Gordon McComb

Gordon's Articles

Talking With Light
March 2013
Using light to provide feedback for your robot can be as simple as a single LED, or more complex using multiple LED colors. In this article, we’ll discuss simple techniques to communicate using light with your Arduino-based robot. The projects are simple to do, with only basic components and wiring needed.

Using Desktop Machine Tools to Build Your Next Robot
March 2015
Historically, mills and lathes have been leviathan in size, making it unrealistic for hobbyists to have them in their workshops. However, desktop machine tools now make it possible to build more elaborate robots at home. Discover what’s available and what you can do with it.

Robot Blinky Lights Made Easy
January 2015
Controllable colorful lights go beyond just making your robot look super neato. They also make excellent indicators.

Making Robots With the Propeller Activity Board
December 2014
In this final installment, learn about proximity detection and the way these low cost sensors are connected and used. Plus, mount these sensors onto a rotating turret attached to the PropBot.

Making Robots with the Propeller Activity Board
November 2014
This time, you’ll learn about interfacing switches to the PropBot, along with how to use the information these simple switches provide to interactively command the motors.

Making Robots with the Propeller Activity Board: Part 2
October 2014
In Part 2, we’ll move forward with completing the PropBot’s electrical subsystems, then give the robot its first taste of adventure with a simple servo test routine.

Making Robots with the Propeller Activity Board
September 2014
The Parallax Propeller is experiencing a resurgence in popularity because of its unique feature set which offers a lot to robot builders. In the first installment of this new series, we’ll be upgrading our old friend, ArdBot into the new and improved PropBot.

Using Radio Control Servo Motors in Robotics
July 2014
Servo motors have earned an important place in robotics. Discover what you need to know to use R/C servos in your next automaton.

Using the PICAXE Microcontroller for Robotics
June 2014
Sure, there’s a lot of different microcontrollers on the market to choose from. However, the PICAXE is an especially good choice if you’re on a tight budget. Plus, it’s great for first-time robot builders since it’s programmed with a flavor of BASIC.

Ways to Move Your Robot
May 2014
There are lots of choices when deciding how to make a mobile robot move. So, how do you choose? Selecting the right system starts with figuring out exactly what you want your automaton to do.

How to Mount Motors and Wheels to Your Robot
April 2014
So, you’ve got a nice robot base. You’ve dug up some motors and wheels that you think will be perfect. Now what? Just exactly how do you attach the darn things?

Making Better Arduino Robots with the ArdBot— Part 4
November 2013
In this final installment, we’ll take a $2 TV remote and command the ArdBot to do our bidding from a distance.

Making Better Arduino Robots with the ArdBot— Part 3
October 2013
Learn about interfacing switches to the ArdBot II, along with how to use the info these sensors provide to interactively command the robot’s motors.

Making Better Arduino Robots with the ArdBot — Part 2
September 2013
We’ll move forward with completing the ArdBot II’s electrical subsystems, and give our robot its first taste of adventure with a simple servo test routine.

Making Better Arduino Robots with the ArdBot — Part 1
August 2013
Originally debuted in 2010, ArdBot is back with a more slim line design, plus lots of added Arduinos for all kinds of new features and capabilities.

Broadcasting Real Time Video With Your Robot
February 2013
Learn how to add video to any robot — remotely controlled or not. Plus, also discover how to overlay textual data so you can get feedback, as well.

Arduino Remote Control Robot
November 2012
Meet Telebot — a convergence of ordinary robot with remote control abilities via Zigbee.

Troubleshooting Tips and Tricks
October 2012
How to Keep Things From Going Wrong With Your Arduino-based Bot. Not sure where to start when you need to diagnose a problem? This guide will help!

Reach Out and Touch Something — Integrating Touch Sensing With Your Robot
August 2012
In this last installment, learn how to integrate touch sensors into a motorized robot base.

Reach Out and Touch Something — Giving Your Robot the Sense of Feel
July 2012
Touch lets your bot determine its surroundings by making physical contact. Learn about a trio of common and inexpensive touch sensor types that you can add to your favorite automaton so it can get a sense of what’s around it.

Sounding Off - Part 4
June 2012
Create a custom sound co-processor using the Parallax Propeller to augment the audio generation features of your Arduino-based robot.

Sounding Off - Part 3
May 2012
Learn how to add recorded effects to your robot using MP3 digital audio files.

Sounding Off
April 2012
This time, build a music-controlled Arduino Tunebot.

Sounding Off
March 2012
Learn how to give your Arduino bot completely electronic sound effects, music, and even voice.

Giving Your Robot Ears
February 2012
Discover several methods for using sound to control your Arduino-based robot.

Parallax MadeUSA — The Big Robot That Could
January 2012
This review will introduce you to the newest addition to the Parallax robotic arsenal.

Extending the Beginner Bot With the PropBOE
December 2011
In this final installment, discover how to use the Parallax Propeller to provide full autonomous control of your robot.

Beginner Bot Meets Arduino
November 2011
In this fourth installment of our bot build, you’ll connect and program an Arduino Uno development board to run your robot in circles — literally!

Adding a Microcontroller to the Beginner Bot — Part 3
October 2011
By moving up to a miniature computer to operate your Beginner Bot, you’ll be able to modify its action and behavior just by rewriting a few lines of code.

Build This Beginner Bot (For Under $20) — Part 2
September 2011
This time, we’ll replace the manual switch control with fully automatic electronic function, so our robot will react to light.

Build This Beginner Bot (For Under $20) — Part 1
August 2011
All robot builders need to begin somewhere. This expandable robot base gives you a great starting point at an affordable price.

Adding Smoke, Gas, and Heat Detection to Your Robot
July 2011
Create your own “safety bot” by attaching sensors that can detect smoke, poisonous gasses, and high temperatures.

Building Bots From Found Parts
June 2011
There’s virtually no limit to the number and type of items you can use in your robot projects. Find out just how easy it is to build your own “no-cut” robot out of ready-made parts available at your local hardware store.

Making Robots With the Arduino — Part 5
March 2011
Adding sensors to explore the world.

Making Robots With the Arduino — Part 3
January 2011
Inside the Arduino. This time, we’ll learn more about the Arduino and its programming.

Making Robots With the Arduino — Part 2
December 2010
Now that you’ve been introduced to ArdBot and its central Arduino brain, it’s time to construct the base.

Making Robots With the Arduino — Part 1
November 2010
It just makes sense to look at ways to leverage the popular Arduino development board for use in robotics, and that’s exactly what we’ll be doing. We’ll start with some basics and introduce ArdBot — the robot base we’ll be working with.

Looking Ahead, Looking To You
Column: Robotics Resources
December 2009
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.

A Brain For All Seasons
Column: Robotics Resources
November 2009
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.

Here Come the (Paper?) Robots!
Column: Robotics Resources
October 2009
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?

Simple Brains - Going Back To The Basics
Column: Robotics Resources
September 2009
Microcontrollers like the BASIC STAMP, BasicX, Arduino, AVR, PIC, and all the others make short work of just about any robotics task.

Collecting Robot Memorabilia
Column: Robotics Resources
August 2009
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.

Fast and Cheap Prototyping
Column: Robotics Resources
July 2009
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.

Blogging Your Way to Robotics Stardom
Column: Robotics Resources
June 2009
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.

Small Brains for Your Bot
Column: Robotics Resources
January 2008
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 ...

The Recycled Robot
Column: Robotics Resources
February 2008
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 ...

Robot Kits For Easier Robotics
Column: Robotics Resources
March 2008
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 ...

Power Tools for Robot Construction
Column: Robotics Resources
April 2008
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 ...

Robot Builder’s Bookshelf Redux
Column: Robotics Resources
May 2008
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 ...

What You Need to Know About Radio Control Servo Motors
Column: Robotics Resources
June 2008
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...

Stocking Up With Surplus Electronics
Column: Robotics Resources
July 2008
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...

Robotics Via Remote Control
Column: Robotics Resources
August 2008
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...

Building Robots with the Arduino
Column: Robotics Resources
September 2008
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...

Getting Kids Into Robotics
Column: Robotics Resources
October 2008
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.

Hand Tools for Robot Construction
Column: Robotics Resources
November 2008
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...

So You Want to Build a Robot
Column: Robotics Resources
December 2008
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.

Kits for Learning About Electronics
Column: Robotics Resources
January 2009
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...

Building A Robot? Don’t Forget LEGO!
Column: Robotics Resources
February 2009
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...

Setting Up Your Own Robotics Workbench
Column: Robotics Resources
March 2009
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.

Organizing Your Robotics Workbench
Column: Robotics Resources
April 2009
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...

Beyond Metal, Plastic, and Wood
Column: Robotics Resources
May 2009
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...