Fast Robot Prototyping

IBM has just published a new article in it’s developerWorks section entitled “Wireless robotics: Fast robot prototyping.” Written by Erik Zoltan, the article approaches robotics development with a “bottom-up” approach, a process during which the subsystems are built and ultimately assembled with no specific goal of what the final robot will look like. Prototyping using this method offers the advantage of working with a system that can very easily and quickly be tweaked: disassembled, reconfigured and rebuilt repeatedly before the final design is settled on, and the robot is built in a sturdier more permanent way with more durable materials.

In the article the author explains how to prototype a wireless robot by walking the reader through a prototype he built, modified and finalized in only a couple of hours. He first starts by explaining the materials that are available to the home robot hacker for rapid prototyping. These include many things that may be obvious to most, including: Legos and Erector Sets, but another material that may not be so obvious, and is a favorite of the author for the first iteration of his prototypes: cardboard. He also covers materials suitable for later stages of prototyping including metals like aluminum, plastics like clear acrylic and PVC piping, and foamcore board. Finally before diving into his robot he discusses the pros and cons of hacking an existing product like a toy robot or vehicle to use as a base for robotic development.

The actual prototyping he details covers only the first two cycles of his robot’s development. The first version of the robot is made almost entirely from cardboard. He spends some time covering the deficiencies of this first design, some of which he recognizes as true design flaws while others are attributed to the limitations of the building materials themselves. He follows through on this analysis by rebuilding the robot making the necessary design changes and upgrading the building materials from cardboard to acrylic and aluminum. He stops here, but rightfully points out that these are only the first two steps in a much longer prototyping process.

Although the author goes in to no specific detail at all about the functionality or programming of the robot’s subsystems, this article is a good read if for no other reason than to see how one robot hacker overcomes development challenges by making use of the everyday materials available to him.


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