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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

Tagged with , , , , ,

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