How to Make a Robot - Lesson 1: Getting Started

Posted on 17/09/2018 by cbenson in How to Make a Robot
Modified on: 22/03/2023
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Welcome to the RobotShop Grand Tutorial: How to Make a Robot, a series of 10 lessons that will teach you the principles behind making your own custom robot. This first lesson is aimed at anybody looking to get started in robotics and / or get a basic understanding of robotic terms such as “voltage”, “current”, “motor”, and “sensors”. Although this might seem pretty basic, even people with previous robot building experience might find useful information regarding the general method of building a robot. When you're done, move on to the next lesson "Choosing a Robotic Platform".

Getting Started

Welcome to the first installment of the Grand RobotShop Tutorial, a series of 10 lessons that will teach you how to make your own robot. This tutorial is aimed at anybody willing to get started in robotics and have a basic understanding of terms such as “voltage”, “current”, “motor”, and “sensors”. Although this might seem pretty basic, even people with previous robot building experience might find useful information regarding the general method of building a robot.

There are many definitions of robot and no real consensus has been attained so far. We loosely define a robot as follows:

Robot: An electromechanical device which is capable of reacting in some way to its environment, and take autonomous decisions or actions in order to achieve a specific task.

This means that a toaster, a lamp, or a car would not be considered robots since they have no way of perceiving their environment. On the other hand, a vacuum cleaner that can navigate around a room, or a solar panel that seeks the sun, can be considered a robotic system. It is also important to note that the  “robots” featured in Robot Wars for instance or any solely remote-controlled device would not fall under this definition and would be closer to a more complex remote-controlled car. Although this definition is quite general, it might need to evolve in the future in order to keep up with the latest advancement in the field. In order to get a sense of how robotics is rapidly growing, we suggest you take a look at the RobotShop History of Robotics and the Robots of the Decade Awards.

This series of tutorials is intended to guide you through the steps of building a complete mobile robot. There are 10 lessons, each guides you through one step of making a general-purpose mobile robot. This will enable you to build your very own mobile robot in order to perform a task of your choice. Each lesson will be illustrated with an example from RobotShop's experience in producing the RobotShop Rover. The lessons are intended to be read one after the other and build upon the information gained.

The first step is to determine what your robot should do (i.e. what is its purpose in life). Robots can be used in almost any situation and are primarily intended to help humans in some way. If you are unsure of what you want your robot to do or simply want to concentrate your efforts on specific tasks, here are some ideas:

Knowledge & Learning

In order to build increasingly complex robots, most professionals and hobbyists use the knowledge they have acquired when building previous robots. Instead of building one robot, you can learn how to use individual components with the objective of building your own "knowledge library" to use to undertake a larger, more complex design in the future.

Robot Construction

Amusement & Companionship

Building a robot is in and of itself fun and exciting. Robotics incorporates aspects of many disciplines including engineering (mechanical, electrical, computer), sciences (mathematics and physics), and arts (aesthetics) and users are free to use their imagination. Amusing others with your creations (especially if they are user-friendly and interactive) helps others to become interested in the field.

Companion Robot

Competitions & Contests

Competitions give the project design guidelines and a due date. They also put your robot against others in the same class and test your design and construction skills. Although many competitions are specifically for students (elementary to university), there also exist open competitions where adults and professionals alike can compete.

Robot Soccer

Autonomous "life form"

Humans are natural creators and innovators. The next great innovation will be to develop a fully autonomous "life form" that rivals or surpasses ourselves in ability and perhaps creativity. This goal is still being accomplished in small steps by individuals, research organizations, and professionals. Although you are likely just getting started in robotics, you will hopefully find creating basic autonomous behavior to be fun and interesting, and easier than you might have expected.

Delivery Robots Parked Beside Glass Window

Domestic or Professional tasks

Domestic robots help liberate people from unpleasant or dangerous tasks and give them more liberty and security. Professional and Service Robots are used in a variety of applications at work, in public, in hazardous environments, and in locations such as deep-sea, battlefields, and space, just to name a few. In addition to the service areas such as cleaning, surveillance, inspection, and maintenance, we utilize these robots where manual task execution is dangerous, impossible or unacceptable.  Professional and Service Robots are more capable, rugged, and often more expensive than domestic robots and are ideally suited for professional and/or commercial use.

Robot Window Cleaner

Security and Surveillance

Most mobile robots are used to venture into areas where humans either should not or cannot go. Robots of various sizes (either remote-controlled, semi-autonomous or fully autonomous) are an ideal choice for these tasks.    

Inspection Robot

We anticipate that most of you following this guide have the objective of building a robot for learning and knowledge, but also for sheer fun; though many will have a specific idea or project they want to materialize. The last major consideration is budget. It is difficult to know exactly what people have in mind when they build their first robot; one might already want to build an autonomous snow removal robot, while another simply wants to make an intelligent clock. A simple programmable mobile robot might cost about $100 while a more complex one can be several thousands of dollars. In this exercise, we have chosen to make a mobile platform in order to get an understanding of motors, sensors, microcontrollers, and programming, and to include a variety of sensors. We’ll keep the budget to about $200 to $300 since we want it to be fairly complete.

Simple Mobile Robot CAD

For further information on learning how to make a robot, please visit the RobotShop Learning Center. Visit the RobotShop Community Forum in order to seek assistance in building robots, showcase your projects, or simply hang out with other fellow roboticists.

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