Robotics Resources


Articles from this Column

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Looking Ahead, Looking To You
By Gordon McComb
December 2009, Page 62
This issue marks the seven year anniversary of Robotics Resources. After some 85 installments, we’ve covered everything from yapping ‘bots to lighting up your creations with glow wire, to being the ultimate cheapskate, finding the best deals wherever they happen to be.

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A Brain For All Seasons
By Gordon McComb
November 2009, Page 71
With a “brain,” your robot becomes more than just a simple automated machine. To be a true robot, the brain processes outside influences whether they be light sensors, accelerometers, or lowly bumper switches. Then, from these senses, the robot determines a proper course of action.

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Here Come the (Paper?) Robots!
By Gordon McComb
October 2009, Page 72
At least once a month, I get email from a mom or grandparent asking for my advice about the best robot kit for their seven year old. Oh, and they don’t have much money to spend, so can the kit be under $20, and preferably under $10?

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Simple Brains - Going Back To The Basics
By Gordon McComb
September 2009, Page 72
Microcontrollers like the BASIC STAMP, BasicX, Arduino, AVR, PIC, and all the others make short work of just about any robotics task.

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Collecting Robot Memorabilia
By Gordon McComb
August 2009, Page 72
Robotics tends to be a consuming passion. When we’re not building them, we often watch movies about robots, or read books or collect posters, or scout for art, toys, and other artifacts.

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Fast and Cheap Prototyping
By Gordon McComb
July 2009, Page 74
In this month’s column, we’ll concentrate on just mechanical hardware prototyping, as this tends to be an expensive and time-consuming task for many custom projects.

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Blogging Your Way to Robotics Stardom
By Gordon McComb
June 2009, Page 67
In this installment of Robotics Resources, we’ll discuss what you need to start your own robotics blog and how to keep your blog fresh and useful to anyone visiting it.

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Small Brains for Your Bot
By Gordon McComb
January 2008, Page 71
As a child, I imagined robots being governed by tubes and relays — not an unusual image given the science fiction movies of the time, like Robbie the Robot in Forbidden Planet. Today, fictional robots are depicted with miniature microelectronic brains, with “emotion chips” the size of a fingertip. And no wonder, because these things actually exist! Far from science fiction, with today’s technology you can build a robot with a brain no larger than a caterpillar. What’s more, these brains are ...

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The Recycled Robot
By Gordon McComb
February 2008, Page 62
There’s an old saying — maybe it’s a new saying — that goes “Everything old is new again.” What we used to throw out in the trash are now collector’s items people buy and sell on eBay for top dollar. Popular fashions that peaked then ebbed in decades long past and were considered passé, are now all the rage. Again. Recycling is something we humans do by nature. Old things get repurposed inside new ideas. In the case of mechanical constructions such as robots, recycling is often cheaper and ...

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Robot Kits For Easier Robotics
By Gordon McComb
March 2008, Page 72
I vividly remember the excitement of building my first electronics kit. Okay, so the kit was an old surplus reject that used vacuum tubes instead of transistors. But to an 11-year-old interested in the science of electronics, all that mattered was the scores of tiny parts packed into individual numbered plastic baggies, and the smell of smoldering solder as I methodically attached one wire to the next. The thing didn’t work when I first turned it on — in fact, sparks flew and it tripped ...

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Power Tools for Robot Construction
By Gordon McComb
April 2008, Page 82
Comedian Tim Allen’s most enduring character is Tim Taylor, of the ‘90s television show Home Improvement. Tim was the over-zealous host of a how-to program on using — and abusing! — tools and hardware. In just about every eposide, Tim attempted to “improve” some tool by adding extra horsepower. And, of course, it always backfired. Tim was a man who obviously loved tools and what they could do. For many, part of the fun of building robots is playing with the tools used to construct them in ...

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Robot Builder’s Bookshelf Redux
By Gordon McComb
May 2008, Page 84
Despite fancy multimedia, Flash animations, and free Internet tutorials, the lowly book remains the most popular way of learning about a new subject. Books are portable and can be read when traveling, while waiting for your hamburger, or at home beside the fireplace. If you own the book, you can mark it up with a highlighter, or paste Post-It Notes on your favorite pages so you can return to them quickly later. And, unlike Web pages and many other Internet resources, your book won’t catch a ...

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What You Need to Know About Radio Control Servo Motors
By Gordon McComb
June 2008, Page 62
Since the early 1990s, servos for radio controlled airplanes and cars have been a preferred method of motorizing a robot. Many of the benefits of servo motors are obvious: They’re small, relatively inexpensive, and for the most part easy to use with most any robotic control system. Radio control (R/C) servos combine a DC motor, gearing, and control electronics in one compact package. Plus, most servos are engineered for convenient mounting. Just a couple of screws and the motor is tightly...

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Stocking Up With Surplus Electronics
By Gordon McComb
July 2008, Page 64
Just because one person doesn’t want it doesn’t mean it isn’t valuable. That’s the case with surplus. Simply put, surplus is excess stock for resale. Sometimes it’s used, sometimes it’s new. Occasionally, it’s worthless junk, but very often, surplus has a beneficial use to someone, somewhere. And just as importantly, surplus means the item isn’t being thrown away in the trash, so it’s not clogging up a land fill...

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Robotics Via Remote Control
By Gordon McComb
August 2008, Page 62
The typical amateur robot is completely autonomous; its own circuitry controls what it does and where it goes. That circuitry can be as simple as moving toward a light in the room, or as complex as carefully mapping and navigating the room using vision and other sensors...

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Building Robots with the Arduino
By Gordon McComb
September 2008, Page 61
The name Arduino may sound like some newly discovered quantum particle, but it’s actually a small and affordable microcontroller development board that is enjoying a rapid upsurge in popularity...

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Getting Kids Into Robotics
By Gordon McComb
October 2008, Page 73
Robots and kids go together like bacon and eggs, peaches and cream, resistors and capacitors. Thanks to low-cost construction kits — and not to mention popular movies that glamorize automatons — more and more children are exploring the world of robots.

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Hand Tools for Robot Construction
By Gordon McComb
November 2008, Page 68
Imagine robot building during Neanderthal times. Your only tools were various rocks, maybe an antler or two, and wood sticks that everyone else in your camp used for throwing at animals they wanted to eat. This most certainly made constructing that perfect line follower very difficult. Be grateful you live in the 21st century, where tools are the mainstay of our industrial existence. Starting with just the lowly screwdriver, an assortment of the right tools and the right time helps you build...

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So You Want to Build a Robot
By Gordon McComb
December 2008, Page 62
In this installment of Robotics Resources, we’ll touch upon several main points of interest you’ll need to be familiar with if you want to plan, construct, and operate your first robot. Of course, space limitations mean we can’t provide in-depth coverage of everything in this one column. To further your study of the robotics arts, you are advised to check out back issues of this magazine and Nuts & Volts, both of which are available in convenient CD-ROM electronic format.

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Kits for Learning About Electronics
By Gordon McComb
January 2009, Page 74
In this month's column, we'll discuss learning more about the electronics side of things. To keep things as basic as possible this time around, we'll concentrate on using "learning lab" kits and the tutorials that come with them to learn more about electronics. These kits come with all the parts you need to follow the step-by-step guide that’s included with the product. These learning labs are a great way to begin your electronics education...

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Building A Robot? Don’t Forget LEGO!
By Gordon McComb
February 2009, Page 68
Take the Wayback Machine to about 2001 and you'll see thousands of eBay sales, hundreds of websites, and dozens of books on LEGO robotics. While the giddy heyday of the LEGO robot has come and gone, it's still a viable — and fun! — platform for learning all about desktop automatronics. What's more, publishers keep coming out with new and improved books on the subject, and the websites devoted to robotics and LEGO continue to be an active, if not mature, community of like-minded enthusiasts...

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Setting Up Your Own Robotics Workbench
By Gordon McComb
March 2009, Page 73
With the right tools, you can make just about anything. That certainly goes for the fine art of robot building. With proper tools, your robots are more dependable and accurate, and they'll probably look better, too.

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Organizing Your Robotics Workbench
By Gordon McComb
April 2009, Page 68
In last month’s Robotics Resources, we looked at the major electronics tools and supplies used in building robots, such as volt ohmmeters and soldering irons. Like all workbenches, how tidy you keep your robot building home goes a long way to how much you’ll enjoy the process. There are a number of solutions for organizing the bits and pieces of your robotics hobby, including all sorts of toolboxes, chests, cabinets, drawers, boxes, bins, bags, and more. We’ll cover many of these in this...

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Beyond Metal, Plastic, and Wood
By Gordon McComb
May 2009, Page 59
Pick a robot — any robot — and likely it’s made of one of three materials: metal, plastic, or wood. And little wonder — these three groups of materials are used in the vast bulk of products today. From houses to cars to the chair you’re sitting in, very likely it’s made with metal, plastic, or wood, or a combination of these...