review of the 2nd Edition of Robot Builder's Bonanza here.

2. Build Your Own Robot!

Karl Lunt wrote for Nuts and Volts (more on this later) for years. Afterwards, he assembled all his articles into this fabulous book, filled with nifty ideas on how to build a robot. This is great for your bookshelf. You can read our review of Build Your Own Robot! here.

3. Intermediate Robot Building

This is David Cook's second book, in which he covers the topics of robotics in a bit more detail than his previous Robot Building for Beginners book.


Books are great to have, but it's always nice to have a steady stream of new information coming your way. This is a great motivator, and there's no better way that by subscribing to some of these magazines.


1. Robot

ROBOT Magazine is a new magazine that focues on the educational and hobbiest market. The high-quality magazine always has interesting and informative articles for both the advanced user and beginners.  You can read our review of the first issue of ROBOT Magazine here.

2. Servo Magazine

Servo Magazine covers all things related to robotics. Not nearly as pretty or well layed out as ROBOT Magazine, but still informative. If anyone from SERVO is reading this, how about a little love and giving us a subscription!

3. Make: Technology on Your Time

This is one hefty magazine! Published quarterly, you can expect to find over 150 pages in this high quality "mook" (magazine + book). They cover all things related to hacking and making things, including robotics and electronics. Well worth the price.

4. Nuts and Volts

A great hobbiest magazine related to all things electronic.

5. Circuit Cellar

This is a bit above most beginners heads, but a great addition for the more advanced user.


Obviously, since you're reading this, you've discovered the power of the web. Amplify that power by visiting these websites to learn about robotics.


Of course we'd list ourselves first! Features robotics news, projects, and reviews.

2. The NXT Step

This a resource site for all things related to LEGO Mindstorms NXT (the first item on our list).

3. Robots Dreams

This site covers all the great robot news from Japan. Gives a fresh perspective on the other side of the world, and it's in English!

4. Bot Junkie

More robot news to ease your cravings.

5. MAKE Magazine

Hackery and making from all around the internet. TONS of information.

6. Hack-A-Day

New hack every day. A must visit. Submit your hacks.

7. Engadget

All things gadgets. They also frequently link to us, so give them some love!


All that robot building can wear you out. Take a load off and enjoy some relaxation with your robotic pals.

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1. Pleo

Pleo is a life-like pet dinosaur. You can find out more about Pleo at Designed by the creater of the Furby, Pleo will learn and grow like a real animal. Pleo is a big favorite with adults and children alike.

2. Robosapien V2

WowWee toys makes a whole line of robots that are lots of fun and great for hacking. The RoboSapien is probably the most popular.

Hopefully, these links should get you started on your journey. If you have anything to add, please leave it in the comments below. Happy robot making!

This post is part of the ProBlogger group writing project!

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