Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Basic Robot Rundown

So for this robot, I've broken the entire thing into four separate, but complementary systems.  I'll start at the bottom level and work my way up.

  1. The first level of the robot, and in my opinion the simplest (sorry MechE's!), is the mechanical level. It's comprised of the wheels, chassis, motors, etc.  Essentially I was lucky enough to get this level as one complete set, as the Power Wheels Jeep supports my every need.  The motors, while mainly mechanical, bridge us over to the next level.
  2. The electronics are the blood and guts of the robot.  They bring power throughout the entire thing, giving it life and movement.  Batteries pump power through the entire system, sending energy to the brains, motors, cameras, and any other electronics in the robotic system.
  3. Firmware is the third level and is right in between pure software and the electronics.  It's the set of commands that tell the hardware what to do, usually by passing a command given to it by the software.  The firmware usually resides, as it does in this 'bot, in a microcontroller.  A microcontroller/MCU/uC is essentially a very small computer.  The basic controller can be purchased for under $5, or an augmented one, which is easier to work with, will cost between $20-$100.
  4. Lastly is the pure software.  This is generally a nonexistent level on most amateur robots.  However, since I have no little voice in my head that tells me I'm biting off more than I can chew, I've decided to dream big, and will be installing an old laptop inside of the 'bot which will run the whole show.  While a microcontroller is fully capable of controlling the robot's lower functions, such as movement, tracking, and obstacle avoidance, the laptop will provide the robot with the potential of even greater possibilities!  I'm talking about grand things such as computer vision to keep track of particular people, environment mapping so the robot knows where it is, and voice recognition so it can here my commands of world domination (cue evil laughter).
So that's a basic rundown of how most robots tend to work, although level 4 can certainly be omitted.  However, I do understand that I'm terrible at explaining things, so if you have any questions, either ask in the comments or take a look at this fantastic website, where I learned most of what I know.

Monday, January 17, 2011

From the Ground Up

For starters on this project, let me show just what I'm starting out with.  Here are pictures of the Jeep in its current condition:

Here's the back axle of the jeep with the two presumably working motors and some sort of switch used to change gears.

This is the bar on the back of Jeep with two fake lights that I found impossible to get back on.  This bar looks like a really good place to add sensors such as sonic distance sensors or even stereoscopic vision!

This is the back of the Jeep.  The two things coming out of it are the seatbelts.  Safety first!

Here are the two 6V 9Ah batteries that came with the jeep.  They're very very old and even though I had hoped they still worked, they turned out to be duds.  As shown on the multimeter, they only display 2.8V after days of attempted charging.

The scary caution sticker!  It says here the Jeep is made to carry 130 lbs.  This gives me an upper limit to work with on everything I'll be adding, though I can't imagine everything will weigh over 50 lbs.

The inner dashboard of the car.

The front view of the Jeep.  Gotta love those flames!!!

The jeep with the trunk popped.  This is where the batteries were housed.  You can see the connector used to hook them up.

A side view of the car.  I wonder if I should add doors.

And finally the front steering system for the car.  The steering wheel is attached to that metal hook which in turn moves the long metal plate and steers the wheels.

Laying Down the Data

So just the other day, I was fortunate enough to receive a Power Wheels Jeep from my good friend, Ian.  Being the avid robotics fan that I am, I have since decided that I am going to use this Jeep as a robotics platform that I can build upon to form a fully functioning, autonomous vehicle.  I have named this project rUD2, a play off of R2D2, and after the University of Delaware which I am currently attending as a Computer Engineering and Computer Science sophomore.  I plan on using the robot to represent the ECE Department in the hope that I might get some funding from them.

My goals for this project include the following:

  1. To write this blog as a helpful tutorial for beginner through advanced roboticists interested in medium scale mobile robotics
  2. Use this robot as a platform for experimental technologies including non-lethal self defense, computer vision, gps tracking, self charging, artificial intelligence, full automation, and general bad-assery
  3. Develop the project to the point where it becomes a University backed robotics project that students who have a passion for robotics can participate in