At 560 pages, this is a huge book which covers almost everything that a
robotics hobbyist might be interested in. Topics include: Modifying and controlling hobby
R/C servo motors; frame materials; batteries; software utilities and freeware for
robotics; various microcontroller boards and programming languages; using infrared LEDs;
using motors and gears from toys; how to control small DC gearhead motors; useful catalogs
for robot builders; making your own PCBs; design of a line-following sensor array; working
with stepper motors; tele-operation of your robot; building and programming Sumo robots;
building a fire-fighting robot; a simple robotic eye; using an electronic compass;
submersible robots; robot soccer; combat robots; and robot competitions.
Believe it or not, the above list is only a small part of the territory
that this book covers. The author also includes building details for several robots
including Huey, Max, BYRD, RDM, Hercules, Ready-set-go, M1, and Tacklebot. Karl Lunt has
really given us our money's worth with this book!
Forewords & Introductions
Building a robot fascinates people. Seeing the mechanical fruits of your labor roll,
slither, stalk, or lurch across the living room floor has fired the imagination of tinkers
of all ages. Whether your ideal machine mows the lawn, explores Mars, fetches beer, or
just looks way cool, the feeling is, if you can imagine it, you can build it. Or at least,
you can try to build it.
But first-time 'bot builders quickly hit one of many walls, and often call it quits.
Unlike other high-tech hobbies, robot-building requires a workable tool set in a wide
range of fields. You need mechanical tools for building frames and mounts, electronics
gear for wiring circuitry, and software to write the code that makes everything work
together. Few people, starting out, have a strong enough tool set in all three areas to
pull off a first robot.
Even having a well-stocked workroom and a hulking PC isn't enough, because you also need
the skill set to use all of these tools well. A strong frame loaded with top-notch
electronics just gathers dust without robust software to drive it. The best robotics
program written is worthless unless you can load it onto a working microcontroller with
good mechanics surrounding it.
These seemingly insurmountable walls face anyone trying to build their first robot. Some
people scale down their ambitions, opting for a simpler, though perhaps less satisfying,
first project. Others charge ahead, sometimes creating a masterpiece but more often making
a mess. All too many give up, postponing and eventually abandoning the dream of watching
their own mechanical creation chase the family cat.
But the walls aren't insurmountable, only tall, and any task can be made simpler if you
follow in the footsteps of others. It was to break down these walls, or at least break a
trail around them, that I began writing a column on amateur robotics in Nuts & Volts
magazine, back in October of 1992. Each month, I tried to provide one more foothold for
those dreaming the dream. Topics included how to write motor control software, how to wire
up a microcontroller, or how to make a super wheel mount. Scattered through the hard-core
robotics info was the occasional discussion of famous or fascinating machines built by
others, and sometimes I would include full instructions on a complete robotics project.
Each column was different and, I hope, useful. I know they were lots of fun to write.
Yet even writing about robots can become wearying, and after nearly 70 columns, I decided
to call it quits, to change direction. But the calls from readers asking for a collection
of my columns, and for copies of older columns missed or lost, was incessant and, finally,
decisive. So I present here a selection of my past Amateur Robotics columns.
These are my favorites, written with the beginner and intermediate builders in mind. Those
of you who have never seen a microcontroller should be able to pick up a working knowledge
without too much effort. If you have already built a couple of large electronics projects,
you will find useful information specific to making a robot run. And those readers with a
'bot or two behind them already will find ideas for new robotics projects.
These columns represent tools, built from my experience, to make the hobby of amateur
robotics more fun and more rewarding. Most of the tools herein are my own design, the
fruits of my own hours. Others are collaborative efforts, the results of projects I
completed with fellow robot hackers. Regardless of the source, think of each column as one
more tool that you can bring to bear on a large and intricate problem, that of building a
robot to call your own.
Some of these columns show their age. Many appeared several years ago and deal with items
no longer available. I doubt anyone will be able to find a Ready-Set-Go toy truck
and I'm sure all of the surplus bargains (and even some of the surplus outlets) have
vanished by now. But the techniques I used for modifying or upgrading those items still
have value, and you can learn a lot from the approaches I describe.
Other columns describe material that was novel at the time, but has since matured or even
disappeared, replaced by newer and better. But the columns still contain useful
information, and the recent history they provide helps illustrate how quickly this hobby
I tried to arrange these columns based on subject matter, but often an article covers
multiple subjects. Thus, you might find a column that discusses IR sensor technology and
how to write a 68hc11 interrupt handler. To help you sort out what column handles which
subjects, I've provided short descriptions in the table of contents. You can also use the
index at the back of the book for more help. But I encourage you to view this mixture of
subject matter as an inducement to browse, to read through each column repeatedly, sifting
it for information and for ideas on your next robotic project.
This hobby is as much about people as it is about hardware. The fun I've had building
robots over the years has been multiplied tenfold by the joy of working with the
brightest, most capable group of hackers I've ever known. The membership of the Seattle
Robotics Society served as springboard, catalyst, cheerleader, critic, and incubator for
all of the ideas you see here, and I owe them all more thanks than I can express.
Finally, my wife, Linda, deserves both praise and apologies for putting up with the long
hacking sessions, the too-short deadlines, and the frustrations that come with the hobby.
I know she enjoyed the successes, the fun of watching me finish another machine, but she
also had to put up with the stress when that machine didn't work, and her patience and
support helped make the column and this book possible.
Keep on keeping on...
Table of Contents
Part 1. Getting Started
Inspiration and Implementation
Your First 68hc11 Microcontroller
Allow Me to Introduce Huey
The Basics of Hobby Robotics
An Intro to 68hc11 Firmware
Part 2. Software
My Tiny Forth Compiler
A First Look at SBasic
Remote Reloads with 811 bug
The Ultimate PC Robot Tool
Inside the 68hc11
Part 3. Electronics
Quick and Easy 68hc11 Expansion
Introducing the BOTBoard
A Simple DC Gearhead Motor Controller
A Gel-cell Battery Charger for Cheap
Build a Switcher with the MAX642 IC
Try This Junk Box Switcher Supply
Son of BOTBoard
More (and More) LEDs
Design of a Simple Line-following Array
Stepper Motor Basics
A First Look at the 68hc12
Check Out This New 68hc12
Part 4. Mechanics
A Basic Robot Design
And Now, Here's ... Max!
Build an Open-frame Robot Body
Adding an Encoder to a R/C Servo
Part 5. Robotics Projects
The Rapid Deployment Maze
Build BYRD, a Back Yard Research Drone
Rally 'Round the 'Bot, Boys!
The Dead-Reckoning Event
Hercules, My Smallest Robot
My Marble Maze Machine
Tackle-bot, a Backyard Explorer
Try Your Hand at a Mini-Sumo Robot
I Start on a Fire-fighting Robot
Part 6. Adventures in Hacking
Decoding a TV Remote Control
Wiring Up an RF Modem Link
A Dirt-Cheap 8051 Development System
A Dirt-Cheap 8051 Development System, Part Two
Hacking a 68302 Modem Board
Hacking a 68302 Modem Board, Part Two
The Ready-Set-Go Toy Truck
Reworking the GameBoy
Part 7. The 68hc11
A Look At the SPI
68hc11 Memory Expansion
Part 8. Way Cool Robots
A Visit to the MIT Campus
Designing an Interactive Robot Display
Deep-Sea Submersible Robots
Cleaning up the Tennis Court
The Extremes of Hobby Robotics
A Whole Lot of Robots
Part 9. Sidelights
The NCC Al-CDROM
A Typical(?) SRS Meeting
Some Powerful Software Tools
Appendix A. Contacts
Appendix B. Hobby Servo Mods
Appendix C. Web Pages