My First Robot.

I first started tinkering with electronics when I was quite small. I have memories of taking things apart a lot, in order to find out how they worked (not so many memories of putting them back together). I think in one respect I am quite lucky because at that time, consumer electronics were still quite big and bulky things, that would usually contain some gears, springs, levers and pulleys that made it quite easy to figure out what all the parts did. Each one had an obvious job to perform, and could only ever do that job. There were some electronics soldered onto yellowish boards that had resistors the size of your thumb, and generally only hooked up to a motor or perhaps an LCD screen if you were really lucky.

When I take things apart now, I see very few big and bulky pieces. I know what the bits do most of the time, but it is only through the experiences of taking things apart all the time that I have any idea that this part is a radio receiver, or that part is A/V processing unit. It must be difficult for kids today to see how things work. With this in mind, I have been teaching my daughter about electronics.

 

We have been going through the Arduino starter kit book, prototyping small things that teach us the basics of electronics (I have forgotten most of them over the years, so I am equally as enthralled as she is.) We arrived at project 5, which is making a mood cue. It involves hooking up a potentiometer and a servo to the Arduino, and then turning the potentiometer and the servo will turn with you. When my daughter first tried it out, the response was great. Her eyes went wide and she said “I control the robot.”

It was at this point that she really, really, really wanted to do something else with potentiometers and servos. We have a small 3-D printer, so we searched around on the Thingiverse for robot arms that we could print out. We found one eventually that was nearly small enough for our tiny printer. We loaded the .stl files into sketchup and made them fit the print bed, and then ordered some servos and prototyping boards.

We sketched out a rough diagram for the board.

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Then we started to write the code for the robot arm. It was going to be a pretty simply modified version of the code from the Arduino book.

 

Of course it didn’t compile the first time, or the second, or the third. But after a couple more fixes to the syntax, it was ready. We uploaded it to the Arduino, and managed to get a series of errors that I had never seen before.

It turned out that the Adruino had died (it was an old one by this point, and had been used in a lot of projects), so we got another one the next day and started printing out the parts. The Servo’s also arrived, so we stayed up late soldering and printing and assembling. It came out looking like this.

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Of course it didn’t work flawlessly the first time either. One of the potentiometers didn’t work, but after some close inspection and debugging, we filed down one of the pices of solder which had accidentally connected with another rail, and finally all the potentiometers turned as they should.

It’s a little jerky, but otherwise really fun to play with. I think next project will be making a program to make it pick something up and then move it to another place.

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