How to learn more about robotics and design

I’ve been on a robotics team for a little bit more than a year now. When I first joined, I didn’t have any knowledge of robotics and I didn’t know much about the different sub-teams in our school. When I was choosing between the sub-teams I was choosing between design and the mechanical team. I ended up choosing the design team. But after being on the team for more than a year now, I feel like haven’t learned much. I think the main issue was that on our design team, nearly everything has been dedicated to CAD and I haven’t learned much about robotics. I know that CAD is supposed to be a tool for engineering, but if you don’t have much background in the mechanical aspect of robotics, then using CAD as a tool doesn’t seem very efficient. We use Inventor for CAD and I really haven’t found any tutorials in inventor that help with trying to CAD a full robot. We have done a project where used CAD to make a drivetrain but that is about it. My question is, how would you suggest learning how to CAD a full robot without having much experience working in a woodshop if possible? Also, would you say that going directly to the design team without ever being on the mechanical team is not a good idea? Keep in mind, when I first joined I didn’t really know much about the sub-teams and I ended up choosing the design team because when I talked to the coach he recommended I join the design team. There are a quite a few others who had joined the design team, who also feel they haven’t really learned that much. I think this is also partially because the leader has not always been able to come to meetings and so it would be on the assistant leads to teach, but they themselves feel like they don’t know much either. Sorry if the questions sound a bit broad or if it sounds as though I am complaining because I really am just asking this question for genuine help. I am willing to work as hard as possible, I just need a little bit of help in terms of how I should prepare. Ultimately, my goal is to be able to contribute as much as possible for my team.

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In general, I think it’s a good idea to have a little bit of experience on both. Overtime, some students will gravitate a bit more towards CAD while others will go more towards fabrication.

There are a lot of resources out there that’ll show you how to do basic CAD functions (sketch, extrude, etc.). There are also a lot of resources that’ll provide guidelines for various mechanisms (e.g. guidelines for designing an intake, etc.)

The best way to get good at design is by experience, whether it be your own or others’. So, take a mechanism and try and CAD it. It may be difficult the first time, but you’ll improve over time. Alternatively, research what other teams have done for their mechanisms and try to implement their designs. You’ll find that you actually learn a lot by studying what other teams have done.

Depending on your team structure, CAD and fabrication/mechanical may (or may want to) intermingle somewhat.

That being said, I feel I used to be in the same boat as you feeling like there were few resources for Inventor. I find that many of the tutorials out there in Solidworks are not terribly difficult to adapt to Inventor once you have the core concepts down.

One thing you want to keep in mind is that a full robot is really just a compilation of various mechanisms put together. If you start looking around at other teams’ designs and asking questions or reverse engineering, the process starts to become less daunting to think about. I personally like practicing using different drivetrain types (I have a few in varying states of finished) because a lot of the concepts you use there will end up repeated in some way.

If you have Inventor specific questions or concerns, I’d be glad to lend a hand.

I agree. I think you should try out all the mechanical aspects of robotics (design, fabrication, etc.) before completely focusing on one specific area. I myself did this before eventually gravitating toward CAD.

There is a lot of CAD right there. You have learned a lot just doing that.

Add an intake sub assembly, an elevator/lift assembly and a climb sub assembly and you have 2018 robot.

Where would you go to find out how to do all those sub assemblies?

Copy the best, invent the rest.
All those sub assemblies are all made up of a lot of COTS parts assembled among fabricated parts and they all were derived from something that was done before.

There should be a separation of responsibilities between the different sub groups of your team. Is your CAD group also responsible for prototyping designs???

Your CAD group should be working on getting the drivetrain done fast while your other teams are prototyping the game specific mechanisms. After you are done sending your drivetrain to the fabrication team you can then concentrate on taking design direction from the different groups.

For last years robot, after the drivetrain was designed you would have moved to work on one of up to four mechanisms. An intake, a lifter, a climber and possibly a buddy climber.

973 has a RAMP video about mechanisms and how you can quickly sketch them in 2D. But when the prototypes have been tested and your team wants to put it in CAD, most of your design decisions have already been made by the prototype team. If you ran a stress analysis on the design and it needed to be improved would you just fix it yourself or would you consult the mechanical team?

I would also think that a third or fourth year mechanical team member would be able to give the CAD group a pretty good idea on the mechanism they want designed, instead of coming to you and saying “I’d like something that grabs this 13x13x11 cube and lifts it 7ft up in the air and drops it”

100% yes. Design is a skill that requires knowledge of the methods that will be used to bring that design into reality. If you don’t understand how things need to be assembled and created, or how they will work once made, you need to gain that experience by learning from those who have that experience and making some experience for yourself.

That’s okay. There is a lot to learn about robotics and design. I’ve been designing robots for almost 10 years now, and I have a lot to learn. The first few years are the hardest, because the first part of learning is figuring out what to learn-- you’ve chosen to reach out to others for ideas, which is a great trait.

Does your team primarily use woodshop tools to make the robot? If so, then I would recommend starting by getting some of that experience in the wood shop-- learn how to use the tools that will be used to make the robot. Make some small things, if at all possible. If you can’t physically work in your team’s shop, use the search functions on Google and CD to learn from others. Learn your tools, and then look for the most successful teams that build with similar resources to yours-- there’s a lot of CAD out there floating around that you can download. I know you’re in Inventor, but Mike Corsetto has uploaded a ton of fantastic robots publicly to Onshape, and you can learn a lot just by poking around at those.

To me, mechanical is design-- drawing a firm line feels very counterproductive. One feeds the other, and learning parts of both is essential to creating good robots. It takes time and effort to gain that knowledge, but you seem motivated to make the most of your experience.

Good luck, and I hope you have a fantastic season!