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.

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