How to build a robot

So you want to know how to build a robot? Those are great news. Whether you want to do that as a hobby or for any other purpose robot building is a very useful activity. Why it is so? Well, because robot building improves and polishes many skills such as electronics, programming, mechanical engineering, et cetera.

But don't be afraid, you don't have to be an expert in those fields to build a working robot. Of course, you will get smarter after this task. Still, the level of skill required is dependent of the way you are going to build your robot as well as how complicated you want your robot to be. If you want to build a C-3PO then - Oh my!

c-3po naked
A picture byskpy, released under a Creative Commone license.

As you may already know, I am going pretty broad on everything I write about. That is because I want to cover as much topic-relevant topics as possible. And that is so because I was really fed up searching the net when I needed some info on robots.

Usually, it took a lot of time to find everything I wanted. So I made this site. The idea is that here you will find... you guessed - all on robots. At the moment I am trying to tell something on everything but as the time goes I will go more in depth with every topic. So, I hope that one day this site will cover almost everything on everything about robots!

So, this section won't be different. I will try to discuss as many ways how to build a robot as possible. Of course, building from scratch is the coolest way to do that. But, as you know, there is more than one way to skin a cat!

How to build a robot from scratch

OK, in my opinion this is the most advanced way to build a robot. Basically, you take some electronics components, a robot microcontroller (or maybe even a single board computer), wheels, motors , batteries, sensors and other stuff and... Well, make a robot. You do all the design, the entire planning, programming, etc, etc. So it is all your creation.

As far as I know, this is the most common way to construct a line-follower robot or a sumobot for a competition. Even if you know nothing about electronics and all that stuff don't be afraid. There are many great tutorials on the net on this topic. I will definitely make my own tutorial too... someday.

By now, if you are really interested in this topic, please check out society of robots site on how to build a robot. That is a great information source. They also have some pretty good and easy to follow tutorials.

Robot kits

Assembling a robot kit can be the easiest, as well as a not-so-easy way how to build a robot. Available kits can vary widely - both in terms of price and complexity. There are robot kits that are basically something like robot building tutorials found on the net with the difference that you don't have to buy parts separately.

So, many of the skills needed to build a robot from scratch will be needed to assemble this kind of kit. For example, you should be able to solder electronics components. As I said, robot kits can fall in a broad price range. This type is no exception. The price depends of the level of complexity.

There are also beginner robot kits. These usually are already soldered, you just have to assemble the parts together. Whether you will have to program it or not depends of the kit.

Then there are advanced robot kits. These can require soldering but usually they don't. What is advanced about them then? Well the robots themselves. These can be even humanoid robots that have very advanced control mechanisms.The borders between these "types" of robot kits are very blurred. But basically a kit can be regarded as a beginner kit if it requires little knowledge and skill and the robot itself is fairly simple.

A kit can be regarded as intermediate if it requires some knowledge and skill; the robot can be fairly simple or a bit more complex. And last but not least - a kit can be regarded as advanced if a robot itself is very advanced and/or the kit requires some serious level of skill and knowledge.

Construction kits

These differ a bit from the above mentioned robot kits. Do you remember those construction sets where you could assemble various things as you wish? Well, the idea is basically the same. There are various components including electronics, sensors, actuators, etc, that enable you to build a robot.

So, the main difference from above mentioned kits is following. With a construction kit you can, basically, invent different robots, whereas in the case of a usual robot kit you can assemble only one specific robot. Usually, no soldering is required.

Lego Mindstorms, Vex robotics design system and Bioloid are a few examples of this type of robot kits. Read more on different robot construction kits here.

Phidgets

Yes, they even deserve a seperate headline. The Phidget system actually isn't a robot construction kit, it's more like a control-evertyhing-from-your-PC system. No structural parts are included, only electronic components such as sensors, motor controllers, IO boards.

The strong side of this system, however, is ease of programming. There's a special API developed to handle low level tasks such as communication. Anyway, if you'd like to find out more, read my article on Phidgets.

Development platforms

These are robotic platforms you can build upon. Let's imagine that you have a great idea you want to test but you are wondering how to build a robot that is capable of doing the basic tasks. It can seem like a lot of wasted time to build a robot which could move around and sense its surroundings if you are willing to test something bigger like robot networking for example.

Because of this roomba hacks became pretty popular once the roomba came out. There was a ready robot that had all the necessary hardware for the basics. So people hacked them in order to enable them to do other things than just cleaning.

It grew to such a scale that roomba sumo competitions are being organized around the world now. Irobot understood what people want and for a few years now we have an iRobot Create which is a robotic development platform based on roomba.

Of course, it is not the only robotic development platform on the market. There are also others. Anyway, these semi finished products can be very useful in science and education applications. This is not limited of course, hobbyists also use development platforms.

Are you wondering why use robot kits, development platforms, etc if you can build a robot from scratch? Well the reasons why people build robots is as many or probably more than there are ways how to build a robot.

Parents could want their offspring to learn something new. But they don't want them to mess around with a soldering gun. Electronics students could want to take their knowledge into the next level and add some mechanics to control.

Mechanical engineering students could want to add some brains to their creations without tampering with electronics too much. Programmers could want to test their knowledge outside the computer environment. Researchers could want to test their new idea without spending their valuable time on the basics.

These are just a few reasons I can imagine on the spot. But these illustrates quite clearly that different reasons would require a different way of how to build a robot. As I said at the beginning of this article - there is more than one way how to skin a cat.

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