Technical Training?

So every time i surf on CD i see people posting threads about all these sophisticated systems and programs like the PS2 controllers and an alternative shifter gearboxes, etc.

I’m the electrical person in our team but after 2 years of that i’ve only learned about wiring and the operating concepts behind the devices we actually used (spikes, victors, etc). So now i’m wondering where can i learn more about robotics, for example the principles behind sensors, robot controllers, calculators and generally various gadgets.

Also, can anyone suggest a reading-list for improving knowledge on designing gearboxes, robot controllers and programming? What i’ve learned in school (AP physics and programming), though provide really good therotical knowledge, does not supply enough information on the actual application of them (ex. how does a computer chip work exactly…step by step?).

I appreciate any help or suggestions in advance. I’m really frustrated that our team did not come up with any major fundemental innovations (conveyor belts and shooter aside) and that i have not learned as much as i wanted through robotics. I really hope i can prepare myself over the summer for next year’s competition and college as well.

I think it’s great that you want to do this. Although you may be at a disadvantage due to a team not willing to try new and great things, you are surely at an advantage over those that do not have as much initiative as you.

Being a programmer, I’ll provide you with some good robotic-related things relative to programming. Hopefully we’ll get some mech/electronics/etc. guys in here to help you with everything else.

There are two distinct types of programming, console-based (computer/web development) and real-world (robotics). With a console-based programming language, you do not have to worry about such details as air pressure, friction, mechanical malfunctions, etc. With some rare exceptions, if it works in theory, it works on computers.

Assuming you want to work with robots (who doesn’t?), it may be a little pricey. Some older sensors may be taken from your team (with their permission, of course) which will bring the price down. Maybe they’ll even give you an old controller. So the first thing I’d do is ask your team for any old parts that they don’t want anymore. Now, you need to purchase everything else.

For a controller, I’d recommend an Atmel STK-500 Development Kit. This is a development board (includes pin headers, programming/power circuit, etc.) that is used with the Atmel AVR series microprocessor. The AVR series is slightly different than the PIC series (the kind used in the IFI RC), but it shouldn’t be a huge change. It’s similar to the difference between a Chevy engine and a Ford engine. This will set you back $80 on Digikey, but includes everything you need for controlling sensors/output devices. I personally think they’re worth every penny.

Now the STK has an array of LEDs and buttons that you could make do all fancy stuff, but eventually you’re going to want to make something move. This is where the fun starts. What you need now is a motor. The big CIMs that we use on our competition bots are probably not in your best interest right now (unless you’re willing to plunk down $100+ for a speed controller per motor), so I’d go with a small 5 or 7.2v DC motor. These should be fine for a small robot. Servos also will work, it all comes down to your application.

So you can make a robot move now, but can you make it smart? This is where sensors come in. Depending on what you want to do, there’s virtually a sensor for every purpose. We have simple boolean switches and high end LIDAR/stereoscopic vision. It all comes down to your application.

If you’re willing to trade flexibility for ease of purchase and (probably) price, I’d go with a kit. They don’t let you do as much, but you will learn about the basics and maybe figure out what you really want to spend the rest of your money on. From what I’ve heard, the BoE Bot is pretty good. It’s a BASIC Stamp (eww, but it works) controlled robot that has two wheels and a caster. It can be assembled with hand tools in about an hour and will teach you basic programming skills. Out of the box you can have light detect, wall following, servo control and basic motor control.

So I hope I helped some. I think it’s a shame when someone has initiative such as yours and isn’t being taught enough. If you ever need any help or have any questions, I’m on AIM at MikeWasHere05. Here are some links for some late-night reading/browsing:

Jameco Robot Store
Seattle Robotics Society
Atmel STK500 Information
AVR Enthusiasts Forum

You already have found the greatest “reading list” out there: :slight_smile:

Now you know why you need to go to college for four years just to start being an engineer!

If you want to get some college level engineering textbooks, you might look at used bookstores, I know the local “friends of the library” bookstore has used EE textbooks in stock for 50 cents a piece.

or just ask your engineering mentor…I’d be surprised if they couldn’t find you something to read.

thanks a lot guys for the help, i’ll try to start learning as soon as possible.

LOL squirrel, i’m sad to tell you our team’s so ghetto we have no engineer mentors, we have only a computer teacher and an ex-mechanical engineer math teacher in our team. I had to figure out all the electric stuff myself, but thanks for the comment nevertheless

One little site that helps a lot, and has basic(ish) descriptions of just about everything is Wikipedia. You can find it at

Quite a useful site.

oops…I forget that I live in a wierd town, next to an army post that is the home of the army’s communications command (actually info systems command for the past 20 years) and has a bunch of engineers…the real world isn’t like that!

See how far you get with wikipedia, and also see if you can get in to a local university or community college library (preferably a science/tech library), and see what they have. Usually they have open access to the public.

Consider this place your engineering mentor - ask us!. Get a book - maybe Radio Shack? - about basic electricity and electronics. Find an Amateur Radio operator (Ham), they will be tickled pink to tell you everything you need to know (or they’ll find someone to do that). (You can find them byt heir antennas, OR just look in the UCSD database by Zip code to find someone nearby, & phone them. (Get over the fear, they will not bite!)

Or, as always, send me a message

Good Luck,

I can honestly say that I and the other mentors have NO IDEA how our students learned how to do the PS2 controller. I can ask, but I doubt I’ll get a straight answer.

However, I can tell you this. They (there are 3 of them) tinker and mess around with anything electrical and software wise. One of them writes software for Microsoft (some kind of internet watch) and does computer admin at a local bank. Another one takes apart anything electrical, and tries to splice things together to make hybrid gadgets. Sometimes he breaks stuff. Sometimes he might do really stupid things. But he’s learning. Another guy just got his parents old car, and within a day was making a list of things to “mod” on the car.

The one thing they all have in common - they don’t just talk about it, they try things out. Even if they are wrong. Even if they break it.

Our “geekTeam” impresses me to no end, and scares me to no end. (Like the motorized uni-cycle… someone’s going to get hurt on that one…)