Ok, so you know nothing about robotics huh? Well, you’ve come to the
right place. Unfortunately there are lots of people like you out there.
Robotics isn’t an easy hobby, and there really isn’t a whole lot of
information out there, especially compared to other hobbies. But, with
a little diligence and hard work, you’ll be up and running in no time.
Below are 10 hints and tips to getting started. Hopefully they’ll help
you avoid some common mistakes.
1. Learn about electronics: While this isn’t one
of the most fun parts about robotics, it is essential. For a while I
lived under the impression that I could do robotics without knowing
anything about electronics. But, I found out that I was wrong pretty
soon. Don’t get me wrong, you don’t have to have an EE degree, but you
do need to know some of the basics. Getting Started In Electronics by Forrest Mimms is an excellent resource for this. You can find a review of this book
There’s also a helpful online electronics tutorial here.
2. Buy some books: In order to have a good start into
robotics, you will need to start growing your library right off the bat.
Getting the right books will provide an invaluable help. Robot Building for Beginners is a good starting point. An absolute must-have book is Robot Builder’s Bonanza. You’ll also want to get some magazine subscriptions. Robot Magazine is great for beginners, along with Servo Magazine. You’ll also find other interesting books, on our books page.
3. Start off small:
This is probably one most important points of this whole article. Stay
small! Resist the urge to let your mind run wild with possiblities of
cooking robot that will dust and vacuum at the same time. You need to
start off small. Try putting some motors onto a base (like some AOL CDs or a bread-board from Radio Shack or Jameco) and running them with a Basic Stamp or an OOPic.
If you’re more the kit type, you will find an impressive selection at RobotShop, Lynxmotion, Parallax, Rogue Robotics and Budget Robotics. If you don’t have any electronics or mechanics experience
I’d recommend getting a kit.
4. Get LEGO Mindstorms if you don’t have any programming experience:
If you’ve never programmed before, you’re in a bit of trouble, because
you’ll have to learn in order to do robotics, well, mostly. However,
LEGO Mindstorms offers
and excellent resource for the totally illiterate. I have never heard
anything bad about this product, and HIGHLY recommend it. Plus, if you
advance beyond it’s capabilites, there are tons of great websites and
books about hacking it for other uses. You can buy the Mindstorms 2.0 kit here, or wait till Aug. 2006 to get the new version, Mindstorms NXT. VEX Robotics Kit is also a good starting point. I don’t have any person experience with it, but I’ve heard good things.
5. Enter a contest – I.E. Build a ‘bot to do something:
After you’re initial robot or so, you’ll need to start to plan
for a robot that will actually do something. Part of the problem for a
lot of people is that they
never plan their robot ahead of time. When you have definite goals in
mind, i.e. “I want my robot to patrol the house at night”, you are much
more motovated and interested in finishing. A great way to do this is
to enter your robot into a contest. Mini Sumo, and the international Fire-Fighting Contest are excellent choices. Many clubs have annual contests and events.
6. Work regularly on your ‘bots:
Make yourself work on your robots regularly, especially if you’re
entering a contest! Coming back to a project after weeks of ingnoring
it is tough. Take that time to think about the project
and plan. It will help, even if it’s just for a few minutes before bed. Also, keep a regular journal of what you’ve done. Documenting your work is important.
7. Read about mistakes of others: Take a look at our top mistakes with building a robot list and know what to avoid.
8. Don’t be a tightwad:
This is probably the second most important point in this article. Take
it from one – Being a tightwad, or cheap person, isn’t good. You may
save a few dollars, but you will loose so much more with the extra time
and frustration involved in being cheap. Don’t get me wrong, you should
always look for bargans, but if that involves desoldering components
off of circuit boards, as opposed to spending $5 at Digi-Key,
just give up. I’ve learned this lesson the hard way. Robotics isn’t a
cheap hobby, and sometime you’ll have to face the facts. You’re time
and sanity are worth more.
9. Ask LOTS of questions: Subscribe to every
e-mail list and newsgroup that you can find, and just ask questions.
You’ll learn more that way than from any book or website. Questions are
never stupid. Don’t be shy. No one ever gets good enough where they
don’t have to ask questions sometime. The forums at Robot Magazine are a good place to start.
10. Share you’re experinces with others: Don’t
make the rest of the world learn everything the hard way. That’s the
beauty of the internet and e-mail. If you’re figured something out,
write and article or e-mail. Let others know. Sheesh, that’s the reason
you’re reading this right now, I’m letting you know how to do things
the right way. GoRobotics.net is an excellent place to do this. If
you’re interested in writing an article or review. Send me an e-mail. Don’t worry if you don’t have any experience, that’s what editors are for!
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