Tuesday, August 28, 2007


One of the things that I like so much about the people who are into hobby robotics is their fearlessness. There is virtually no fear of failure among the group. They are adventurous and willing to try new things. A failed experiment is just as good as or better that a successful one because it teaches something. They are willing to abandon an old idea when a better one comes along, even if they have much invested in the old one. They are willing to share all of this information with others admitting to both triumph and disaster. When something works, they give the answer away unselfishly. When something bombs, (sometime literally going up in smoke) they continue to work undaunted having learned at least one way that will not work.

Without fear, without selfishness, there is only the love of the work itself and the learning. Failure teaches as much or more than success. Failure seen this way is success, for it moves the process toward the goal along its way.

Many of the folks who share their ideas on web forums have mottos attached to their signatures at each post. Things like – “There's nothing like a new idea and a warm soldering iron,” or “Never give up when things go wrong.” or "The first rule to being successful is 'Learn from your mistakes', The second rule is 'Be willing to make mistakes.'"One of my favorites is – “lets see what this does... KA BOOM (note to self do not cross red and black)”

Fearless! I find great hope in trying to live this way.

By the way, this is what is attached to my signature line - "We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we're curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths." - Walt Disney

Saturday, August 25, 2007

HEXBUG Micro Robotic Creature

I was on a trip this weekend and my wife picked this up for me at RadioShack. It is a pretty neat little toy robot. According to their website "HEXBUGS feel their way around sensing objects in their path and avoiding them. And they can hear! You control where they scurry through a hand clap, loud noise or table slap." The website also has some video. As you can tell from the description, it has working whiskers which are wire springs mounted around a post. When the whisker bumps something, the spring deforms and touches the post, switching to backup mode. Also a clap is registered through the bots "ears" and it backs up too. When going forward, it crawls fairly quickly on its six legs.

There are five different models. I have the "Alpha." Pretty amazing for $9.99!

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Mythbuster Robotic Hand

I was watching Discovery Channel's Mythbusters last night and saw Jamie and Adam build a really neat robotic hand. It used motorcycle chain for the joints. I found a great link to a video of the hand on YouTube. What an elegant and simple idea. One day...

The Class that Will Be Soon

In about a week, I will begin taking some classes at Louisiana Technical College. I'm starting their Industrial Electronics Technology course. I'm doing this just to help with my robotics. My first class will be Comprehensive DC Circuits (ETRN 1140). One of the things that I looking forward to the most is really learning how to use an oscilloscope.

The teacher knows why I am taking the courses and says we will tailor things to help me learn for my projects. The school offers classes in AC circuits, semiconductors, transistor circuits, digital electronics, introduction to robotics and much more. I can't wait to start.

The Class that Wasn't

This past summer I hoped to teach a Robotics Camp at my children's school. I was going to use the Parallax Scribbler and a simple mouse-type bot.

This was the course description as advertised -
Gatorbot – Robot Camp – for Middle Schoolers (entering 6-8th grades)
lead by Fr. Whit

July 16 – 20, 2007, 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 Noon (with a mid-morning snack and break)

Gatorbot Robot Camp will teach the basics of Robotics. Robot builders will work with two robots, a mouse-like Weasel Robot (which each student will keep) and the Parallax Scribbler. Learn simple kit construction and elementary programming. It will be a great week that we hope will grow into a Robotics Club.
For more info, see the following websites and movies:


In the end, I had decided to use Tamiya's Wall Hugging Mouse instead of the OWI Weasel Bot. Unfortunately, the class was cancelled. Not enough students signed up.
Oh well, at least I got two mouse bots and a Scribbler! Attached also is a sketch of the Gatorbot which still may be the logo for a robotic's club at the kid's school whose mascot is the Alligator.

My First Robot - Robot 1

I started this Robot around the first of 2007. I wanted to try to build a robot from scratch (not a kit - partly because I was trying not to spend too much). I knew it's brain would be a Parallax Basic Stamp 2. For a motor, I used an old Black and Decker 3/8" drill. I kept the motor housing and ground it down. This let me keep what gearing it had to slow it down a little. I also kept the battery holder. It uses two VersaPak NiMH Batteries (3.6 Volt, 2.0 Amp Hours each - that is 7.2 Volts total). The body is plywood. It uses Dubro foam airplane wheels and a Futaba S3003 servo for steering. It is basically a copy of Roger Arrick's Arobot featured in the book, Robot Building for Dummies. I ran it around outside. It was fast so I first tried to slow it down by using one battery and then a 1.5 Volt "D" cell - just to see. Then I started researching how to do these things electronically.

I got bogged down in the electronics, especially the microcontroller. I knew I needed an H-bridge and then to understand PWM. So, I backed off and got some goodies from Parallax - starting with "What's a Microcontroller?" I have really worked hard to catch up on that end of things over the last 6 months. I will return to this bot and finish it up with the new stuff I have learned, but for now I continue to learn more electronics and control.

The pictures show the basic platform (top and bottom) and one of the platform with a BOE (Board of Education - Serial) and expansion board. Knowing what I do now, I will probably add a co-processor - something like this one from Blue Bell Design.

It is now not what I would do, but it represents where I began and it helped me identify for myself what I needed to learn to continue. It will always be special because of that. Plus, it worked (well, sort of, I got scavenged and purchased parts to scoot around). Mostly, I learned a lot - some ideas that worked and a bunch of things that didn't. Maybe it's always like that.

I still like the yellow and blue!