How To Program A Robot: Beginner’s Guide

Robots are among us for good two or three decades now although they are not before everyone’s eyes to see them daily. Most robotic machines are in use in various assembly lines or perform intense physical operations in mines or industrial facilities across the world.

There are also home robots where engineers are programming robots to clean your house or perform other housekeeping duties. As of now, robotics programming is able to produce robots that perform relatively simple daily tasks. It is not because we do not know how to program a robot but because a fully-operational robot for home or office use requires six degrees of freedom (6DoF) to operate in real world’s three-dimensional space.

Programming robots to perform various manufacturing and office tasks is on the rise all over the world.
Photo by Statista

That said, your robotics programming for beginners course should start with learning that (6DoF) includes robotic capabilities to move forward and backward, up and down, turn left and right and should also be able to rotate about three perpendicular axes, which are called pitch, yaw and roll.

It is not that easy to learn how to program a robot that is able to perform all these moves and operate relying only on information coming from a limited number of sensors. Our robotics for beginners guide will give you the basics you should start with when programing your first robot.


Introduction To Robotics: How To Program A Robot

Let’s start our robotics tutorial with the statement that your understanding for a robot as a smart machine is wrong. First of all, a robot might well be just a piece of software that has no physical presence in the real world. Java robotics programming is used to make foreign exchange trading robots that operate on different hardware such as computers, tablets and smartphones. None of these Forex trading robots is a physical robot; these are just algorithms to trade currencies in accordance with set rules.

Programming robots for online trading is trending across the financial and retail industries.
Photo on Pixabay

Then, we have autonomous robots and robots that need only limited or no autonomy to operate. Coding for robotics is very different when you have an autonomous machine and one that performs only a limited number of repetitive operations in industrial environment e.g. welding car components on an assembly line.

The problem of how to program in robotics depends on what you need to design – an autonomous robot will probably require certain machine learning capabilities or some degree of artificial intelligence, so you use different programming language than in a robot programmed to perform a couple of operations only.


Coding Languages For Robotics Programming

There are ongoing debates on how to program a robot and which programming language is the best one for robotics programming. Actually, it always depends on your ultimate goal and any language could fit the bill if you know what you want and how to achieve it.

There is a broad consensus that robotics programming involves and should rely mostly on languages such as C/C++ and Python. C and C++ are the languages with which robotics for beginners starts but you cannot stick to these two languages only if you are to develop as a good robot computer scientist.

You need to have advanced math skills if you are to advance in robotics programming.
Photo on Pexels

Coding for robotics involves also numerous industrial robot languages by manufacturers of robotic equipment. Learning Pascal is a good starting point. This software deals with some of these proprietary robotics programming languages. But you still need to learn each of them in detail.

MATLAB is another tool you need to master when you study how to program a robot. Programming of robots involves lots of mathematics and data analysis. So you need proper means to process data and get reliable results from your hardware and software sensors if you are to have your robot working as intended.

Once you have some knowledge in programming with C/C++, Python, Java or another language used in robotics, the time has come to program your first robot. We suggest starting with a software robot as it is far easier to write a program code that performs functions not related to the control of a physical device aka physical robot.


Robotics Programming for Beginners

Image recognition and more recently natural language processing are among the core problems robotics scientists must solve in order to design robots that mimic the human behavior. So, let’s start our robotics programming tutorial with a simple algorithm to secure your home or office by introducing a robot that uses a connected camera to recognize faces.

How you program such a software robot?

  • You install a motion sensor at your front door and connect it to a camera
  • Then, you tell the motion sensor to activate the camera once someone is at the door
  • The camera takes an image of the person’s face as an input
  • You scan the image for a specific set of features
  • Then, you compare these features to a library of known faces
  • If you find a match, you open the door
  • If there is no match, you continue by taking another sort of action.

It does not matter what programming language you will use to program the software to perform this set of commands, really. Your first robotics programming algorithm will execute the above steps over and over again once the triggering condition is in place i.e. someone activates the motion sensor at your front door.

Coding for robotics includes creating algorithms for image recognition and natural language processing.
Photo on Pixabay

This a simple robot that uses programmable hardware. In this case, the hardware includes a motion sensor, a camera and a computer. This is where your database of known faces resides. It is needed to perform the very simple action of unlocking a door.

You can write this program in only 100 lines of code. That is if you have ready-made software models that handle the facial recognition process. In truth, the skills to write the very facial recognition programming code is what makes a software programmer an advanced coder.


Further Discussion On How To Program A Robot

Now that you have recognized your first visitor and let him in, you may decide to place a robotic arm that takes your visitors’ coats and place them in a wardrobe.

Robotics for beginners includes learning how robots move and orientate themselves in space.
Photo on Slideshare

What you need is to control a dynamic system that involves sensors and a robotic arm, to put it simply. What the arm should do is to recognize the coat in place, get it and then place it somewhere. How you do that?

Your robotics arm programming will involve the following steps:

  • Application of control signals
  • Results measuring
  • Generation of new control signals calculated to bring your arm closer to our goal.

It is as simple as that. And it involves lots of mathematics and constant flow of reliable data. If you are to get the coat and place it away from your visitor. It is, actually, about processing sensor data in real time and then applying the fundamental logical operators “if” and “then” to control your robotic arm. If we simplify it to the utmost, you perform programming like “if too left, then move right” and “if too low, then move up”. That is how coding for robotics works.


Final Thoughts On How To Program A Robot

Robotics is developing very fast. Keeping up with the latest developments in the field of programmable machines requires efforts that go beyond the familiarity with one or another language that is suitable for programming robots.

If you really want to master how to program a robot, you need to understand a robot’s requirements and capabilities at both hardware and software level. Thankfully, a number of platforms enable robotics programming for beginners. This is done by eliminating much of the difficulties pertaining to knowing how hardware operates. Or programming systems at the level of zeroes and ones, or in machine language that robots understand.

What you basically need in robotics for beginners is to have programmable hardware or pre-programmed software modules. Then, you can program to perform certain operations. In any case, you will need to learn one or more programming languages such as C/C++, Python, LISP or Java. If you are to make even the simplest software/hardware robot work. When you advance further, it is advisable to get acquainted with tools like MATLAB. This ensures you are in full command and control of your robots. 



Kenneth has had the privilege of living through several digital revolutions in his lifetime. From the mass adoption of computers in the early 90s to the advent of blockchain technology in the 2010s, he has developed a keen interest in the latest tech trends. Kenneth strongly believes that blockchain will have as much impact as the Internet and e-commerce combined.

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