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Robotics Back to School Blog Series

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SCHOOL-BUS-DRIVERIt is that time of year again … backpacks on our backs, buses on the streets, and lessons being planned. Yes, we are going back to school! To kick start the school year, we are introducing a six week robotics back to school blog series that highlights the technical and pedagogical side of planning for your robotics classroom. John Watson, from ROBOTC customer support, and Jason McKenna, a K-8 Gifted Support Teacher in the Hopewell Area School District outside of Pittsburgh, PA, will be sharing with you tips, tricks, advice, and recommendations on prepping your robotics classroom and curriculum.

As each blog is posted, the topics below will turn into hyperlinks, so feel free to bookmark this page!

Topics

If you have any questions or would like to start a conversation on any of the topics, feel free to leave us a comment below!

VEX/Arduino Bot Chases the Light

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Close up of the ‘Scaredy Bot’. Note the two VEX Light sensors side by side that provide the control for the robot’s movement.


YouTube Direct Link 

When someone thinks “robots’, they generally think of cold, calculating, emotionless machines. This couldn’t be further from the truth; all robots, from the complex humanoids to the basic welding arms seen in car plants, have complex and deep emotional personalities.

For instance, take a look at our new “Scaredybot”. Built entirely from VEX parts, an Arduino, and the sweat of our intern Dan West (by the way, great work Dan!), the Scaredybot is so ‘brave’ that it cannot stand being in the dark; given the choice, it will either chase a light source for dear life or spin blindly in place (desperately seeking a respite from the darkness).

On the technical side, the Scaredybot uses two VEX Light Sensors to compare light values on the left and right side of the robot and turns the robot towards whichever side is higher. By constantly moving side by side using swing turns (much like a line-tracking robot), the Scaredybot is able to track the light source as long as its sensors are able to read the light values. When the Scaredybot loses its light source, it spins in place until a light source is found again, at which point it starts to track it again.

Written by John Watson

July 30th, 2012 at 5:19 pm

RC Car to Arduino Robot – First car converted!

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The Arduino is one of the most diverse robotics platforms. It truly opens the world of modern electronics to the students by allowing them to interface with all sorts of relevant, modern technology. We have seen this unfold in our latest project with the Arduino, the RC car hacking project.


YouTube Direct Link 

For this project, we decided a good candidate to start with would be the New Bright RC ‘Interceptor’, a larger scale car that fit a standard-sized Arduino (in this case, an UNO) and a breadboard with lots of room to spare. This surplus of space opens up tons of options for adding sensors in the future. Plus, by tapping into the car’s standard battery we eliminated the need to add a second one. Since we needed to be able to control the RC car’s DC motors with the Arduino, we decided to use the VEX Motor Controller 29 to convert the PWM signals into corresponding voltage levels. This solution was cheap, easy, and effective; a true engineering triple play.

Once the Arduino was implanted into the RC car, it was time to tell the newborn robot to do something. Of course, we did this using our favorite programming software, ROBOTC for Arduino (more on this later).

Close up on the hacked internals of the 'Interceptor'.

It is important to realize that while most robots have a tank style drive system, the RC cars have the same steering system as that found in real-sized cars (Ackermann Steering). This unfortunately eliminates the possibility of making point turns, but it does open the doors to other interesting opportunities such as parallel parking (we plan on showcasing this in a later update).

Besides being incredibly awesome, this project also helps to expand upon the superb flexibility of the Arduino and VEX systems; although not specifically designed for one another, they can easily be used together with little or no modification  to either system.

We could never allow you, the reader, to miss out on the hacking. If you are interested in this or any of our other current projects, we encourage you to take a look at the tutorials on our wiki. At the moment they are works-in-progress, but we are well on the way of having step-by-step guides for hacking a variety of vehicles, with different scales and sizes, and different methods of operation. We ultimately want the tutorials to act as guides to hack any RC vehicle, even if we do not cover it specifically.

Keep an eye on this blog and our wiki for the latest updates. If you have any hacking stories, we’d love to hear about them on our forums. Good luck, and get hacking!

Written by Jacob Palnick

July 6th, 2012 at 1:08 pm

Basic Electronics and Arduino: A Winning Combination

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Electronics is an integral part of innovation, yet many electronic classes across the United States are being closed because of NCLB(1) and ever-shrinking school budgets.  However, more and more schools are instead opening robotics courses. With the Arduino platform we saw an opportunity for educators to integrate basic electronic principles into existing robotics courses using the VEX, LEGO, and BoE  hardware. Fortunately, Arduinos are very inexpensive and can be used not only as a mobile robot controller, but to create lots of other “smart” stuff as well.

Arduino on a NXT platform

The Arduino exposes students to a basic microprocessor concepts, prototyping on a breadboard, and basic electronics concepts through many cool projects.  The Arduino takes the processor ‘out of the box’ and gives students the opportunity to ‘build from scratch’ electronics systems. To augment these features, we’ve developed lessons around LEGO, VEX, and the BoE bot at our ROBOTC wiki and by the end of the summer we will have a set of plans that allow students to turn a RC car fully autonomous.  We have a team of folks dedicated to creating a series of lessons that makes teaching electronics through robots fun and easy, all while using technology that is already in your classroom.

In this regard, we have a very broad range of projects in mind for ROBOTC for Arduino; everything from basic LED control to creating homebrew sensors is covered. The end-goal for this research and development project is to expose students to a broad range of basic electronic concepts from simple circuitry to digital input (on/off switches) to analog inputs (potentiometer) to PWM concepts. As we continue to develop our ROBOTC for Arduino support materials, we need your help.  We are asking you, the ROBOTC community, to recommend projects that you are working on and are willing to share with educators and hobbyists.  Please consider sharing your project ideas and we will be glad to post them on both our blog and wiki. As always, keep an eye on our forum, Facebook, and Twitter pages for the most up-to-date news. Thanks!

Arduino on a BoE-bot platform.

Arduino on a VEX platform.

Written by John Watson

June 29th, 2012 at 2:25 pm

Posted in Arduino,General News

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Board of Education Shield (for Arduino) + ROBOTC for Arduino

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A few months ago Parallax, makers of the popular STAMP microprocessor, released a new Board of Education (BoE) Shield for the Arduino. With ROBOTC for Arduino in the beta stage and a full-fledged release on the near horizon (expected third quarter 2012), the friendly folks at Parallax were kind enough to send us one of their Robotics Shield Kits (for Arduino) to prototype and test with.

Top and bottom views of Board of Education for Arduino. Note the header spacing on bottom side.

The kit includes a full Boe-Bot kit, an BoE Shield for Arduino, a Boeboost module, and a bag of basic electronic components (resistors, capacitors, microswitches, etc). In order to get the kit completely up and running, users will also need a compatible Arduino, a USB A to USB B cable, a compatible coding program (ROBOTC for Arduino), and either four (five with the BoeBoost) AA batteries or a compatible AC adapter.

From top left clockwise: Boe-Bot kit (we had assembled ours before taking pictures, hence some components being installed); Board of Education for Arduino; hardware kit; Boe-Booster; electronics components kit; Parallax screwdriver.

Once assembled, the Arduino can be programmed in ROBOTC for Arduino. Besides the pin layout and a few minor tweaks (on/off switch for servo power, for example), the Board of Education Shield is functionally  the same as the Arduino platform so programs coded for the Arduino are directly compatible with this kit.

Fully assembled Bot-Bot with Boe-Booster installed.

Even in its early stages, the ROBOTC for Arduino beta supports many of the features needed to code fully autonomous robots (with the applicable sensors installed). It is also continually upgraded and updated so that by the time the full version launches (expected third quarter 2012), users will be able to unlock the full potential of their robotic kits.

Board of Education with Arduino Uno attached.

All in all, this is a solid introductory kit into the world of robotics. Combined with the ROBOTC programming language, it makes for one powerful, flexible, user-friendly platform.

Fully assembled Bot-Bot with Boe-Booster, Board of Education for Arduino, and Arduino Uno installed.

Written by John Watson

June 25th, 2012 at 4:32 pm

Frankenfollower

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CIMG7879Part Lego, part Arduino, part BoeBot, this is Frankenfollower. This robot was programmed in ROBOTC for Arduino, a port that is still in alpha stage of development but can be used quite nicely for programming the Arduino Duemilenova.  Other Arduino variants will be supported very soon.

The Arduino port of ROBOTC has some really cool features:

  • Easy to use sensor and motor configuration UI
  • Breakpoints and a debugger
  • Ability to watch your variables live
  • Multiple tasks (4 at the time of writing)

I’ve taken some pictures of the UI, so you can have a look.  Please note that the appearance of these UIs will probably change before the final version, so keep that in mind.

[Click to enlarge] [Click to enlarge] [Click to enlarge]
Main UI with some code (Frankenfollower’s code, actually) Debugger UI with variables window docked on the right. First configuration tab. This one allowed you to configure the platform and possible shields (up to 3 at the moment)
[Click to enlarge] [Click to enlarge] [Click to enlarge]
Motor and servos are configured here.  Encoders are currently not supported. Analogue pins are setup in this tab. Digital pins can be configured as PWM, input and output.

So as you can see, it’s all quite functional at the moment.  I’ve made a small video with some additional pictures of Frankenfollower and some footage of it in action.

I’m sure I’ll expand on Frankenfollower in the next few weeks, so keep an eye out on my blog!

Original article featured here: [LINK].

Written by Xander Soldaat

November 21st, 2010 at 3:34 pm

Posted in Cool projects

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ROBOTC for Arduino – Looking for Alpha Testers!

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Hey ROBOTC Community!

We’re currently looking for Alpha Testers to help us work out the kinks in our new ROBOTC for Arduino software.

In order to sign up, we ask if you can spend 5 minutes giving us some information about what kind of Arduinos you have and what your background is. Sometime in the next week, we’ll send out an e-mail to everyone who we’re inviting into our Alpha trials to let them know they made it.

Every person who participates in the Alpha will receive a free copy of ROBOTC for Arduino once it is released.

To sign up, fill out our survey today!
http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/ROBOTCArduino

Written by Tim Friez

November 15th, 2010 at 5:08 pm

Posted in Arduino,General News

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