A mounting problem

The idea of FIRST is to get people interested and educated in Science and Technology, especially robots. But, there is a major problem here.

Getting into hobby robotics is just too expensive. To get a PIC16F, a ZIF IC2 programmer, a breadboard ZIF socket, MPLab with C16 and documentation will run you about $200, without all the other stuff like motors, servos, LCDs, keypads, EEPROM, Crystal clock, Potameters, sensors, etc.

Here’s a rundown on the minimum prove of microcontroller starter kits (no components other than the IC and programmer, maybe with a development board.)

Parallax BOE starter kit: $99.95
Parallax SX Toolkit PRO: $249.95
Parallax Prop Stick: END OF LIFE: $79.95
Parallax Javellin Stamp Starter Kit: $249.95
Most of these are End-of-Life, but they remain too high. These seem to be user friendly to use, but they sure aren’t easy on your wallet. These chips manufacture for about $3. We pay $50+

A-WIT CS210001: BACKORDERED: $71.44
It’s a PIC18C placed on a PCB with a through hole. You still need a crystal! I called Tech support and they will not restock because they are working on the 2nd generation of stamp.

Microchip PIC Training Kit: $158
Microchip PIC Development Kit: $600
LAB-X1A PIC Development Board: $195.95
The PICs are about $3 from Microchip. Why are the programmers so expensive?!

Philips LPC210x (ARM) Starter Kit: $305
Not too many ARM platforms out there, they are wicked expensive!

FRC Robot Controller: $449.95
Mini Robot Controller: DISCONTINUED: $249
Isaac 16 System: DISCONTINUED: $895
Our main sup[plier is setting the bar high, and quite frankly driving people away from hobby electronics. The entry cost here is astronomical!

Vex Robotics Design System: $299.99
Vexplorer: 199.99
What are meant to be hobby robotics still manage to be out of the reasonable price range. the Vex Design system will be outdated in a few months, and the Vexplorer is severely limited and not programmable!

It just costs too much to get into the industry. Aside from ARM, the actual chips are cheap. The components are cheap. The PCB is cheap. Solder is cheap. If FIRST and IFI want to be proactive about getting more people into this, they need to supply a cheap, entry-level system that people can AFFORD!

I think you need to set your sights a bit lower.

A decent electric “RC” car with 2 channels will run you $200 - 400 dollars. The 6 channel radio system for my RC sailboat runs $500. When I look at the IFI and other prices, I actually think they’re incredibly cheap for what you’re getting.

A victor is a deal compared to many variable speed controllers you purchase for RC cars, and the RC cars are made in much larger quantities and handle lower power outputs. The spikes are a bit pricey, but not really to bad.

On the other hand, if you got to a good hobby shop, you can pick up a robot “kit”, which is what my 7 year old recently did. It was similar to an erector set, but when he was done he had a robot that turned left and right, drove forward, and could pick up a foam block, raise it, and set it back down again. This cost about $40. This was self-assembled. He had to build the 2 gearboxes and solder together the circuit board that the controller used.

Do a search, for instance, on froogle for hobby robot kit.


One similar to my son’s:


The FIRST equipment isn’t for “Hobby” robotics. It’s actually quite high-end, and while you probably won’t find it in a Darpa entry it’s good for just about everything you can think of.

Your costs for PICs are set waaaay to high.

  1. Students & hobbyists can get any microcontroller or other component made by microchip for free from microchip’s website using samples as long as you do not sell anything made with those microcontrollers.
  2. The overly simple JDM programmer can be made for less than $20 and can program most PICs (google winpic and look at the documentation for a very good schematic)
  3. A good USB programmer (K128 programmer) can be purchased for $70 or less on kits-r-us
  4. Development tools range from free (MPASM, Sourceboost, C-Bot (which can be used to program other 18f’s btw), etc) to reasonably expensive (C18 Full Commerical Edition, Sourceboost Pro, etc).
  5. Don’t buy new parts for experimentation…surf the surplus sites.
  6. Use samples as much as possible…for radio control stuff I have some Cypress WUSB CYWM6935 LR chips which I got for free off of Cypress samples.

I got in to PICs with virtually no budget and the largest investment I have made was the USB programmer, which I bought using money my parents gave me since it was to be used for a Tech Ed independent study project.

Microchip sells the PICKit 2 Debug Express which includes a demo board, USB programmer, IDE and compiler (limited version), tutorial files and demo code for about 50.00. Supports in-circuit programming, in-circuit debug of certain microcontrollers.

We use these as training devices for new programmers, as it introduces them to the MPLAB IDE and C18 compiler.

With Arduino you can get a board working for less than $20. The Arduino project uses low cost AVR microcontrollers and the open source avr-gcc compiler that will run on each of the major operating systems. While the official arduino boards will cost around $30, unofficial, yet fully functional versions can be made for under $10.

Thanks guys. I wasn’t aware of Microchip’s sample program. And I recently found that TI has something similar, I’m assuming others do as well.

Also about Arduno, that REALLY LOOKS INTERESTING! $30 is really something in a decent price range! My question is about it’s expandability though. I’ll buy it regardless.

My point still remains. Why don’t people know about these products/services. If the devides are so openly available, and so accessable for the wallet-impared (like me), why aren’t they used?

From what research I’ve done, I find that it’s relatively inexpensive to get parts for a specific purpose. The price goes up a lot once you want more versatile items. A prime example is the victor line of speed controllers. They are very expensive, but they are also acknowledged by most to be the most versatile and reliable dc motor controllers available to hobbyists. There are many cheaper speed controllers out there, but they are not rated for the high loads that the victors can handle. The same applies to many other robotic parts. If you know exactly what you want and have the time or connections to research it, you won’t pay that much. If you have only a nebulous idea of your needs (as in FIRST, which hosts a great variety of machines), you need to buy parts that are likely overkill for your final product.

ARM is actually quite inexpensive ! See the TiniARM Dev Boards from $29 - $70 from newmicros.com or Spark Fun .

Look at this threads for more info, http://www.chiefdelphi.com/forums/showthread.php?t=64816