Intermediate Robot Building

Posted 14 Jul 2004 at 16:34 UTC by steve Share This

David Cook is webmaster of the popular website, a collector of bizarre safety signs, and author of Robot Building for Beginners. His new book, titled Intermediate Robot Building, explores more advanced issues than his previous book. This one is aimed at the reader ready to move from building robot kits to designing and building a robot from scratch. If you've been wondering how to control a motor, build an H-Bridge, or how to attach wheels to your motors in a precise and reliable way, this book is for you. Read on for a more detailed review.
Review by R. Steven Rainwater

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Title: Intermediate Robot Building

Author: David Cook

ISBN Number: 1-59059-373-1

Publisher: Apress L.P.

Number of pages: 442

List of chapters:
About the Author
About the Technical Reviewer
1. Assembling a Modular Robot

Building Modules
Getting comfortable with Machining
Putting It All Together
Applying Parts and Techniques to Other Robots
2. Comparing Two Types of Homemade Motor Couplers and Common Errors to Avoid
Comparing Two Homemade Coupler Technologies
Identifying Desired Results in Coupler Drill Holes, Along with Common Errors and Their Effects
Getting Ready to Make a Solid-Rod Coupler
3. Making a Fixture and Drilling Solid Rods for a Coupler
Gathering Tools and Parts
Preparing Lengths of Solid Rod for the Couplers
Making a Coupler Fixture
Getting the Money Shot
Drilling the Motor-Shaft and LEGO Axle Coupler Holes
Examining the Coupler so Far
4. Finishing the Solid-Rod Motor Coupler
Installing the Coupler Setscrew
Adding the LEGO Axle
5. Building a Motor Inside a Wheel
Encountering Danger: Bent Shafts Ahead
Making a Hub-Adapter Coupler
6. Understanding the Standards and Setup for electronic Experiments
Reading Schematics
Using solderless Breadboards
Understanding Oscilloscope Traces
Riding the Bandwagon of Modern Electronics
7. Creating a Linear Voltage-Regulated Power Supply
Understanding Voltage Regulators
Understanding Linear Voltage-Regulated power supplies
Heading into Optimizations
8. Making Robot Power Supply Improvements
Bulking Up the Input and Output Capacitors
Adding Voodoo Capacitors
Sprinkling with Bypass/Decoupling Capacitors
Preventing Damage from Short Circuits or Overcurrent
Preventing Damage from Overvoltage in a Regulated Circuit
Putting It All Together for a Robust Robot Power Supply
9. Driving Miss Motor
Why a Motor Driver?
Demonstrating the Four Modes of a Motor
Driving Simply with a Single Transistor
Putting the NPN and PNP Motor Drivers Together
The Classic Bipolar H-Bridge
10. Driving Mister Motor
Driving Motors with MOSFETs
Driving Motors with Chips
Evaluating Motor Drivers
11. Creating an Infrared Modulated Obstacle, Opponent, and Wall Detector
Detecting Modulated Infrared with a Popular Module
Expanding the Detection Circuit to Include an LED Indicator
Completing the reflector Detector Circuit
Making It Work
12. Fine-Tuning the Reflector Detector
Tuning In 38 kHz
Limitations of the Reflector Detector
Getting Ready for a Practical Robot Application
13. Roundabout Robot!
Examining Roundabout
Roundabout's Circuitry
Building Roundabout's Body
Summarizing Roundabout
14. Test Driving Roundabout
Preparing for the Test Drive
Preparing the Robot and Correcting Minor Glitches
Evaluating Roundabout's Performance
Getting Stuck
15. If I Only Had a Brain
Considering the Motorola KX8 Microcontroller As an Example
Comparing a Microcontroller to a Logic Chip
Programming a Microcontroller
Exploring common Microcontroller Features
Choosing a Microcontroller
Graduating Your Robot
16. building Roundabout's Daughterboard
Converting to a Two-Story Configuration
Intercepting Signals: Meeting the New Boss
Expanding Functionality
Upgrading a Robot
17. Adding the Floor Sensor Module
Sensing Brightness with Photoresistors
Sensing Brightness with a Photodiode IC
Following a Line
Competing in robot Sumo
Expanding Possibilities
18 Cooking Up Some Robot Stew
Making Music
Scaling Up
Mounting Motors
Roaming the Solar Terrain
Standing in a Robot's Shoes for a While
Thank You
Appendix - Internet References

Intermediate Robot Building, picks up where David Cook's first book, Robot Building for Beginners, left off. It assumes you understand the basics and have built at least one robot from a kit. The book delves into some of the common problems that face robot builders working on more complex robots built entirely from scratch.

The book focuses primarily on hardware issues such as machining metal parts, connecting wheels to motors, controlling motors, and building robot power supplies, briefly covering microcontrollers and sensors as well. This book provides far more detail on the hardware aspects of robot building than any other I have seen to date and is worth picking up if you want to learn more about hardware.

If you've browsed the table of contents above, you may wonder why four chapters of the book are spent on connecting wheels to motors. To quote David, "Until people actually try to build a robot themselves, they don't realize that one of the more difficult tasks is finding a precise and reliable way to connect a motor to a wheel". Speaking as someone who is primarily a software hacker, I can certainly vouch for the difficulty of solving seemingly simple hardware problems like mounting wheels, especially without proper tools or experience. The book offers several solutions and describes each in a detailed, step-by-step way with plenty of diagrams and photos.

I particularly liked this book's promotion of standard SI (metric) units, which are used everywhere else in the world, instead of the medieval system still favored in the US. So you won't have to measure your robot's speed in furlongs per fortnight while using this book!

The book also promotes the use of modular robotics. By creating drive modules, motor control modules, power modules, logic control modules, you can assemble your robot from the modules rather than having to build the entire robot as a single project. The modules you build can be improved or re-used to create other robots. The modules described in the book are used to create a robot, called Roundabout, that avoids walls and obstacles using IR sensors.

One convention adopted in the book may seem a bit strange at first. All the schematics in the book use a mix of normal schematic symbols for some components (e.g. capacitors, zener-diodes, transistors) but represent other components iconically (e.g. resistors, photo-diodes). This can be a bit confusing initially. The author explains his reasons early on for this and another exception to modern schematic technique, the old-style use of a "jog" to represent crossed wires that do not connect. David's experience is that beginners find these wiring diagrams easier to understand, experienced robot builders often prefer them to formal schematics, and he believes his diagrams reduce the chance of mistakes. It's really a minor issue and experienced builders used to contemporary schematics should be able to adapt easily enough.

Overall, the book provides lots of practical information to help the reader over the difficult areas of building a homebrew robot.

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