Ok, so you know nothing about robotics huh? Well, you’ve come to the right place. Unfortunately, there are lots of people like you out there. Robotics isn’t an easy hobby, and there really isn’t a whole lot of information out there, especially compared to other hobbies. But, with a little diligence and hard work, you’ll be up and running in no time. Below are 10 hints and tips to getting started. Hopefully, they’ll help you avoid some common mistakes.
1. Learn about electronics
While this isn’t one of the most fun parts about robotics, it is essential. For a while, I lived under the impression that I could do robotics without knowing anything about electronics. But, I found out that I was wrong pretty soon. Don’t get me wrong, you don’t have to have an EE degree, but you do need to know some of the basics. Getting Started In Electronics by Forrest Mimms is an excellent resource for this. You can find a review of this book here. There’s also helpful online electronics tutorials.
2. Buy some books
In order to have a good start into robotics, you will need to start growing your library right off the bat. Getting the right books will provide invaluable help. Robot Building for Beginners is a good starting point. An absolute must-have book is Robot Builder’s Bonanza. You’ll also want to get some magazine subscriptions. Robot Magazine is great for beginners, along with Servo Magazine. You’ll also find other interesting books, on our books page.
3. Start off small
This is probably one most important points of this whole article. Stay small! Resist the urge to let your mind run wild with possibilities of cooking robot that will dust and vacuum at the same time. You need to start off small. Try putting some motors onto a base (like some AOL CDs or a breadboard from Radio Shack or Jameco) and running them with a Basic Stamp or an OOPic. If you’re more the kit type, you will find an impressive selection at RobotShop, Lynxmotion, Parallax, Rogue Robotics, and Budget Robotics. If you don’t have any electronics or mechanics experience I’d recommend getting a kit.
4. Get LEGO Mindstorms if you don’t have any programming experience
If you’ve never programmed before, you’re in a bit of trouble, because you’ll have to learn in order to do robotics, well, mostly. However, LEGO Mindstorms offers and an excellent resource for the totally illiterate. I have never heard anything bad about this product and HIGHLY recommend it. Plus, if you advance beyond its capabilities, there are tons of great websites and books about hacking it for other uses. You can buy the Mindstorms 2.0 kit here, or wait till Aug. 2006 to get the new version, Mindstorms NXT. VEX Robotics Kit is also a good starting point. I don’t have any personal experience with it, but I’ve heard good things.
5. Enter a contest – I.E. Build a ‘bot to do something
After you’re initial robot or so, you’ll need to start to plan for a robot that will actually do something. Part of the problem for a lot of people is that they never plan their robot ahead of time. When you have definite goals in mind, i.e. “I want my robot to patrol the house at night”, you are much more motivated and interested in finishing. A great way to do this is to enter your robot into a contest. Mini Sumo, and the international Fire-Fighting Contest are excellent choices. Many clubs have annual contests and events.
6. Work regularly on your ‘bots
Make yourself work on your robots regularly, especially if you’re entering a contest! Coming back to a project after weeks of ignoring it is tough. Take that time to think about the project and plan. It will help, even if it’s just for a few minutes before bed. Also, keep a regular journal of what you’ve done. Documenting your work is important.
These are some tips to get started.