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How Do You Get Into Robotics? 118

Chosen Reject asks: "With Voyager I passing the 100 AU mark, and the Mars Rovers continuing to work longer than expected, there's been a lot of talk about robotics. There are cars that can park without humans, the DARPA Grand Challenge, the Autonomous Underwater Vehicle Competition, and even the X-Prize. NASA has the pros, the others have all levels of amateurs, but where does a newbie go to learn about robotics? Obviously I can't start out with the next Mars Rover, but where do I go to learn how to make a simple robotic arm that can hold my can of Root Beer?"
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How Do You Get Into Robotics?

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  • Mindstorm (Score:5, Informative)

    by kai.chan ( 795863 ) on Tuesday September 19, 2006 @12:27AM (#16135803)
    • Re:Mindstorm (Score:5, Informative)

      by AKAImBatman ( 238306 ) * <> on Tuesday September 19, 2006 @12:35AM (#16135834) Homepage Journal
      I don't get it. What's so funny about the parent? He's quite right, actually. A Lego Mindstorm control module gives you a programmable computer hooked up to electromechanical parts. The legos provide a rapid prototyping tool for the robot's body. So it's a "real" robot, even if the Legos limit the extent to which you can take the final product.

      Seriously, this isn't rocket science. It's all about making a machine, then programming it to do something that we humans think is intelligent. (Or at least, not too stupid.) :)
      • I totally agree. The precision standards for lego are very high. It's strong enough to withstand children playing with it and the Mindstorms system was based on a prototype created by robotics researchers.

        And there's a whole swathe of alternative programming languages.
      • Re:Mindstorm (Score:5, Informative)

        by LordVader717 ( 888547 ) on Tuesday September 19, 2006 @07:29AM (#16136776)
        You'd be surprised at the amount of lego used by scientists in quick setups.

        There's a surprising amount of things that can be done with Mindstorms. You can even use a wide variety of alternative programming languages such as robotC [] or leJos [] a form of Java. These are just two of many different projects.

        Just have a look around and you'll find lots of different pages about modding, and making custom bricks. It's much more potent than any of the "build your own robot-arm" type of kits. (which you can also do with Mindstorms [])
        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by Wornstrom ( 920197 )
          I picked up a book on building tiny robots out of old electronics (walkman tape players and such). Some of the huge book stores carry these types of books in the miscellaneous computer section. I haven't built any yet but plan to start tinkering soon.
        • I'm thinking about buying this as a part of my (currently 3 years old) son's first computer setup. In an effort to start him out on the right foot with OOPS- tell me, is Lego Logo still availabe and compatible with Mindstorms? And what will I need to do to get it running under Linspire or Edubuntu?
          • Never heard of Lego Logo, what is it? As far as compatability with other Lego products, you can basically use anything. All Mindstorms is is basically parts from the Technic line with a programmable controller. I think the new NXT set avoids a studded design (no traditional studded bricks, just pins and beams), but they should be compatable with the older bricks.

            I'm not too familiar with the different Mindstorms programming projects myself. For beginners it would probably be best to use Legos own softwar
            • Never heard of Lego Logo, what is it?

              The very first Lego Robotics kit, back in the early 1980s, was a turtle robot. To program it, you used Lego Logo- a special version of the Logo programming language, which was well known as a teaching tool for object orientation (before it was popular) and top-down design, by using turtle graphics. Lego Logo was indeed text based, using such commands as FW (Forward, with a units parameter), RT and LT (Right and Left with a degrees parameter), PU and PD (Pen Up and Pe
            • Thanks to that link- you answered my question. Terapin Logo is one of the compilers available for use with the original RX1 and would presumably work with any COM compliant API.
    • YES!!

      Mindstorms is a great tool to get into Robotics.

      I think the best way to get into robotics is actually with Lego's you can start putting them together and gradually working in mechanical capabilities into them. When you are comfortable putting together mechanical movement devices then you know you are ready to move to the next level.

      Mindstorms and also the Vex robotics kit are great though they require a lot of work and need someone dedicated.

      But really all it takes is some interest and a little bit of
    • In robot infested soviet russia, robotics get into you!
    • by Yuto ( 980909 ) [] ASCII based integrated servos that work standalone or in networks. These are part of a quiet revolution going on in robotics.
  • It Depends.... (Score:4, Informative)

    by Gemini_25_RB ( 997440 ) on Tuesday September 19, 2006 @12:28AM (#16135809)
    on how far you really want to go into the topic. I go to a fairly reputable univ. in robotics and cs in general. In fact, I got an email from one of the faculty today asking for undergrad help on various research projects, including various ideas in robotics...most were no experience required. Just my 2c
    • Mechanical Engineering would be a good major as well (and of course ME + CS would be ideal).

    • by evilty ( 242725 )
      On a different note:

      I'm also a robotics guy (just finished undergrad with a big focus on controls/mobile robots/embeded systems, accepted to U of I and UCLA for masters work in controls in ME but decided to delay.) I'm currently a Chicago resident, and am trying out a few different career paths, still thinking that robotics is going to be a part of wherever I end up job-wise. Would you be interested in chatting over email on the subjects of robotics and jobs and such? drop me an email if so, stcorbett on
  • FIRST (Score:5, Informative)

    by Sinryc ( 834433 ) on Tuesday September 19, 2006 @12:28AM (#16135810)
    F.I.R.S.T. did it for me. :-) []
    • by Eideewt ( 603267 )
      Same here. Anyone who can manage it should get involved.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by i kan reed ( 749298 )
      I was going to mod you up, but then I decided I really had to reply. US First showed me how my nerditcal instincts could outstrip any jock's athletic crap. A thousand chances to have fun planning, thinking and building in one year alone. It was the best possible introduction to robotics anyone of high school age could really have. If any of you are highschoolers with no robotics team, find a science/math teacher and get them to help you start one at your school.
    • Re:FIRST (Score:4, Informative)

      by mdarksbane ( 587589 ) on Tuesday September 19, 2006 @09:20AM (#16137213)
      No mod points, or I'd put you higher.

      FIRST is a great competition. And even if you can't get directly involved, some of the teams sites have a wealth of robotics information., the home of one of the original teams, has some great resources.

      The competitions are also a great gathering of engineers and recruiters from the big names in engineering - Delphi, NASA, GM, Ford... there are hundreds of sponsors.

      But most importantly, by volunteering, you're helping high schoolers have something nerdy that they can feel proud of.
    • by gatzke ( 2977 )

      I am on the design team for the FIRST Lego Challenge for next year. Cool stuff, and the Lego Mindstorms are cheap and flexible.

  • by AKAImBatman ( 238306 ) * <> on Tuesday September 19, 2006 @12:32AM (#16135818) Homepage Journal
    1. Go to Radio Shack and pick up a Robotics kit.
    2. There is no step 2, you've started.

    Maybe check Amazon for some highly rated books, play with some Lego Mindstorms [], etc. It's really not all that hard. A robot is just a machine that follows pre-programmed commands. It circuitry is capable of controlling a set of electromechanical parts (like a stepper motor), so the rest is up to software. The primary difference between a robot and say, your car, is that a robot's software makes it autonomous. Simple software just plays back commands (e.g. an assembly line) while complex software uses photoelectric sensors, touch sensors, accelerameters, etc. to determine how to interact with its environment.

    If you want to make this a serious hobby, then I highly recommend getting yourself a background in computer programming, electronics engineering, and mechanical engineering. You don't need anything special. Most of the info you'd need you can get from the library.

    Good luck. :)
    • by sporkme ( 983186 ) *
      1. Go to Radio Shack and pick up a Robotics kit.

      Please get it from a website, not Radio Shack. Most of the stores carry a few Vex items, but most of the workers will not really know what you're asking about. Radio Shack does not deserve patronage from intelligent folks right now. [] Also, a hobby store will be a good place to meet up with someone who can help you with hands-on experience, while a local electronics shop can help with the engineering aspect of things.
      • More to the point, I worked at a Shack when I was in high school, and their idea of what constitutes a 'robotics kit' is usually a few precut pieces of wood that you glue together and attach a motor to. I'm sure you can find something more worthwhile online.
  • My best advice is to start with some 80's toys from Galoob. Mr. T, Hulk Hogan, and Jem and the Holograms are excellent examples of how to put together robots. From the voice box triggered by arm movement to the blinking hair jewels triggered by proximity sensors, these things are real marvels.

    The big thing you want to keep in mind is that robotics is no different from any other sort of engineering field. The same physical laws that work in Structural Engineering will work in Robotics. The same development g
  • Check out this site [].. I know the guy who runs it, for him it really is a labour of love.
  • Depends (Score:5, Insightful)

    by JanneM ( 7445 ) on Tuesday September 19, 2006 @12:37AM (#16135837) Homepage
    For recreational robotics - building simple stuff as a hobby - something like Lego Mindstorms is a very good way to get introduced to the field. Then you can start looking at experimental controller boards like a Basic stamp, self-contained single-board Linux machine or other small development system and go on building your own hardware from components.

    Just realize that robotics encompasses several disparate fields - various software disciplines, electronics, electromechanics, wood- plastic- and metalworking and so on - each one of which is more than a full academic field in itself. Don't expect to develop real expertise in all areas; find the areas in robotics that especially fascinate you and focus on that.

    For academic or industrial "real" robotics, expect to first take a Masters or equivalent in any of the disciplines you need (some areas could be mechanical engineering, control theory, computational neuroscience, even psychology), then widen your general knowledge and deepend your area of expertise through a good PhD program. After which, of course, you'll find few real research positions and a lot of very qualified applicants - but that's a different issue :)

  • The way we do everything in the Slashdot army: from the book of instructions.
  • Vex Robotics Kit (Score:4, Informative)

    by Bones3D_mac ( 324952 ) on Tuesday September 19, 2006 @12:43AM (#16135853)
    The Radio Shack/FIRST Vex Robotics Starter Kit [] is definitely worth a look if you're serious about getting into the field. The long awaited programming module [] is even available now. The kit can also be upgraded with a wide array of sensors, motors and gear sets available from various dealers around the internet.

    Of course, Lego Mindstorms is always good for a quick fix if you want to play around before getting too committed.

    Finally, for the wannabe robot expert in all of us, you might consider trying Mind Rover: The Europa Project [] to create virtual autonomous robots on your computer and make them compete.
  • by strredwolf ( 532 ) on Tuesday September 19, 2006 @12:43AM (#16135855) Homepage Journal
    The October 2006 issue of LJ has an article on Linux-based robotics. Grab a copy at your book megastore.
    • The article is partly available online [].

      But honestly, this is not the kind of article were you can learn how-to do a linux-running: it simply says how they use it, but you are not going to find anything "usable" from there.

      Try digging in HackADay [] or Make [] instead.

  • by Fallen Kell ( 165468 ) on Tuesday September 19, 2006 @12:44AM (#16135858)
    As I said, there are 3 main ways to get into robotics. Computer Science, Electrical and Computer Engineering, or Mechanical Engineering. All of these deal with different parts of what makes up a robot, and as a result, these are the places to start. Now if you are looking for "places" as in physical places, well, I point you toward the internet and the search function. Go look up colleges that participate in the different activities that you just cited in the question to /. and add soccer bots as well to that search. If you already have an undergrad degree in something else, well, you will need to go learn enough of the basics of one of the afformentioned disciplines and then go get a graduate degree in one of those fields, preferably from a university that does a lot of work with robotics. In working on your grad degree you will have the oppertunities to participate in the different competitions and research work that the better universities do in the robotics field. Once in one of those positions, you can make lots of contacts with different corporations and government agencies and line up a real job...
    • I think this is very true. Robotics is a very big field, and it really depends on what part you are interested in. There's the building of the physical gears, belts, and other structures of the robot. Then there's the building of the electronic circuit boards and chips that go into the robot. Then there's the design of the software that controls the robot. I only have experience with the circuit boards, which I found very uninteresting, and very tedious, and with the software, which although very diffi
    • To expand on this, the majority (if not the entirety) of a robot design team will consist of mechanical, electrical, computer and software engineers, as well as computer scientists. On some occasions, other engineering disceplines will be involved, but not to the same level, and not as often. Engineering is by far the best way to get into robotics as a profession. And although specializing in robotics isn't a sure bet at getting into the field, the experience makes you very employable in complementary fi
  • by springbox ( 853816 ) on Tuesday September 19, 2006 @01:00AM (#16135915)
    Step 1: Build robot
    Step 2: Climb in
  • There are quite a few hobby robotics clubs - I learned a lot of what I know from the Atlanta Hobby Robot Club. They're scattered all over the USA, and I've heard rumors of clubs in other countries. We had an entry in our yearly competition from sweden, and several other multi-national entries that weren't able to make the trip. Search on google for a club in your area, and you'll be surprised how many people are interested in this field.
  • I've been writing up my robotics story on my website at [] and publishing as much practical information about it as possible. I guess it works because this morning I received an invitation to apply for a robotics research position at a prominent university on the strength of the content of my website.
  • by fce2 ( 819446 ) on Tuesday September 19, 2006 @01:15AM (#16135948) Homepage

    You're looking at three main bits to get the whole thing up and running:

    • The body - motors, gears, etc
    • The electronics - basic concepts, sensors, motor drivers, and if you get into more complex stuff, computerish things like microcontrollers
    • The software - basic AI

    (obviously there's some overlap here)

    If you have limited experience with these things, a kit from somewhere like Lego or Fischertechnik is an excellent place to start. These will take care of the hard stuff, letting you get straight in. Its also a good way to test the waters - see if you really want to get into robotics (it can become addictive and expensive very quickly).

    If you want to do it yourself, I recommend these books by David Cook:

    See also []

    I tend not to get into the body building much, preferring off-the-shelf stuff. Basic Lego Technic sets have served me well, and I'm currently using Tamiya gearboxes and bases. I'm far more interested in the computer side, building small microcontroller-based computers and writing the software from scratch.

  • I wondered the same thing. I started with hobby servos. You can get a model airplane transmitter and 4 servos for around $120. Play around with the servos, tape them together, and experiment. You can find instructions on the net for how to modify a servo for continuous rotation(to make a wheel). Play around.

    After that it's easier to see what you want to do with robotics, and it's a LOT less intimidating to go forward to bigger and better things.

    heres a short list of some stuff to get you started.

    • by flewp ( 458359 )
      Shouldn't having duct tape make all the other glues/fasteners/soldering tools/etc redundant?!
  • Couple suggestions (Score:5, Informative)

    by NitsujTPU ( 19263 ) on Tuesday September 19, 2006 @01:30AM (#16135994)
    1) A book that I thought was awesome when I was in high school was "The Robot Builder's Bonanza." You can check it out. The material has held up quite solidly. You'll learn all about building robots to pick up cans of soda.
    2) Hobby robot clubs. They're sprining up quite similarly to the computer clubs of old.
    3) As already suggested, lots of people like mindstorms, but I've no personal experience with these.
    4) Kits. You can purchase kits for a number of robots, including robot sumo competition kits.
    5) Pyrobot. You might want to check it out. It's a software simulation kit (I think that it can drive some robots too) that was being pushed at AAAI-2005 for teaching robotics at the undergraduate and perhaps high school levels. It comes on a Linux LiveCD. It's mostly about writing software in python.

    One thing to kick around. If a project that you want to do out of one of the older books asks for a computer... check out a less-expensive alternative. Most of these projects were written for hardware that is positively old and inexpesive by modern standards (it's been 10 years since I read The Robot Builder's Bonanza, first). If you have the cash and patience to learn about PICs, you might consider it time well spent later in life.

    So, now you're looking at college perhaps? Major in computer science, mechanical engineering, or electrical engineering. Each focus on different facets that can be of use in robotics. If you're into cognitive science, psychology isn't a bad bet... I have no personal experience with that one though. I went computer science, which is also a fairly good route to cog sci if you go artificial intelligence.

    The breakdown looks like this though:
    Computer Science - Artificial Intelligence
    Mechanical Engineering - Design & Control
    Electrical Engineering - Control

    If you want to go straight out into industry building robots, mechanical engineering isn't a bad bet. If you want to do research with humanoid robots and the like, computer science is your best bet. Mechanical engineering also has lots of good research in robotics, and you'll have more opportunities to fiddle with them as an undergrad. If you're in college, check out your school's Mechatronics course, they're becoming far more common.

    Research will certainly require a PhD. I'm currently in a PhD program working in a robotics lab with a humanoid robot. It's very very very cool.

    At any rate. If you're still in high shcool, starting out in high school isn't a bad bet, just make sure you keep up with your classes and grades. If you want to go the PhD route, the best thing to do is to go to a good undergrad school, get solid grades, and, most importantly, find a professor to do some work with... preferably research. Your letters of recommendation will make or break you for admission to a PhD program. Stay on the good side of your professors, at least three of them. Also, remember, it doesn't hurt to have a famous professor in your corner, but a professor who knows you better, but is less influential, is more helpful than a professor who is quite influential but barely knows you.

    If you screw up any of the above steps, that's ok too. I definitely didn't do everything perfectly on my route here, but I still got into an exceptional school with a world-class lab and work with a professor who has made quite a name for himself.

    Also, check out these cool pictures, featured in this month's issue of popular science 63d010vgnvcm1000004eecbccdrcrd.html [] If you're the reading sort, you might also enjoy the article that it accompanies. 63d010vgnvcm1000004eecbccdrcrd.html [] (It's by Ray Kurzweil)
  • by AliasTheRoot ( 171859 ) on Tuesday September 19, 2006 @01:31AM (#16135997)
    1. Listen to old skool Hip Hop / Electro
    2. Bodypopping
    3. ?????
  • BEAM (Score:2, Informative)

    by Razzy ( 175090 )
    BEAM bots are cheap, relatively easy to make, and provide a great introduction to both electronics and basic robotics. They aren't the most sophisticated bots in the world, but they are a great place to start. And, because they use analog electronics instead of microprocessors, they require no programming skills (if that matters to you). []

    In the professional sense, many engineering schools have faculty specializing in robotics. They tend to dwell in CS, EE, or MechE departments.
  • The post below assumes that you are interested in robotics as a career path, not as a weekend hobbyist thing.

    I'm in a robotics undergrad degree at the University of Waterloo (the Mechatronics program, to be specific), and I've involved in quite a bit of robotics on campus as well as on the internship level. My suggestion is: don't stop at undergrad, or even masters. You can get INTO robotics with an undergrad or masters degree, sure, but if you want to touch any of the very interesting work, or have high-

  • 1. Obtain alcohol.

    2. Go to car factory.
    3. Get drunk.

    ...oh, wait. You want to know how to get into robotics, not how to get robotics into you.

  • You have to be born of the day of the 2nd impact or else you can just forget it. Even then, it gets a little tricky. Your mother has to be dead AND the magi have to pick you based on the Marlmaduke report. Then you are either blessed with incredibly high sync rates OR you have to train in the entry plug simulator(which also means skin tight body suits and sitting in a pool of a funky liquid). You can bypass this if they need a pilot in an emergency however. After all that, they will finally put you i
    • by inio ( 26835 )
      Whatever you're smoking ...

      I want some.
      • by Cybrex ( 156654 )
        No you don't. You probably can't afford the habit. ;-)

        The gp post is a reference to the anime series Neon Genesis Evangelion. I've seen friends financially broken by their devotion to it.

        As the t-shirt says: "Anime: Drugs would be cheaper"
    • Alternatively, if you'd rather just be a robot, your choices include being in a plane crash at age 9 or working on an undersea research laboratory.

    • I musn't run away...I musn't run away...
      I musn't run away...I musn't run away!!!

      *sigh* shinji is such a little b*tch.
  • I started with the . It's not perfect, but the 2nd edition helped a lot, and the projects are decidedly garage oriented. []

    Lego Technics sets got me started with mechanics at a young age, and the book (my yellow covered, dog eared, marked up 1st edition) pushed me the rest of the way. I grabbed the books on the Rug Warrior from the MIT crew as a second step, though I didn't pursue them.

    The Parallax BOEBot [] is wonderful too. it's a lot more expensive, but it's an all in one kit that can get you a light reactive
  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Tuesday September 19, 2006 @02:18AM (#16136125) Homepage

    There are academic programs, but the US robotics industry is tiny. I have a slide I use in talks; it compares total spending on robots, mobile robots, and ringtones. Ringtones are far bigger.

    Robot R&D in Japan is serious, but in the US, it's the same old academic groups grinding away. The number of US commercial companies shipping products in the mobile robot space is very small, as is number of units shipped. Above the Roomba/toy level, there just aren't any volume applications. This seriously limits job and business prospects. There's a market in teleoperators for bomb disposal applications, and the machinery developed for that is quite nice, but it's not autonomous.

    Even industrial robotics and factory automation is declining in the US. With manufacturing moving offshore to low-wage countries, the end of union labor, and a huge supply of illegal immigrants, plants are less automated than they were twenty years ago. The original Macintosh had less assembly labor in it than today's PCs. I can't recommend a US career in manufacturing engineering today.

    Robot hardware is better than ever. The Lego Mindstorms stuff is primitive, but around $1000, things get quite good. Check out RoboNova []. Further upscale, see Mobile Robots, Inc. []

    The theory is getting better. Vision is starting to work. Planning actually works in the real world now. Adaptive control and learning finally work. There's enough CPU power to do hard stuff in real time on cheap hardware. Much is technically possible. But the market isn't there.

    I ran one of the DARPA Grand Challenge teams []. That didn't really lead anywhere. The two best young people we had are doing very well, but not in robotics. One is running a hedge fund and one is working for an offshore derivatives fund. Of the older people, one is running a big web server farm, and one has retired. If you understand all the practical stuff and all the theoretical stuff to operate at that level, you can do very well at other things. But the payoff isn't in robotics.

    This field needs a killer app.

    • sorry, just thought I would fix the last part of your post:

      This field needs a killer robot.
    • This field needs a killer app.

      Make love robots, not war robots.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Gridpoet ( 634171 )
      I have to slightly disagree with your statements... While i do conceed that the overall manufacturing levels in the US are declining, the amount of manufacturing done by automation is rapidly expanding. I currently work as a robotic technician for a small ohio the past 3 years we have doubled our robotics count. nearly all of the shops i have contact with in the area are undergoing a similiar renisaince.

      Industrial automation is becoming so inexpensive that its a no brainer... as small shops like o
      • by Animats ( 122034 )

        While i do conceed that the overall manufacturing levels in the US are declining, the amount of manufacturing done by automation is rapidly expanding.

        Right. What manufacturing is left in the US is heavily automated. Visit a US plant that makes some high volume consumer product, and you'll see barely any people. If it's labor-intensive, it's been offshored by now.

        US robot sales are falling right now. For the first half of 2006, "total sales for North American robot suppliers totaled 7,141 robots va

  • I know it seems a bit immature, but I've seen some crazy things done with Lego Mindstorms [], from building a disk array to a robot that cleans rooms and such. It should provide a good entry level system for you to learn how to at least *think* like a roboticist.
  • Ah, maybe here somebody knows where to get a complete set for miniature hydraulics? I have searched for something like that for ages, and phone called about 20 different vendors of hydraulic components, but found only one German language website that had some, but not all of the required components. Even that page now disappeared.
    • Have you looked into pneumatics instead? It's the same concept as hydraulics really, but you can probably get the components cheaper and of course, if your system develops a leak, there's no mess to clean up. They also scale down quite small, with 1inch diameter cylinders quite common.
    • by cr0sh ( 43134 )
      If you want to do miniature hydraulics, the best way to start is syringes, aquarium tubing, and vegetable or mineral oil (actually, for such a small system, water could be used as well, and cleanup would be easy). You can also start out with just pneumatic action by eliminating the oil (best to start learning this way anyhow). The difficult part of such small systems is obtaining switching valves - you can find miniature pneumatic valves, but they don't work well (or at all) with liquids (especially oils),
  • Where I went to there were quite a few official/school robot projects/teams and various ones started by students (some of which had school funding). If you go to college you may try looking around and see if any exist, they may be happy to let you on even if you don't know much. Do keep in mind that if they let you do anything important (ie: not the code/soldering monkey) don't hold high hopes for the project getting far.

    Also if its a student run team with nothing solid pushing them (ie: failing a class if
  • You can get all the textbooks, e-books and magazines you want, or which you think you want, to further you into this field but I suppose nothing replaces grabbing hold of wires, cells, toolkit and other what-not and getting down to it. Most successful people in robotics probably got in this way, at least that's been my experience in programming. We're having a java class this semester and there seem to be two distinct classes of students- there are those who lugg around heavy java manuals, downloading PPT
  • I started at i bought their simplest hexapod kit and went from there. They show you how to build it, but it's real, legitimate robotics, and you see how it's put together. The next robot i built was designed from scratch. It was easy once i saw how servos could be interfaced to a microcontroller (which i learned from the first hexapod i bought). So yeah, i love lynxmotion.
  • Buy Lego Mindstorms
    Make Robot
    Teach it English
    Program it to hit keys on a keyboard
    No-one would ever guess you're not a real person.
    Unexpected Next without For
    Core Dump
  • by nullset ( 39850 ) on Tuesday September 19, 2006 @08:41AM (#16137014)
    Others have said the same thing, but I'll rehash and add a bit more detail.

    1) If you're in high school (US), try to see if your school has a First or Best team. If they don't, find one close by and talk to them. You might be able to start one
    1b) If you're not in high school, find a local school that has a First or Best team, and offer to mentor. You can learn a lot

    2) Join a local hobby robot club. I'm co-vice president of the atlanta hobby robot club (

    3) Build something! Get a kit...Vex, Boebot, Mindstorm, etc.

    4) Combat robotics is an almost entirely different field from the rest of hobby robotics, but it can still be fun. (I'm talking here of the radio controlled combat robots, not autonomous sumos)

    Okay, so go build yourself a sumo bot! And remember, a robotic arm is NOT simple.... :) Start with something easier, like an RC car, then add some sensors and make it able to drive itself around. Maybe work your way UP to a robotic arm...


  • "Man, if you gotta ask, you ain't never gonna know."

    You get into it by getting into it. You start by starting. Go do something!

    I started in 8th grade by just saving my allowance and buying parts from radio shack and the local hardware store. Just try something. Build whatever you want to build. If you need to learn something to build what you want to build, learn it. If you're building something to impress your friends, fine, build something shiney and awesome. Otherwise, just do what you want and follow yo
  • I have been fascinated with Robots since my childhood and is why I got an EE degree. We had to build a Pong robot in College it was pretty cool. The great hindrance to mast producing of robots I think is being able to have a cheap $150 positioning system. GPS is good but have a lawn mower being off by +- 12 feet is not good. But I guess that is jumping why ahead of where you want to be. The main thing is to just mess around good to a local college and see if they have any extra parts or dumpster dive.
    • "The great hindrance to mast producing of robots "

      Until they make robots water-tight, mast producing them is counter-productive.

  • I posted a question related to getting started in robotics on here a month or so back. But it was in the career field.

    My advice to you is go spend $250 at Target/Amazon/etc on Lego Mindstorms NXT. Then use your imagination and come up with 20 or so simple robots you can think of to do cool little things. Then, depending on how much free time you have, take one off the list and actually build it with your set. One a month, one a week, whatever. Just start building. You'll learn so much while experimenting wi
    • Some may argue it's limited in scale. But find me another set where you have 3 motor servos, an ultrasound sensor, light sensor, touch sensor, microphone, speaker, lcd display, flash storage for programs, easy to use software, usb connection, guaranteed compatibility between sensors and the system, about 500-600 pieces, and a huge support base in case you need help. Lego has that all hands down.

      Fischertechnik. It is double the price but worth it. Many colleges use it in their robotics curriculum. The par
      • You can also program into NXT with Java, which is what I do.

        I didn't intend to exclude other kits, I was simply comparing NXT to say, RadioShack sets which are the same price but much harder to get started with if you're a total beginner with no formal background in robotics. I'd rather spend my $250 on it than any other set.

        Also with your set, which you say is twice the price, may not appeal to someone just getting started. It may be more of an intermediate set to get when he grows tired of Lego Mindstorms
        • I'm an Mechanical/Aerospace engineer and I find legos pretty restrictive in the ways they can be pieced together. But that's just me... don't get me wrong, I loved them when I was a kid, and my son in a few years will have a slew of them, but as a platform for development they are just too 1-dimensional. They stack up, in order to connect left-right you have to stack up or use pins and brackets, etc. Other development systems like Fischertechnik or VEX even are a lot more similar to real-world engineering t
          • I agree completely with your observation about the IO. I think our difference of opinion lies in the fact that you are in engineering and I am in cs. Right there shows why you're more concerned with the physical ramifications of the set, while I am more worried about the software and compatability of the set. Makes sense considering our backgrounds. I agree with the lack of IO and motors. Most of the really cool ideas I have about NXT for robots I'd like to make with it (beyond the typical experiments such
  • You do it. If you want to be really good at it you do it a lot.

    And don't just read about it (unless the interest IS reading), books and the net are good for pointers but experience counts a lot more in getting good at things.

    Start wth kits, cobble together junk, make some mistakes (try to make them non-lethal on non-dangerous) You will get a "feel" for what works for you and what doesn't.

    You can never be too old or too young - but you can be too lazy or just not interested enough.

  • Based on my experience, here is an easy and cheap-ish way to get going from the hobbiest perspective.

    1. buy a book like "The Robot Builder's Bonanza" (already mentioned elsewhere)
    2. go get an OOPic ( []) this is less than $100 and lets you start learning about microcontrollers. It even has some microswitches and led's onboard, so you can start learning without getting into electronics yet.
    3. now go buy a radio controlled tank from your local toystore. take the top off and remove the
  • My college offers a 1-month January Term course in robotics. I'm taking it this January, should be alot of fun. :)
  • Try the VeX kit. It's reasonably priced, very configurable, programmable and fun. Then go look at the FIRST VeX Challenge ( It's a great way to get introduced into robotics.

    Coach Angelbots (
  • A lot of people have caught the obvious, so I will really just summarize.

    LEGO NXT [] & Mindstorms are both great kits to play around in. Especially if you have traditional LEGO bricks and Technic pieces already.

    If you are more into Erector style kits, then go with the Vex [] kits from Radio Shack. They are clearing them out for some reason, so they are cheap. Make sure you get a programming kit though.

    If you want more "professional" robots, maybe take a look at Lynxmotion [], they have really really coo
  • I'd second (or third) the Mindstorms recommendations - it's great to be able to put together a complete robot in an hour or so. When you decide to start building your own robots from scratch, I'd really recommend the David Cook books "Robot Building for Beginners" and "Intermediate Robot Building." The first book walks you step-by-step through every aspect of building a line-follower robot using simple parts and circuits. The Intermediate book is more of an "engineer's notebook" with lots of details and ad
  • Robotics is a very tough field that either encompasses or is directly related to many other complex disciplines like AI, computer vision and control theory, each of which encompasses many sub disciplines. The fact that we still don't have any robots operating in the real world is a testament to how hard these discipline are.

    Some people might argue that we already have robots in the form of assembly lines, remote-controlled vehicles and other machinery. For some definition of robotics, this is true, and s
  • 1. Stand in front of robotics
    2. Open access panel with screwdriver
    3. Insert favorite appendage into access panel
    4. You are now into robotics

    On a more serious note, the Omron C200H programmable logic controller, which was several thousand $ when first released around 1990, is now available on ebay way cheap. These things are full scale industrial automation controllers (Can control pretty much anything with it, servomotors, lights, pneumatics, hydraulics, anything.) Can get these tiny 3/4 proximity detectors
  • Here's a search at Google [] for robotic components fitting your requirements.
  • I love robots.

    Hear's another vote for FIRST-related stuff. I was on a high school team and now I mentor and help to run the Boston regional competition. It's a really great program.

    LEGO MindStorms and VEX kits are great. I took a BOEBot (, I think) to my senior prom -- it ran on a BASIC Stamp (old school!). These all come with great documentation.

    If you're in to programming, try a Roomba. The ones iRobot makes. They opened up their SCI protocol and they're inviting hackers to do fun and interest
  • It's like saying "how do I get into computing". You can do it at home on your own, but in that case unless you are a miracle case your potential will be capped and/or it will take a long time. Hobby robotics is not the same as "real" robotics.

    The traditional way to genuinely get into robotics is to go to graduate schools in a school with a strong robotics groups (or person) in Computer Science, Electrical Enginnering, or Mech Eng, or Robotics. Seriosu robotics requires a good background in mathematics to
  • If you want to get into robotics, whether it be beginner, intermediate, or advanced, I'd definately check out Trossen Robotics: [] We started off as PhidgetsUSA. Phidgets are great and have a wonderful API, but since they can be used in so many different areas, it makes them difficult to market. While we were marketing Phidgets technology, we kept running across some really cool people/companies in the robotics field, so we decided to focus solely on the robotics market, and p

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