Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Attack of the Robot Books

I have just read -- or at least heavily skimmed -- four books on building your own robots:

Robot Building for Beginners
Robotics Demystified
The Robot Builder’s Bonanza
Junkbots, Bugbots & Bots on Wheels

Each book had its own merits and each book might be quite useful to someone who wanted to get serious about making robots.

But -- before I offer thoughts on each book --let me explain that I’m not serious about making robots, nor do I wish to be. But I do want to make a few little bug-type robots that can navigate my kitchen.
The books sort of assume that you’re willing to buy a soldering set, learn to solder, deal with the toxic nature of solder, learn the color codes on tiny resistors, spend money, etc…

No thanks. I just want to have some cheap fun. Emphasis on fun and double emphasis on cheap.

None of the books had what I consider a “Hello World” starter project. Something I can sit down in one evening and do, just to get started and understand a few simple components. (Something like a Bristlebot, for example. Now that was cheap fun!)

With all that said, here’s a mini-review for each book:
Robot Building for Beginners. This book is quite appealing. The whole thing is devoted to building a single robot. A line-follower. He takes you step by step and explains all sorts of underlying robotics concepts along the way. If you wanted to build a good, serious robot, I can see this book taking you a long way.

Robotics Demystified. This book actually kept my interest the longest. It’s the opposite of the previous book. He describes lots of different projects and concepts, but doesn’t actually get into the step-by-step of any of them. You’ll have great respect for the worm gear when you’ve read this one.

The Robot Builder’s Bonanza. Packed with information, but a lot of it left me saying “whuh-huh?” The instructions might be enough for some folks. But definitely not for me. Also, the cover boasts “99 Inexpensive Robotics Projects.” Where are they? Did I miss about 90 of them?

Junkbots…I really dig the idea here. They encourage you to rip open tape players, VCRs and other junk in search of parts. The book is quite nice. And I can imagine a clever person with a few bucks to spend and no fear of soldering having fun with it, learning robotics and becoming a genius.

But I’m afraid it won’t be me. However, I have ripped open some junk, put some pieces together and, yes, made my own robot. He could drive forward and when he hit a wall he’d flail about, but never manage to actually get unstuck. The important thing was he KNEW he was stuck. I’d show you a picture, but I’ve already torn it apart to start my next robot.

So, yes, I’m having cheap fun and the books got me started (along with the Make:Blog and Instructables and Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories… ). I’ve even got hopes of building a real Junkbot someday and for now I’m happy with my junky bots.


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Have a great day!

Colleen said...