PS Tavishi is a computer science graduate. She's been working in IT since 2014. She also researches daily to grasp the technical dynamics.
Robots are fascinating and everyone loves them. Witnessing a human-like robot, helping you with your work with no favor in return, is dreamy. If you write programs correctly, you can use them for innumerable purposes and build them in any shapes and sizes. Just think about having a rob0-pet who fetch your bathrobe and bake toast for you, it’s wonderful and it’s mechanically feasible.
Robots have existed among us for centuries now and they are the most trending topic of the 21st century. You can find them in toy stores as well as assembly lines that make machines and toys. They also build your cars and look for leaks in the sewer pipes. Moreover, movies give us the most radical futuristic vision of how robots are going to affect our daily lives.
The best part is anyone can build robots, you don’t need a degree or seminars to learn to make one. It, indeed, all starts from here, from you at this very moment. This article takes you from being an amateur to a master in building challenging robots.
But before that, we need to agree on one specific meaning of the word “robot”. What's a robot for you, others may have a completely different interpretation for it. So, let’s clear out the meaning first.
Here, we are going to talk about the following topics:
- What are robots?
- Myths about robots
- Common types of robots with examples
- Real-world application of robotics
- Anatomy of a robot
- Safety measures
- Time to build a "Vibrobot"
- Pizza saver
- Computer fan
What are robots?
Initially, it sounds easy to answer it, but when you go deep, the definition becomes blurry. For example, would you consider a car or smartphone a robot? Most would say no. However, they do have robotic features. The car has a computer and a motor. Smartphone has sensors, batteries, and chips.
So, what actually is a robot? The definition is vague and it’ll always be because it means different things for different people. But we can narrow it down through the following parameters:
- A robot needs to have some sorts of moments. Every robot that you see in movies has certain moments whether it’s walking, fighting, or flying. They all move in some way.
- It’s interactive with its environment. The interaction happens through programmed instructions, radio control (RC) system, or sensors. For example, while driving a remote-controlled car you instruct it to turn when there’s a wall and move straight when the path is clear.
- It has to have a definite purpose. For example, a vacuum cleaner (Roomba) or a garbage collector.
So, any moving object that responses to stimuli or your actions to perform certain actions can be considered as a robot.
Myths about robots
Due to sci-fi movies and novels, lots of robotic rumors are circulating around. The sad reality is all these inventions are far away from reality. These three rumors below are the most popularised ones, which are nothing but fantasy.
1. Developing a HAL-like robot is a piece of cake
Stanley Kubrick did a marvelous job in 2001: A Space Odyssey, an academy award-winning movie. The best addition was HAL, an artificially intelligent robot with human-like intellect. However, building something like him in real life is far far away from the truth. A computer doesn’t have a sentient life form. Moreover, robots can fake mannerisms, but that’s a work of complicated programs. In the end, this just a simulated intelligence and nothing superficial.
2. Robots are humans and they can think as humans do
Movies like Ex-Machina and Metropolis are pretty futuristic. In fact, these are way too futuristic such that their humanoid robots are no way near the beginning stage in real life. Yes, that’s right. Humanoid robots are the first thing that may come to your mind when you hear about this subject. However, this is a sad truth making a robot walk is more intricate than making it roll, let alone make it behave like a human.
3. One robot can be used for multiple applications
The best and reliable robots are built to serve only one purpose, for instance, a vacuum cleaner. Mostly, robots intended for multiple purposes turn out to be not that effective. Though this is a feasible idea, it demands time and cost, both of which can be saved by building single-purpose robots.
Common types of robots with examples
In how many ways robots can be used to improve our daily life? This is still ongoing research and hopefully, we’ll see more variations in robots in the future. Besides that, below are the most common types of robots which are going to stick around irrespective of how futuristic the world becomes.
1. Animatronic robots
These are mechanical puppets that use electronic circuits. They are most commonly used for the portrayal of film characters in theme parks. For example, a fire-breathing dragon in West Edmonton Mall, Alberta, Canada.
2. Cleaning robots
As the name suggests, these robots are used for cleaning purposes. However, their building technique may differ on the basis of cleaning type as it can be for home use or public use. The most famous example in this category is the iRobot Roomba vacuum cleaner.
3. Combat robots
Combat robots are for entertainment purposes. They fight in the arena to decide the best and most robust machinery. They are either automated or controlled through remotes. One such example is Aftershock shown in British TV series named Robot Wars.
Drones can also be called as Aerial Robots, Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs), and Unmanned Aerial Vehicle. These are the most popular robotic products and is used by millions across the globe. You can find many examples of drones in your daily life, the most popular ones are DJI and Ruko.
5. Food preparing robots
These robots are trained to cook meals just the way human chefs do. They imitate the actions of humans and prepare the meals as well as drinks likewise. Some examples are Miso Robotics in California, US, Moley Robotics in London, UK, and RoboChef in Chennai, India.
6. Humanoid robots
While fully human-like robots are extremely complicated, many companies across the world have developed such robots. Since a rolling function is easier than a walking one, you’ll find these as rolling humanoid robots. The most famous example is Sophia developed by Hanson Robotics in Hong Kong.
7. Numerically controlled robots
These robots are controlled through a device (majorly a computer screen) to ensure that a flawless job. The most common example is 3D printing which produces three-dimensional objects with the help of a CAD (Computer-Aided Design) model or digital 3D model. Industrial robots used in milling and drilling can also be placed under this category.
Real-world application of robotics
Just now, we talked about common types of robotics that have worldwide popularity. These are developing and being used, in full swing, everywhere. Now, besides that, here are the major fields where robots are being used to carry out hefty tasks.
1. Space exploration
Robots are safer and cheaper than sending an astronaut into space. Rovers are the most common such as Chandrayaan-3 and Mars Rover. These are used to position an instrument into space to take a measurement, collect a sample for evaluation, or supervise an astronaut.
2. Bomb disposal
As the name says, these robots sniff out the bombs and then detonate or disable them. A huge relief to squad members as they don’t have to risk their lives. More specifically, these are drones remotely controlled by experts. Some examples are DRDO Daksh, India, and MarkV-A1 in the US.
3. Agricultural drone
Agricultural drones have effectively reduced farmers’ work. They are used for inspecting crops by flying over a certain area. They can be flown at a high elevation to learn foliage color, and hover over the trouble spot to closely examine it. They also record GPS coordinates so the farmer can reach the spot in an ATV and manually examine the crops. Agras T16 from DJI and PHX from Sentera are its examples.
Robots were primarily built for manufacturing purposes to reduce man-labor as well as production time. They are designed to perform repetitive tasks such as articulated robots for welding sealing, and cutting purposes. Another example is the SCARA (Selective Compliance Assembly Robot Arm) robot for pick and place and other assembly operations.
5. Tunnel Crawler
These robots crawl through pipes to inspect the possibility of cracks or dangerous gases, a job impossible for a human bring to carry out. Such robots are embedded with sensors and cameras so a remote expert can determine the risk and safety levels. Companies like Kawasaki robotics are known to build such robots for industrial applications.
6. Cleaning robots
Very safe and useful robots build for the general public. Cleaning robots such as Roomba can walk through the room, sweep and mop the floor without crashing into any object. Other examples are Roborock and Samsung Powerbot.
Your very own Robot Chef
Anatomy of a robot
As per requirements, robots are built in various sizes with multiple configurations, but they do share a few common elements. All robots demand a specific framework to finalize their structure and support various essential components. For example, they need power supplies for their jobs, which can be tracing a line or circulating a building. Below seven parts are crucial to have in any robotic system.
It is the outer covering of a robot’s skin. It is usually cosmetic but can be built as a connection joint for sensors and other components.
It is an inflexible frame on which the rest of the elements are connected. It is used for giving a basic structure and rigidness to a robot.
3. Control system
It controls the core functionalities of a robot. Even the simplest robots need some kind of control system to ensure their usability. It can be a microcontroller that runs a program or a wireless controller that sends signals through an antenna.
It is used for physically interacting with the world. It can be a robotic hand or a tool attached to their body to grab or move an object.
It is an essential component to bring movements into a robot. Whether it’s an industrial robot or a toy, you’ll find a motor in each one of them.
6. Power supply
It is needed to provide power to the robot. It can be a battery pack, an extension cord connected with an outlet, or solar panels.
It is required for a robot so they can appropriately react to the changing environment. For example, if there’s a wall ahead, sensors will let a robot know it and the crash can be avoided.
It is used for moving the robot from place to place. Almost every robot we have discussed above needs wheels to fulfill their duties.
To build a robot, you need to know how to handle tools and do the wiring correctly. In case, you falter, you may end up hurting yourself. So, here are a few safety measures to keep in mind.
Wear loose and comfortable clothes. Your clothing needs to be a protective one so you can avoid skin damage from debris. If you have to use power tools, then don’ wear loose sleeves or they may bind up in the tool’s moving parts.
A pair of goggles is a must. There are high chances that you may hurt your eyes because of splinters or broken drill bits. You may not have to wear it all the time, but make sure to use them when you are working with aerial-related projects.
When engineers have to work for a short time on a project, they often neglect the use of ear protection. But in long term, it’s crucial to protect your eyes especially when you are using power tools. Their noise can severely affect your hearing capability, also called Noise-Induced Hearing Loss or simply, NIHL.
Keep your hair closely tied behind your ears or use a ball cap, it looks cool that way. You don’t want your hair (in case you have long hair) get caught in the working tools.
Always remember to wear heavy work shoes. It’s mechanical work, you’ll always be surrounded by screws, splinters, nails, and other pointed and heavy stuff, so be careful. You don’t want to have the pleasure of dropping a hammer or soldering iron on your barefoot.
Beware of your what type of jewelry you are wearing especially if it’s gold. I have seen people getting hurt because of the conductive metal they wear. So, it’s better to remove your jewelry in advance especially gold rings and bracelets.
These are some common and important suggestions. As you go on to build bigger projects, you’ll need to take extra precautions. But for now, we are learning about the basic robot building, so these are plentiful.
Time to build a "Vibrobot"
“Vibrobot” is the simplest robot that you can ever build. It doesn't even have a rolling feature, it just buzzes around through a vibration motor. For instance, a bristle bot, which has a toothbrush with a pager motor (vibration motor).
A vibration motor is a basic motor that has off-center weight on the rotor. This means when the current passes through the motor, it buzzes similar to a phone on a vibration mode. The motor is connected to a cell battery and both are attached to the back of the toothbrush. When turned out, the bristles of the toothbrush move effortlessly on the surface. However, this isn’t based on logic or sensors, so clearly the most basic robotic model.
Here, we are going to build two robots. Both are references from John Baichtal’s book Robot Builder.
- Pizza Saver Vibrobot: In this, a vibration motor is connected to the plastic pizza tables.
- Computer Fan Vibrobot: In this, a computer fan is attached with a motor so as to propel itself.
Now, let’s learn about these Vibrobots step-by-step.
1. Pizza saver
Instead of wheels, Pizza Saver Vibrobot uses a pizza saver. Its lower area is used for buzz effect when connected with a vibration motor. To make it fully functional, a coin cell is added to it. As a result, the vibrobot begins vibrating over the tabletop.
- Pizza saver (buy a pizza, throw it away and preserve the pizza saver)
- Vibration motor (P/N 1201)
- Aluminum foil
- Coin cell battery (3V is fine)
- Masking tape (double-sided) or hot glue
1. Stick foil to the pizza saver with glue. Don’t spread the glue on top of the foil as it may conduct current because of the battery.
2. Use glue to attach the cell to the pizza saver. Make sure the glue isn’t intervening in the connection between the foil and the cell. You can check it by tapping the vibration motor in contact with the cell and foil.
3. Now, glue the vibration motor to the pizza motor.
4. Finally, tape the leads to the battery top and foil. You can use either hot glue or masking tape, but in this case, the tape is highly recommended.
You are down with your first vibrobot. When you want to dismantle it, just get rid of the tape or glue.
2. Computer fan
This robot is a little challenging than the previous one. We’ll need more batteries as well as a bigger motor. Interestingly, we will build our very own vibration motor by altering a computer fan.
- Computer fan (any, for example, P/N COM-97379)
- Wooden plate (with same dimensions as the computer fan)
- Four screws to attach the plate to the fan
- Four AAA Lithium batteries (required to run the fun smoothly, regular alkaline batteries don’t perform well)
- 4-AAA battery park along with switch
- Hot glue gun
1. Use the screws to attach the plate to the fan
2. Place batteries in the battery pack. Make sure the switch is turned off.
3. Stick the battery pack to the plate with glue. The switch must be facing upwards.
4. Twist the ends and lead the wires together. And you are all set.
Robotics is an interesting field. Beginning from basics, you can build robots that can help the vast public in their daily life. For now, we learned about its applications, types, and how to build two basic robots with safety measures.
Robot Builder: The Beginner’s Guide to Building Robots by John Baichtal
© 2020 PS Tavishi