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Vol. 3 No. 3
March 2005

Circle #106 on the Reader Service Card.

CoverInside.qxd 2/7/2005 4:19 PM Page 2

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Circle #60 on the Reader Service Card.

To g e t y o u r o w n J a m e c o c a t a l o g :
Circle #59 on the Reader Service Card. w w w. J a m e c o . c o m / n v c
PCB123.qxd 1/28/2005 10:28 AM Page 3

Circle #27 on
the Reader Service Card.
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Features & Projects
26 Inside the Iron Man
Carlos Owens’ 18-Foot Mecha Giant

30 The Mini Servo Walker

Part 1: The Construction of a Hex Walker

35 Eastern Canadian Robot Games 26

Eighty Robots Compete for the Gold

39 R2-D2: A PC-Powered Robot

Bring the Movie into Your Living Room

47 Robosapien2, Bigger Than Ever

Introducing the New Model and Some Friends

51 Reusable Robot Software

Part 2: Localization and Odometry

76 Zoë on the Atacama Desert

Training Robots for Other Worlds

82 The Heath HERO Robot

Looking Back at a Popular Robot

On The Cover
Bounding onto the cover this
month is Robopet, one of

WowWee’s latest creations.
Photo courtesy WowWee, Ltd.

This Page: A night shot of the

Atacama campground.
Photo courtesy Carnegie-Mellon

SERVO Magazine (ISSN 1546-0592/CDN Pub Agree#40702530) is published monthly for $24.95 per year by T & L Publications, Inc., 430
ADDITIONAL ENTRY MAILING OFFICES. POSTMASTER: Send address changes to SERVO Magazine, 430 Princeland Court,
Corona, CA 92879-1300 or Station A, P.O. Box 54,Windsor ON N9A 6J5;
TOC-x.qxd 2/4/2005 11:12 AM Page 5

If every tool, when ordered, or even of its own accord,
could do the work that befits it ... then there would be no
need of apprentices for the master, workers, or of slaves for
VOL. 3 NO. 3
the lords. — Aristotle, 322 B.C.

Departments Columns
6 Mind/Iron 8 Rubberbands
The R2-D2 Effect When Robots Talk Back
7 Bio-Feedback 12 Ask Mr. Roboto
Where You Have a Voice Your Problems Solved Here
18 Events Calendar 22 Twin Tweaks
Find a Show Near You Tweaking the Land Sea 2 R/C
19 Robotics Showcase 60 GeerHead
Get What You Need Quick Six-Legged Forest Walker
20 Brain Matrix 65 Robytes
Servos News from the Robotics World
44 New Products 67 Robotics Resources
The Latest Project Parts Framework for Your Robot
46 Robo-Links 80 Appetizer
Your Link to Parts and Services So You Want to Build Robots?
58 SERVO Bookstore
Feed Your Brain
73 Menagerie
ROBOlympics are Coming Soon
81 Advertiser’s Index
A List of Supporting Advertisers

Coming 4.2005
Neural Networks 101
Stephen L. Thaler, Ph.D., president
and CEO of Imagination Engines,
Inc., introduces the complex
concepts of neural networks
capable of human-level discovery
and invention. He describes the
“mental” structures needed to
create neural networks and their
JanPages6&7.qxd 2/2/2005 3:22 PM Page 6

Published Monthly By
The TechTrax Group — A Division Of
T & L Publications, Inc.
430 Princeland Court
Corona, CA 92879-1300
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FAX (951) 371-3052

Mind / Iron

Subscription Order ONLY Line

by Ryan Lee Price Œ

f you were to ask any average person to mostly transportation with know-it-all PUBLISHER

I name a robot, any robot, invariably they

would rattle off the likes of R2-D2 and
C-3P0 with minimal difficulty. That’s
optional features that caused a lot of
fantastic sparks. The evil robots are where
we find the conflict and drama that drive
Larry Lemieux

understandable. They’re the world’s most people to the movies. VP OF SALES/MARKETING
popular robotic duo, but — along with HAL (though not really a robot, one Robin Lemieux
Robby the Robot from Forbidden Planet and could argue that he was autonomously the
the “Lost in Space” robot, B-9 — they whole ship), on the other hand, caused the
represent the exception to the understanding conflict in 2001 and had to be stopped. The
Ryan Lee Price
that robots are generally portrayed as first ever robot to grace the silver screen —
antagonists in the movies and on TV. Maria from Metropolis — is a prime example.
Given the amount of evil robots as Guess what happened after robot Maria MANAGING EDITOR
adversaries in mainstream films, it really received the soul from the human Maria? Alexandra Lindstrom
comes as no surprise why the majority of Yep, she turned evil, showing us that robots
people see robots as antagonistic characters are not designed to handle human feelings,
that are constantly altering their directives, and they revert to the lowest form of Mary Descaro
changing their programs, and disobeying emotion when forced to. Singing cowboy
their primary functions to enable themselves Gene Autry fought the evil robot army of
to do what we'd expect about 35 minutes Queen Tika in Phantom Empire, while 20 WEB CONTENT/STORE
into the film: resent and then try to destroy years later we watched “Gort” decide the Michael Kaudze
all of mankind. Popular entertainment is fate of mankind in The Day the Earth Stood
driven by conflict, struggle, and adversity. Still. PRODUCTION/GRAPHICS
You'd be bored to tears if you sat through Fast forwarding to a more modern era, Shannon Lemieux
two hours of a movie without the drama of the opinion hasn't much changed. Most
good versus evil. notable in this group are: Ash in Alien — STAFF
Sure, there are plenty of good robots who killed most of the crew (as opposed to Dawn Saladino
Corrie Panzer
out there (V.I.N.CENT and Bob, those two Bishop in Aliens who saved only some of the
Kristin Rutz
lovable trash cans from The Black Hole, the crew), the Cylons, Roy Batty, Leon, Pris and
annoying Johnny 5 from Short Circuit, Rachael Rosen — the murderous lot from OUR PET ROBOTS
Andrew from Bicentennial Man, and those Blade Runner, Enforcement Droid 209 in Guido
little service robots from Silent Running: RoboCop, all of the robots except Sonny in Mifune
Huey, Duey, and Luey). If we wanted to iRobot, and the list goes on.
Copyright 2005 by
stretch it to television, we could even include These robots controlled the outcome of
T & L Publications, Inc.
KITT from “Knight Rider,” Data from “Star the movies they were in because they were All Rights Reserved
Trek,” and bumbling Twiki from “Buck the central conflicts and the sources of the
Rodgers.” main characters’ motivation: destroy the All advertising is subject to publisher's approval.
The vast number of these good robots robot before the robot destroys me. We are not responsible for mistakes, misprints,
aren't plot drivers (Bicentennial Man The more robots that come into or typographical errors. SERVO Magazine
assumes no responsibility for the availability or
excluded); they don't create the central common usage and become accepted as
condition of advertised items or for the honesty
drama of a movie or TV show. The goodness the tools, teammates, pets, and friends we of the advertiser.The publisher makes no claims
of R2-D2 didn't convince Luke to fight the want them to be, the less we'll have to for the legality of any item advertised in SERVO.
dark side (he only brought the message, to watch a movie about a horde of them This is the sole responsibility of the advertiser.
which Luke replied, "sorry, wrong number"), descending on a small village of innocent Advertisers and their agencies agree to
and KITT never caused a crooked sheriff to people. I mean, when is the last time you indemnify and protect the publisher from any
and all claims, action, or expense arising from
trick an old lady out of her land. He was saw a movie about a hair dryer? SV
advertising placed in SERVO. Please send all
subscription orders, correspondence, UPS,
overnight mail, and artwork to: 430 Princeland
Court, Corona, CA 92879.

6 SERVO 03.2005
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three-axis feedback on the position of Complete the Projects

Contact Us the body in mid-air. If there are SERVO is a very nice magazine. I
If you have general questions or accelerometer boards available that believe that a balance between how-
comments about SERVO Magazine,
please contact us: SERVO Bio-Feedback, are easy to connect to a servopod, to and team reporting would serve the
430 Princeland Court, Corona, CA 92879; that connection information would be general robotic builder better. A series
or email: handy. Low-cost accelerometers of articles that step the builder
measure two g-forces. What if my through the construction of a drive
Up the Ante robot generates four g-forces? platform, controls, software, etc.,
I enjoy the magazine, but keep How about adding a search would gain more interest.
wishing for articles with more function on the website to search George Jones
substance. I would like to see some topics in past issues? My Internet via Internet
articles that go the next step beyond connection is 26.4 kps. Broadband is
just motorizing a platform with one or not available where I live. Some of In future months, George, you
two sensors. This has been done your web pages take a long time to will see SERVO not only as a source of
several times, but I find that reading download. Can you lighten them? entertainment, but as a guide to the
about what other people have done to Dennis Evans future of building robots and
compete in a competition shows more via Internet automation for the beginner and the
of the real word issues. advanced alike. — Editor
The Trinity Fire Fighting contest is Dennis, we’re sorry to hear about
a good challenge. How about just your slow Internet connection speed, Great Job, SERVO
taking one of the less trivial but in order to read the content on It is great to see a magazine like
requirements and assisting the reader some of the pages of our website, it this finally hitting the stands on a
in solving it or seeing multiple has to be a certain size. regular basis and packed with so many
solutions for them. We don’t even To answer your question, Signal good articles spanning the world of
need to solve them, just discussing the Quest in Lebanon, NH personal robotics! I enjoy reading your
problems helps. The difference (www.signalquest. com), offers the magazine and seeing what other
between reading a university research SQ-XL-DAQ line of accelerometers groups and individuals have worked
paper and wanting to try an idea they with digital serial output. Using a on! Keep up the good work!
discuss and what SERVO discusses is serial interface cable, it can function Forrest
like the Grand Canyon. Yet, I don’t as a self-contained data acquisition via Internet
think they are really that far ahead of system for two- or three-axis
the amateur robotics person, except acceleration, tilt, and vibration Thank you very much, Forrest. We
maybe in funding. I would like to see measurements, with models available are happy that you are satisfied with
SERVO fill this gap and still embrace for ±1.5 to ±50 g-forces. the magazine.
the new person if at all possible.
Jef f Dunker

Calling all Robots!

via Internet

As the new editor, Jeff, one of my

ideas for future issues is to print more Attention roboteers! We want to hear from you!
projects about purpose-built robots Do you have a great bot that you would like to share
that show the reader a real-life
application and how it might apply to
with the world? We’re looking for anything from sumos
something you’re building at home. to line followers to multi-servo robotic arms. Send us a
There are thousands of roboteers out couple of pictures of your latest project, and we’ll be
there who are building some amazing happy to show it off in our “Menagerie” department.
things. My job is to bring them to you. Don’t forget to include a few words about how you built
— Editor
it and what went into it. For prints, send them to:
Some SERVO Suggestions SERVO Menagerie, 430 Princeland Court, Corona,
Please do an article on CA, 92879; for digital images, email them to
accelerometers. I am looking at a
trotting robot design that will need a

7 SERVO 03.2005 7
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by Jack Buffington

When Robots Talk Back:

A Simple Way to Add Speech
Capability to Your Robot

already have learned how to give your robot the ability
with you by using a text-based LCD display
took Winbond’s chip and packaged it into a very easy-to-use
product that they are now selling through Parallax, Inc.
and by generating sounds of its own. This column will raise (
the bar a little higher yet by showing how you can give your In the past, other speech processors have had some
robot a voice so that it can simply tell you something instead pretty terrible output. If you trained your ear, you could
of requiring you to read a display or interpret a set of tones. understand the words that they were saying, but if you were
This might sound like it would be a difficult task, but — in reality encountering a device that used those chips for the first time,
— it is quite easy. With just a little bit of work, you can have you likely wouldn’t understand what they were saying.
a remarkably natural-sounding voice that far exceeds the qual- That is not the case now.
ity of other voice generators that were previously available. With the Emic Text-to-Speech Module, you have a clearly
You may be familiar with a company called Winbond. A intelligible woman’s voice that is only slightly synthetic-sounding
few years ago, they purchased a company called ISD, which due to the lack of pitch and speed variations that people use
produced a series of analog EEPROM devices that allowed while speaking. Winbond has an interactive demo of what
you to record varying lengths of audio onto the chip for later their chip sounds like on their website. You can find this
playback. Winbond continues to produce these chips, but has demo at
started to branch off of that idea and is now producing other
interesting audio products, such as chips that can play MIDI Let’s Make It Work
music and chips that allow you to convert text input into
speech. There is a company called Grand Idea Studios that When you order the Emic Text-to-Speech Module, it will

Figure 1. Pinout for the Emic Figure 2. Connection between the Emic module and a PIC.
Text-to-Speech Module.

8 SERVO 03.2005
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Rubberbands and Bailing Wire

arrive as a single inline pin package that you can fit into any
prototyping board that has 0.1-inch spacing. You only need
to connect four of the pins to your microprocessor. Careful Not all nine-volt battery clips are equal. The flimsy
experimentation with the timing of how you send your kind that you can get at your neighborhood store (the
commands would allow you to reduce this down to just one. one that claims to have answers) will last between four
You can connect a speaker directly to the circuit board and and 10 connections to a battery before the wires break
hear the speech at a reasonable level. If you want it to be away from their solder
louder, though, the board has a special pin that you can joints. Look for hard-
connect to an external amplifier. The Emic board runs at five shelled connectors — such
volts, so you will need an external regulator to power it. That as shown on the right —
shouldn’t be a problem, since you will likely be using one
from other suppliers. They
already for your microprocessor.
will last much longer.
Figure 1 shows the pinout for the Emic module. Figure 2
shows how the module can be connected to a PIC microcon-
troller. The Emic’s serial lines communicate at 2400 baud. that you will want to know when using the Emic module. The
Communication with the Emic module can be done through first — and most important — is the “say” command. If, for
two different methods. The first method uses single byte example, you sent the string “say=I’ve been a bad robot!;” to
commands to tell the module what you want to do. The the Emic module, it would faithfully speak that sentence.
other method uses ASCII commands. In this column, we will Anything after the equals sign will be said. Notice that there is
use the second method because it is more straightforward. If a semicolon following the sentence. This semicolon tells the
you are limited in program space or processor time, you Emic module that you have finished sending a command. If you
might opt for the first method. don’t send the semicolon, the Emic module will remain silent.
Let’s go over the function of each of the four pins that The next command that you will want to know is the vol-
you need to connect to. The /RESET pin allows you to do a ume command, as there are eight volume levels. They range
hard reset on the Emic module. This will clear all settings and from zero to seven. The default level is Level Four, while zero
reset the board to its initial start-up state. In normal use, you sets the volume to be fully off. To change the volume to Level
will drive this pin high to activate the module. Going upward, Six you would send “volume=6;”. Notice that a semicolon
the next pin in Figure 1 is the BUSY pin. This pin is almost once again followed the command. The Emic module can be
self-explanatory. When the Emic module is busy processing a directly connected to a speaker, as was shown in Figure 2,
command, it will raise this pin high. This pin does not instant- but the volume level is only suitable for a device that will be
ly go high after you send a command, so you will need to used in a relatively quiet location when you do this. If you
wait up to a millisecond after sending your commands before need additional volume, then you could connect an external
checking this pin’s state. Since it takes a varying amount of amplifier — such as the LM386 — to the AOUT pin.
time to speak each sentence or process
each command that you send to the
Emic module, it is a good idea to check Professional Integrated Development Environment
PIC® and PICmicro® are registered trademarks of Microchip Technology Inc. in the USA and other countries.
this pin to see if the module is ready to
accept new commands. The C Compiler by xxxxxxx
At the top of the module is the Designed specifically and only for the PICmicro®MCU
Serial In pin. You will be sending What other compiler can you say that for? W indows and Linu x
your commands to this pin in RS232
serial format, except that you will be
Command Line

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±12 volts. All commands are sent at s Electronic Compass
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SERVO 03.2005 9
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Rubberbands and Bailing Wire

output_high(RESET); // connected to the Emic’s /RESET pin For the volume, pitch, and speed commands, you can
printf(“volume=5;”); opt to send “+” or “-“ instead of a specific level. The Emic
waitOnBusy(); module will take care of adjusting the values for you and will
not let them go above or below their limits. An example of
{ this would be “speed=+;”.
printf(“say=Peat and Repeat went into a store;”); Figure 3 shows a program fragment that will endlessly
waitOnBusy(); cause the Emic module to repeat a stupid joke over and over.
It should be pretty clear from this example that adding
printf(“say=Peat came out.;”);
waitOnBusy(); speech to your robot is almost a no-brainer, and it’s too bad
that everything in robotics isn’t this easy!
printf(“say=Who’s left?;”); The final pin that you may want to use is the Serial Out
waitOnBusy(); pin. This pin will output “OK” after each section of text that
delay_ms(1000); // wait one second you send to it to speak. This pin also allows you to communi-
} cate with the Emic module using other commands that allow
you to do things like create abbreviations for words. You
void waitOnBusy() might, for example, send “TTYL” instead of “talk to you
{ // delays until the busy pin goes low
delay_ms(1); later.” Using the “help;” command will cause the Emic
while(input(BUSY)) module to output a list of commands that you can view if you
{ have the Emic module connected to a terminal program. The
} Emic module’s documentation is well written and provides
descriptions of the commands not described here.
Figure 3. Code to drive the Emic module.
Wrapping It Up
There are two commands that allow you to change the
way that the Emic module sounds. These are the “speed=” One thing to keep in mind when using the Emic module
and “pitch=” commands. The speed command has a range is that speech output does not happen immediately after you
from zero to four and has a default of two. The pitch send it something to say. The Emic module needs a brief
command has a range of zero to six and its default is one. In amount of time to process the text into the necessary
general, you will want to leave these settings alone, since the phonemes (the individual sounds that words can be broken
module sounds best at the defaults. For some situations, down into). Knowing this, you should try to send it the text
though, you may prefer to play around with these to achieve to be spoken so that these pauses happen at appropriate
better results for your application. times, such as the ends of sentences. The reason that you will
need to break up your text is because the Emic module has
Figure 4. Code that has the Emic module say a longer statement. a 128-byte buffer to hold commands and text to be
spoken. If you wanted the Emic module to say something
printf(“say=Four score and seven years ago, our fathers”); like, “Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought
printf(“ brought forth upon this continent a new nation;”);
// the buffer now has 95 characters forth upon this continent a new nation, conceived in
waitOnBusy(); liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are
created equal,” you might want to send it in the manner
printf(“say=conceived in liberty and dedicated to the”); shown in Figure 4.
printf(“ proposition that all men are created equal;”);
waitOnBusy(); Figure 4 breaks this long sentence into two parts in a
place where there would likely have been a dramatic
pause. Neither section of the sentence is longer than 128
RESOURCES characters. The “say=” and the semicolon must be counted
when counting the characters in the buffer. In Figure 4, each sentence fragment is broken into two parts. This was
Sells the C compiler for PIC processors used in this column done to keep the lines of code short. The Emic module will
only speak once it has received a semicolon. Adding speech capability to your robot allows it to
Manufacturer of the PIC microcontroller communicate in a very natural way that people can
understand. This month, you’ve learned how to easily add or this capability. Now, you can do things like get feedback
Possibly the best sources for electronic parts from your robot projects through the telephone, make
your robot interact with someone who is blind, or let your technology-challenged friends have fun playing with your
Sells the Emic module used in this article robots. SV
10 SERVO 03.2005
CIE.qxd 1/28/2005 10:21 AM Page 11

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Circle #25 on the Reader Service Card.

SERVO 03.2005 11
MrRoboto.qxd 1/28/2005 4:45 PM Page 12

Our resident expert on all things

robotic is merely an Email away.

Tap into the sum of all human knowledge and get your questions answered here! From
software algorithms to material selection, Mr. Roboto strives to meet you where you
are — and what more would you expect from a complex service droid?

Pete Miles

Q What is the difference between digital and analog

servos? The guys at the local hobby store tell me
that digital ones are better because they are
stronger and faster than regular servos, but you can buy
different servos that are faster and stronger. The one thing I
work, so that you can understand why digital servos are
different. First off, analog servos use an analog circuitry to
control servo arm position. This usually consists of using
resistors, capacitors, transistors, and a custom IC (or two) to
compare the input commanded position to the actual servo
know for sure is that they are more expensive than regular position, which is then used to control the direction of the
servos. Why do I want to use a digital servo instead of the electric motor to react to any positional errors.
regular, analog servos? The first thing the servo’s control electronics does is to
— Graham Wilson receive the typical one to two ms position command. Then it
Issaquah, WA measures the servo arm’s position by reading the voltage
across the potentiometer that is connected to the servo’s

A For the most part, they are the same. For example, in
a given servo class that has both analog and digital
versions of the same servos (i.e., the Hitec HS-645
and the HS-5645 servos), they use the same cases, gear
sets, bearings, electric motors, and position feedback
output shaft, which is then compared to the commanded
position. If there is any positional error, then a voltage pulse
is sent to the motor to force the motor to move in the
opposite direction of the measured angular error. This is
typical in any servo control application.
potentiometer. The main differences between them are the What becomes interesting here is how the analog servos
internal control electronics and the frequency in which they go about implementing this. Here, the control electronics will
update the motor position. output a simple voltage pulse to the electric motor that is
Before jumping into what is different about digital proportional to the positional error. When there is no error,
servos, here is a little background on how analog servos no voltage is being sent to the drive motor, so the servo stops
moving. When the error is small, the pulse width is small (i.e.,
Figure 1. An Atmel microcontroller is used to control the the amount of time the voltage is being applied to the motor
Hitec HS-5645 digital servo. is small). As the positional error increases, the pulse width
becomes longer.
The electric motor will only move a small amount,
based on how long the voltage pulse width is sent to the
motor. If the pulse width is too small, the servo won’t turn
because the pulse would not be sufficient for the electric
motor to overcome all of the internal friction inside the
overall servo. As the pulse width increases, the electric
motor will move more. Due to the gear reduction in the
servo, however, large electric motor rotations are needed
to cause small servo output shaft movements and,
therefore, small changes in the servo position’s feedback
One of the reasons why the pulse widths sent to the
electric motor are proportional to the positional error is so
that the servo won’t overshoot the desired position. As the
12 SERVO 03.2005
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servo’s output shaft approaches the position update frequency. Faster

desired position, it slows down to frequencies will result in the motor
minimize any overshooting, which is responding to the errors faster and
one of the causes of “servo jitter.” with higher torque. Slower update
The reason for the focus on what frequencies will result in the motor
the servo does after it receives one taking longer to correct positional
position command is that the analog errors and a lower servo output
servo’s control electronics will output torque. If the frequency becomes too
only one pulse to the electric motor slow, then the servo will start to have
for every one to two ms position noticeable power losses and will
command it receives. This is why the look like it is stepping (pulsing) toward
servo’s commanded position is updated its commanded position instead of
50 times a second (50 Hz) to make sure moving smoothly.
that the servo completes the move to Digital servos work a little differ-
its commanded position. ently than this. They still take the same
Since the commanded position is one to two ms input command pulse,
sent to a servo 50 times per second, but instead of outputting a single
this, in turn, results in an electrical pulse to the electric motor, the
pulse width being sent to the electric microcontroller outputs a continuous
motor 50 times per second. This, in PWM signal to a set of transistors/FETs
effect, creates a PWM (Pulse Width to drive the motor. Figure 1 shows the
Modulation) signal that controls the Atmel microcontroller that is used to
motor speed. When the positional control the Hitec HS-5645 digital servo.
error is small, the resulting PWM duty The PWM frequency for most servos is
cycle is small; therefore, the motor 300 Hz, which is about six to 10 times
moves slower because the average volt- faster than the normal updating signal
age is small. As the positional error approach used with analog servos. In
increases, the PWM duty cycle increas- parallel with controlling the motor
es; the motor’s speed will increase position and speed, the microcontroller
because of the higher average voltage. in also measuring the actual position of
This, then, affects the torque the the servo and comparing it to the
motor can deliver. Small positional commanded position.
errors result in slower shaft speeds, Like with the analog servo, the
which then result in lower torque. pulse width of the PWM signal is
Higher positional errors result in higher proportional to the servo position error.
shaft speeds, which then result in When the positional error is zero, the
higher motor torque. This is why the pulse width is also zero, hence a zero
servos resist more the harder you try to percent duty cycle. As the error
turn them. The greater the error, the increases, the pulse width and duty
greater the torque. cycle percentage increases until the
When the error becomes large error becomes large enough that a
enough, the resulting pulse width that constant voltage is sent to the motor
is being sent to the electric motor will (100 percent duty cycle).
equal the time period for the incoming Hence, the main difference
commanded position update frequen- between an analog servo and a digital
cy. When this occurs, a constant volt- servo is the PWM frequency for motor
age is sent to the motor and the motor position and speed control. For analog
delivers its maximum torque. servos, the PWM frequency is driven by
One bit of information that few the input position update frequency
people are aware of is that the and, for digital servos, the PWM
incoming position command update frequency is constant (i.e., 300 Hz) and
frequency does not have to be updated independent of the input position com-
at 50 Hz for a servo to work. The signal mand frequency. Figure 2 illustrates the
can be either faster or slower. The actual control signal differences between an
pulse width that is sent to the motor is analog and digital servo.
only a function of the positional error. So, what are the advantages of a
The motor speed and torque then digital servo over an analog servo?
become functions of the incoming They boil down to torque and a tighter
Circle #55 on the Reader Service Card.
MrRoboto.qxd 1/28/2005 4:48 PM Page 14

dead band. Maximum torque will be the same between the send a single, short pulse to the motor to make it move. The
two. This is because, once a 100 percent duty cycle has been motor needs a certain amount of electrical current in order
achieved, 100 percent voltage (minus any voltage drop to overcome all of the internal friction of the motor to
across the transistors) is applied to the motor. Still, the torque start moving. When the pulse width is not large enough to
advantage occurs during small positional errors. For a given generate enough current to do this, the motor doesn’t move.
duty cycle, the higher PWM frequency allows more current to Because of this, the servo shaft can move a small amount
circulate through the motor to keep it turning during the off more or less than its commanded position without being
times, which results in the motor turning faster and more corrected. This small oscillation is known as the dead band.
power going through the motor. This results in the servo With digital servos, the higher frequency results in more
delivering more torque quicker with smaller positional errors current going through the motor with small positional errors.
when compared to analog servos. Because of this, digital servos will start moving with smaller
With very small positional errors, an analog servo will positional errors than analog servos. Hence, digital servos
have a tighter (smaller) dead
Figure 2. Illustration of the control signal differences in an analog and digital servo. band.
For the R/C car and aircraft
5 5 hobbies, the digital servos
4 4
mean faster response, more
LARGE POSITION holding/transient torque, and
HIGH MOTOR PWM tighter dead band control. This
2 2
DUTY CYCLE makes them very popular for
1 1
the high-performance people.
0 0 For the robotics community,
0 20ms 40ms 0 20ms 40ms though, are these advantages
really that important?
5 5
Hopefully by now you have
4 4
MODERATE POSITION noticed that the only difference
3 ERROR 3 between analog and digital ser-
2 CYCLE AROUND 50% 2 vos is that the PWM frequency
1 1 to the electric motors and the
0 0 digital servo frequency is fixed
0 20ms 40ms 0 20ms 40ms at 300 Hz. The analog servo
frequency, however, can be
5 5 changed to whatever you want.
4 4 The R/C community is stuck
3 ERROR 3 using their transmitters and
receivers that only update the
servo’s position at a frequency
1 1
from 30 to 50 Hz. With robot
0 0
microcontrollers, though, the
0 20ms 40ms 0 20ms 40ms
servo motor’s PWM frequency
5 5
can be easily increased just by
increasing the input position
4 4
NO POSITION frequency. In fact, just by
NO MOTOR PWM changing the frequency of the
2 2 one to two ms input position
1 1 updates, you can control the
0 0 servo speed. Thus, the lower
0 20ms 40ms 0 20ms 40ms cost analog servos can be made
to perform as good as or better
5 5 than the more expensive digital
4 4 servos.
3 INCOMING POSITION 3 This is not to say that digi-
COMMAND PULSE tal servos don’t have their place
2 2

1 1 in the robotics community.

0 0
Some servo manufacturers have
0 20ms 40ms 0 20ms 40ms
servos that are programmable,
and these programmable
features can be very beneficial
14 SERVO 03.2005
MrRoboto.qxd 1/28/2005 4:49 PM Page 15

to robots. Right now, there are only two Specification AI Motor-601 AI Motor-701 AI Motor-1001
programmable servo manufacturers on
the market — Ko Propo and Hitec. Input Voltage Range 5 to 10 volts
Multiplex has a programmable servo Max. Torque @ 9.5 V 83 oz-in 97 oz-in 139 oz-in
line, but they only allow you to reverse
the servo direction. Max Speed @ 9.5 V 90 RPM 82 RPM 60 RPM
The speed, dead band, and servo Gear Ratio 1/160 1/173 1/241
travel of the digital servos sold by
Ko Propo ( are Gear Material Plastic Plastic Plastic & Metal
programmable with a PC. The servos Bearings None None Yes
can be programmed to move faster or
Size 51.6 x 34.3 x 37.1
slower, increase or decrease the dead
band, and create soft limits on the Weight 40 grams 40 grams 46 grams
range of motion the servo can travel. In
Mechanical Connection Points Two
addition, you can program both the rate
of speed change at the dead bands Electrical Connection Points Two
(called punch) and the overshoot Control Signal RS-232
allowance at the servos.
An interesting feature is that an Baud Rate 2400 to 460800 bps
over-current protection can be pro- Number of Modules Per Serial
grammed into the servos. If a maximum Line
amount of current is detected for a Angular Controllable Range 0 to 332 degrees
certain amount of time, the servos will
automatically reduce power. This can be Angular Resolution Two levels, 1.3 degrees, 0.65 degrees
very beneficial in preserving these Inverse Voltage Protection Yes
expensive servos. Ko Propo also has a
class of three servos called the “Red Over-Current Protection Yes
Version” (KHR-8044 ICS, KHR-2346 ICS, 360 Degree Rotation Function Yes
KHR-949 ICS). These digital servos are
not only programmable, but they can Position Feedback Function Yes
provide an actual position feedback. This Current Feedback Function Yes
is beneficial for developing advanced
Speed Control During Position
animatronic posing programs or closed Control Mode Five levels
loop servo position algorithms. The Ko
Speed Control During 360 Degree
Propo servos are very popular in Japan Rotation Mode 16 levels
and Korea for many of the humanoid
robots that compete in the Robo-One Table 1. Megarobotics Actuator Module (servo) specifications.
event ( The only
source for them that I am aware of in the US is Horizon that position. All you have to do is send the one to two ms
Hobbies ( position pulse to it once and it will move to that position
The digital servos from Hitec ( and stay there until told to move differently. This is a great
require a separate hand-held programmer called the HFP-10 advantage for robotics because it eliminates all of the
Hitec Digital Servo Programmer. With this programmer, you
can set the dead band width, servo rotation direction, servo Figure 3. Megarobotics AI Motor-601 Modules.
speed, enable/disable failsafe, and the range of motion and
neutral position. Failsafe is a position where the servo
will move to if it stops receiving a position command,
which is very important for model aircraft. The hand-held
programmer has its own batteries so the servos can be
programmed in the field. Also, the programmer can be used
to test the servo to see if it is working properly.
For robotics applications, the Hitec digital servos have
a very nice feature that — to my surprise — no one has ever
figured out or published. These servos do not require the
position command to be repeated as long as the failsafe
has been disabled (which is the default). When you first
apply power to the servo, it won’t move for about a
second. Then, wherever its current position is, it will hold
SERVO 03.2005 15
MrRoboto.qxd 1/28/2005 4:50 PM Page 16

servos have a range of motion that is 332 degrees, I think

they will work quite well for your application. Table 1 shows
a list of the specifications for these motors. Figure 3 shows a
pair of the AI Motor-601 Modules.
These servo modules have similar size, torque, and speed
ratings as the higher-end R/C servos, but their many other
features make them ideal for the robotics community. For
example, many people will permanently modify R/C servos
by gutting them so that they can rotate 360 degrees. The AI
servos can operate in either position control or continuous
rotation mode by a single program command. In addition,
variable speed is also programmable, which eliminates the
need for a separate speed controller. Since these servos
provide both position and current draw feedback, closed
loop position control systems can be created with over-
current protection that will prevent the motors from
Figure 4. Various attachments and replacement gears that are becoming damaged.
included with each AI Motor Module. These servos are programmed using standard RS-232
signals and the control signals do not need to be repeated
position update overhead headaches that are associated for the servos to hold their position. With baud rates up to
with analog servos. This feature alone makes Hitec digital 460 kbps, multiple servos can be simultaneously controlled
servos my servo of choice. without any noticeable lag between the first and last servo
position command. Another attractive feature of these
servos is that they can be daisy chained together so that a

Q I want to build a model of one of those industrial

robots that are used to weld automobiles. Are there
any hobbyist level servos that have a greater range
of angular motion than the standard R/C servos?
— Mark Packs
single serial control line can control up to 31 different
servos. The daisy chaining greatly simplifies the wiring
between the servos and a microcontroller.
Typical R/C servos come with four different servo horns
that can only be attached to the output spline of the shaft.
Indianapolis, IN The AI Motors come with 11 different attachments that
connect to the output shaft and to the motor’s frame. These

A Take a look at the Megarobotics AI Modules that are

sold by Tribotix ( These servos are
absolutely amazing. Since typical servos have a
maximum angular range of motion of 180 degrees and these
attachments allow multiple motors to be connected to each
other without having to use additional mounting brackets.
One of the other features that make these motors unique is
that there are two different attachment points on the
output shaft. One is on the side of the
motor, which is similar to regular
servos and the other is at the midpoint
HobbyEngineering of the body. This allows motors to be
mounted inline with each other and
The technologybuilder's
reduces the bending stresses on the
output shaft. Figure 4 shows the vari-
Robot KitsForForAll AllSkill
SkillLevelsLevels ICs,Transistors,
ICs, Transistors,Project ProjectKits Kits ous attachments and replacement
gears that are included with every AI
Motors, FrameComponents
Components module.
and andScratch
These motors are relatively new to
the robotics community, but they are
Order Internet,phone,
becoming more and more popular. Due to their modularity and ease of
Books and 1-866-ROBOT-50
1-866-ROBOT-50 programming, they are becoming fairly
1-866-762-6850 popular in the humanoid and
Educational 1-650-552-9925
1-650-552-9925 quadruped robotics communities.
1-650-259-9590 (fax)
Though Tribotix is located in
Real Australia, it took less than a week for
BEAM Kits and
BEAM Kits and Components Components Millbrae,
Millbrae, CACA 94030
94030 the servos that I purchased to reach
Visit ourstore
SFO! Seattle. I was quite amazed, since it
usually takes a month to get parts from
Most ordersship
options. Japan. SV
16 SERVO 03.2005
Full Page.qxd 2/2/2005 4:13 PM Page 17

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SERVO 03.2005 17
Events.qxd 2/3/2005 11:19 AM Page 18

Send updates, new listings, corrections, complaints, and suggestions to: or FAX 972-404-0269

There are a few interesting events shaping up for FIRA, and robot combat.
March, including the annual APEC Micromouse competition,
which will be held in Austin, TX. Also planned for March is
the second ROBOlympics, which promises to be even bigger
than last year’s event, with over 50 events scattered across A p r il 2 0 0 5
the San Francisco State University campus.
The list of events for April and May — which tend to 9-10 Trinity College Fire Fighting Home Robot
be the busiest months — continues to grow as we get Contest
final event information from organizers. We’re listing Trinity College, Hartford, CT
some new events this year, including TEAMS, which is a Could the fire have been set by a robot builder
FIRST-like organization for Maryland middle schools. Also frustrated with the voluminous rules?
new to the list is Istrobot — a university-level event held in
12-14 DTU RoboCup
— R. Steven Rainwater Technical University of Denmark, Copenhagen,
For last minute updates and changes, you can always find Imagine your typical line following contest. Now
the most recent version of the complete Robot Competition add forks in the line, ramps, stairs, gaps in the line,
FAQ at shifts from indoor to outdoor lighting, reversals of
the line shading (white to black), and 50-cm
“gates” though which the robot must pass.
March 2005

6-10 APEC Micromouse Contest 15 Carnegie-Mellon Mobot Races

Hilton Hotel, Austin, TX Wean Hall, CMU, Pittsburgh, PA
This will be the 18th annual APEC Micromouse event. The traditional Mobot slalom and MoboJoust events will be hosted by CMU.
11-12 AMD Jerry Sanders
Creative Design Contest 16 UC Davis Picnic Day Micromouse Contest
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, IL University of California at Davis, CA
The design problem for this contest is new and Every year, UC-Davis has a campus-wide event
different each year. Check the website for the latest known as Picnic Day. Every Picnic Day includes the
news and details. annual micromouse contest. The event follows standard micromouse rules.
19-20 Manitoba Robot Games
Manitoba Museum of Man and Nature, 21-23 FIRST Robotics Competition (National
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada Championship)
A variety of events, including sumo, a robot tractor Georgia Dome, Atlanta, GA
pull, and Atomic Hockey. Corporate sponsored teams of students from all over the country will converge on the Georgia
Dome to pit robots designed from standardized kits
24-27 ROBOlympics of parts against each other. See the website for
San Francisco State University, San Francisco, CA details on this year’s competition.
Lots of events, including sumo, BEAM, Mindstorms,

18 SERVO 03.2005
Events.qxd 2/3/2005 11:44 AM Page 19

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SERVO 03.2005 19
BrainMatrix.qxd 2/3/2005 10:30 AM Page 20













































ERG-VX High Torque
94359Z 1.54 0.79 1.47 2.19 0.13 0.10 N/A 160
Aluminum Heatsink Servo
Competition Digital Servo
94758Z 1.54 0.79 1.47 2.12 0.07 0.06 N/A 92
High Torque

Cirrus CS-80MG Pro 1.60 1.49 0.79 2.01 N/A 0.25 N/A N/A
Standard H/D With
S3305 1.60 0.80 1.50 1.64 0.25 0.20 N/A 99
Metal Gear
Heli/Air High Torque
S9206 1.60 0.80 1.50 1.90 0.19 N/A N/A 132
Futaba Digital Metal Gear High Torque Steering
S9350 1.60 0.80 1.50 2.10 N/R 0.12 N/A N/R
Metal Gear

S9351 High Torque 1.60 0.80 1.40 2.10 N/A 0.15 N/A N/A

HS-645MG High Torque Metal Gear 1.55 0.78 1.48 1.94 0.24 0.20 N/A 107

HS-945MG High Torque 1.55 0.78 1.48 1.97 0.16 0.12 N/A 122
HS-5945MG Digital High Torque 1.55 0.78 1.48 1.97 0.16 0.13 N/A 153

HS-5995TG Digital X-Servo 1.57 0.78 1.45 2.18 N/A 0.15 0.12 N/A

JR Servos DS8611 Digital High Torque 1.58 0.82 1.56 2.24 0.18 N/A N/A 220

KRS-784ICS KHR-1 Robot Servo 1.61 0.82 1.37 1.58 N/A 0.17 N/A N/A
KRS-2346ICS Red Version 1.61 0.79 1.49 2.00 N/A 0.16 N/A N/A

PS-2174 FET PS-2174 FET 1.61 0.79 1.50 1.92 N/A 0.13 N/A N/A
PDS-2144 FET PDS-2144 FET 1.61 0.79 1.50 1.93 N/A 0.13 N/A N/A

20 SERVO 03.2005
BrainMatrix.qxd 2/3/2005 1:48 PM Page 21

Guest Hosted by
Peter Abrahamson

So, you want to build a Robo-One biped robot, but don't know which servos to use. There are so many
options and models to choose from. Do you use analog or digital? How much torque do you need? What
about price? I have created this issue’s “Brain Matrix” comparing most of the major brands and standard
size models of servos that might be useful in a Robo-One.













lA c






Left to right: Airtronics 94359, Kondo





KRS-2346ICS Red Version, Hitec

HS-5995TG, and the Kondo KRS-784ICS
in the feet of the KHR-1 robot.
200 N/A Dual BB Coreless M A $104.99 N/A

One of the first questions asked when

115 N/A Dual BB Coreless M D $99.99 N/A someone is building a Robo-One is “Do I use
analog or digital servos?”There are some amaz-
ing analog servos out there. In my days of build-
130 N/A Dual BB N/A P/M A N/A N/A ing animatronics, puppets, and robots for the
film and TV industry, we used the Airtronics
94358 and 94359 servos for many applica-
125 N/A Bushing N/A M A $37.99 N/A
tions. The torque for the package size was
amazing — 200 oz-in! The price for an analog
N/A N/A Dual BB Coreless M A $89.99 N/A servo was usually less than that of a digital one,
but that seems to be changing.
Now, with digital servos, a whole array of
139 N/A Dual BB Coreless M D $99.99 N/A
options open up for you.With the Hitec digital
servos, you can buy a servo programmer (the
180 N/A Dual BB Coreless M D $109.99 N/A Hitec HFP-10) that allows you to set limits,
reversals, offsets, and speeds within the servo,
rather than wasting valuable memory in the
133 N/A Dual BB Three Pole M A $39.99 N/A
robot’s brain. The new digital servos have
higher torque and speed ratings than most
153 N/A Dual BB Coreless M A $73.99 N/A analog servos.
Some servos are specifically designed for
181 N/A Dual BB Coreless M D $89.99 N/A robots. Hitec has the HS-5995TG with 330 oz-
in of torque, titanium gears, and a spur on the
bottom of the servo for mounting a bearing.
330 412 Dual BB Coreless M D $114.99 Rear Bearing Hub Kondo — the manufacturer of the KHR-1 robot
kit — has come out with a couple of robot-
260 N/A Dual Coreless P/M D $114.99 N/A specific servos: the KRS-784ICS and KRS-
2346ICS Red Version. For around $65.00, the
former is used in the KHR-1 kit and comes with
119.6 N/A Bushing Coreless P D $65.00 Rear Bearing Hub/ICS plastic gears, 119 oz-in of torque, and a bear-
ing spur. The Red Version has 275 oz-in of
275 N/A Dual BB Coreless M D $175.00 Rear Bearing Hub/ICS torque, metal gears, an option for a bearing
spur, and mounting tabs on the rear of the
servo; when used with the RCB-1 (Kondo’s robot
131.9 N/A Dual BB Coreless M A $109.99 N/A brain), it can give position feedback. Kondo
servos use ICS (Interactive Communication
166.6 N/A Dual BB Coreless M A $109.99 N/A System) for feedback and control.

SERVO 03.2005 21
TwinTweaks.qxd 1/28/2005 4:35 PM Page 22

The Omni-Terrain Vehicle

Tweaking the
Land Sea 2 R/C

W hen we first learned that the

next tweak would involve an R/C
boat, the natural choice for a
modification was to make the vehicle
The Land Sea 2 R/C
The Land Sea 2 R/C is definitely an
impressive unit. It sports three modes
Other added bonuses include
photosensitive headlights (with an
option to have them turn on only
when it’s dark) and a function that
amphibious — capable of traversing of operation — land, sea, and tank makes the vehicle turn on its pro-
both land and sea, but we were (another option for land travel). The pellers to run in circles when it is out
surprised to find that our next project land version is definitely zippy and it’s of the range of the controller. The
was the Land Sea 2 R/C, an already even capable of carrying two full soda controller itself is also water-resistant.
amphibious vehicle! We decided to cans (a strange ability, but cool The vehicle is certainly multifunctional
take the all terrain idea to the next level nonetheless). The steering for the sea and it actually performs all of those
and make the vehicle capable of flight, mode is difficult to get used to, but fun functions well.
as well. Jet engines would be tricky to once you master it. The tank mode is an Now, despite the warning on the
add to an R/C car, so we thought a interesting option, but, as the instruc- instructions that read: “Modifications
helicopter-like rotor assembly would be tion manual warns, it is difficult to get not authorized by the manufacturer
the best thing to help the Omni-Terrain the wheels to make the 1/3 of the full may void user’s authority to operate
Vehicle take to the skies. rotation for optimum maneuverability. this device,” we proceeded to make
the Land Sea 2 R/C even more
Before and After: A grounded Land Sea 2 R/C is made to fly. multifunctional.

Problem Analysis
Creating a vehicle that can move on
land, in air, and on water is definitely a
complex problem. At least for us, land
and sea movement has been taken
care of, but adding the ability to fly is
still tricky. The main additions that we
needed to concentrate on were giving
the vehicle enough lift to fly, while
keeping it afloat with the added
weight of the rotor assembly. Luckily
for us, physics comes to the rescue.
22 SERVO 03.2005
TwinTweaks.qxd 1/28/2005 4:39 PM Page 23

The Omni-Terrain Vehicle

Ultimate Pasta Several design considerations,

however, need to be taken into
Our primary concern is getting the account and the obvious one is weight.
vehicle off of the ground. We were If the motor and rotor are too heavy,
awash in ideas for propeller systems, too much buoyancy would need to be
but Bernoulli’s Principle helped us added and things would get ridiculous.
wring out implausible ideas. Bernoulli’s Another consideration lies in the
Principle, for our purposes, explains characteristics of the motor. We want a
the phenomenon of lift that allows fairly light motor to avoid buoyancy
airplanes to fly. Bernoulli’s equation problems.
elucidates this principle mathematically: Like we stated before, the key We’ll use the tiny Fisher-Price
about Bernoulli’s Principle is that the motor found in Power
∆P=1/2 ρv top² - 1/2 ρv bottom² differences between velocities of air on Wheels products.
the top and bottom of the wing create
This equation helps you figure out lift, and that difference is created by B is buoyant force in Newtons, ρf is the
∆P — the change in pressure between the classic airfoil shape of the wing. density of the fluid (in this case, water),
the top of the wing and the bottom — by Instead of giving the Land Sea 2 R/C jet V is the volume of displaced water, and
using the differences in the velocity of engines and wings, we decided that a g is acceleration due to gravity.
the airflow over those surfaces. The dif- helicopter-like rotor would be the way According to Archimedes’ Principle,
ference in the velocities above and below to go. Rotors use the same principle, buoyant force is created by the
the wing results from the shape of the while lift is achieved by the bend in the displacement of water. Buoyant force
wing that deflects air molecules on the rotor instead of an airfoil shape. More on a floating object is equal to its
bottom, slowing them down and creat- of a bend creates more of a difference weight in air, so adding weight requires
ing lift. Lift is easy enough to create, but in airspeed and, thus, more lift. What additional buoyancy.
creating enough of it is the problem. we have to be careful about is that The rotor assembly wouldn’t
Something will lift off the ground more of a bend creates more air displace any water, so the additional
if the force of lift is greater than the resistance, and we don’t want to buoyant force would have to come
force of gravity acting upon whatever it create too much of a bend so that it from the vehicle riding lower in the
is that you want to make fly. Force of creates too much resistance and over- water. This wouldn’t be a problem if the
gravity is easy to figure: comes the torque of the motor. original vehicle floated high enough
and gave us some room for extra
Fg=mg Rotors, Archimedes, weight, but after testing it in water,
though, we found that it floated sur-
m being mass and g acceleration due and Buoyancy — prisingly low without any extra weight.
to gravity, 9.8 m/s². Oh My! The two solutions would be to
The mass of the Land Sea 2 R/C is lighten the boat or add buoyancy. The
1.07 kg, so the force of gravity is 10 N. Buoyancy is the other side of Land Sea 2 R/C is a very clean unit and
Allowing for some extra weight for the this problem. To keep things simple, it hacking into something meant to float
rotor assembly, we can estimate that would be best to create a rotor assembly is a leaky proposition, so we decided
the force of lift necessary for flight light enough so that the vehicle would extra buoyancy would be the way to
must be greater than 20 N. Lifting stay afloat without extra modifications. go. TV bodgers on Junkyard Wars and
force can be determined by Bernoulli’s Calculating the buoyant force on the
equation, which helps determine ∆P. original, untweaked vehicle would For rotors, the bend causes
The equation for pressure can be give us a ballpark range of what kind lift instead of an airfoil shape
manipulated to determine force. of weight we could use for the rotor used on wings.
assembly. As long as the combined
P=F/A , F=PA weight of the vehicle and rotor
assembly doesn’t overcome the buoy-
Lifting force can be determined by ant force possible for the original
multiplying the difference in pressure boat, the tweaked vehicle will stay
created by the shape of the wings by the afloat.
area of the wings. Thus, we can see that The phenomenon of buoyant
two variables determine lifting force: the force is known as Archimedes’
difference of airspeed over and under Principle and can be calculated with
the wings and the area of the wings. the following equation:
The solution seems simple, at first: Slap
on a fast motor with a giant rotor. B=ρf Vg
SERVO 03.2005 23
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Twin Tweaks ...

traverse land and sea. Land is no had lying around the garage, however,
problem, but — to keep the was some J-B Stick Weld used for mend-
boat afloat — we will add ing leaky pipes. Oh well, when hacking
Styrofoam to increase buoyancy, something, you use what you can.
compensating for the weight of We could have used Bernoulli’s
the rotor assembly. equation to figure out exactly how
Knowing the physics is one much surface area we needed from the
thing, though, and having the rotor and the bend we needed in it,
instrumentation to implement the but using the means at our disposal,
physics accurately is another. We that would be a difficult task. Instead,
don’t have the means to make the we relied on educated estimations (the
ultra-precise measurements that SWAG theory).
For the blade, we chose a piece of accurate implementation of the Twenty-four hours later, after the
0.095-inch-thick aluminum, 12 inches long. formulas calls for, but the simple epoxy had fully cured, we set out to
knowledge of the principles will wire in a switch. Our plan was to
Monster Garage usually use drums guide us to make tolerably educated power the motor off of the six-volt bat-
or barrels to increase buoyancy on estimations of what we need to do to tery pack that the R/C car used. To give
floating projects, but — since an oil make this ambitious project successful. us some control over the rotor without
drum is a little oversized for our vehicle having to hack into the electronics of
— we decided to use Styrofoam. Construction and the waterproof R/C, we wired in our
own switch. Our initial idea was to fas-
Design Considerations First Tests ten the switch to the vehicle itself, but
The first assembly we did was that we realized that might entail reaching
Galore of the rotor. For the blade itself, we our hands under a spinning rotor to
That’s a lot of physics, so let’s stop chose a piece of 0.095-inch-thick turn it off, so we thought a more
and review our objectives. Our primary aluminum, which was the thinnest remote switch would be prudent.
concern is making the vehicle fly. We’ve piece of aluminum we had that was Here, we came to one of the most
settled on a helicopter-style rotor blade long enough for a rotor. We cut a piece frustrating parts of the tweak. The bat-
for lift, powered by a tiny but powerful 12 inches long and 1-3/4 inches wide, tery pack slid in sideways beneath the
Fisher-Price motor (the kind they use in which we felt gave a fair amount of cockpit of the vehicle and it was a very
Power Wheels, but without the surface area without being too heavy. tight fit. Luckily for us, the battery pack
gearbox). The two variables that deter- The output shaft of the Fisher-Price had four contact points and the Land
mine lift are the area of the rotor and motor had a gear attached to it, so we Sea 2 R/C only used two. We used the
the difference in air speed above and drilled out a slightly smaller hole and other two for the motor connections.
below the rotor. Ideally, we need a fast filed in some grooves for the teeth to The problem was that the connections
rotor with a healthy bend in it and lots fasten to the rotor for a snug fit. After would work when the battery was out-
of surface area. managing to get the rotor to fit, we side of the vehicle and not when it was
Our second consideration is moved on to bending it. Helicopter inside. We tried over and over, but
maintaining the ability of the vehicle to rotors do not have the classic wing nothing worked. We even considered
shape of an airfoil; their rotors are soldering the wires to the contact
To create lift, the high edge of the simply flat, but bent diagonally. To pads, but the pads were dirty and we
rotor needs to be the leading edge. bend it nicely, we used scrap were out of acetone.
aluminum channel to make a large A solution finally presented itself in
lever and stuck it in a large vice. the form of aluminum foil. We twisted
Once we had an acceptable little bulbs of aluminum foil onto the
bend, we could attach the rotor to ends to increase the surface area
the motor, but we had to be careful through which electricity could travel.
to fasten the motor with the right ori- After this simple step, the circuit had no
entation. To create lift, the high edge problems whatsoever. Once the switch
of the rotor needs to be the leading circuit was completed, we wanted to
edge. If we got it wrong, we’d have test the rotor. In order to minimize
a Land Sea 2 R/C with a large fan danger, we only flipped the switch for a
hacked onto it. Once we checked the second, but — even then —we could
rotation of the motor, we attached see that the rotor would spin frighten-
the rotor accordingly, and to make ingly fast. This test was both promising
sure we had a solid attachment, we and unnerving, because we saw that
wanted to use some epoxy. All we testing it could be very dangerous.
24 SERVO 03.2005
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The Omni-Terrain Vehicle

Our next task was to actually make unduly difficult. Our other option
the rotor assembly and Land Sea 2 R/C would be to increase the surface
into one piece. For the sake of balance, area of the rotor. All we would
we wanted to attach the rotor assem- have to do is add extensions onto
bly in the center of the vehicle. One the rotor. While that would be
problem was that the cockpit was in difficult with the assembled piece,
the middle of the vehicle. We decided it was still our best option.
that we really didn’t need the cockpit Two 0.06-inch-thick aluminum
and removed it, but the one potential plates were perfect for the job,
issue that came with the cockpit and we riveted them onto the rotor
removal was that we were simultane- with little difficulty. Now, our
ously removing the R/C’s antenna. Omni-Terrain Vehicle had rivets,
We tested the range of the vehicle just like a real airplane. This was On the first test run, the rotor spun
minus the antenna and found it to be a also an opportunity to test the up to a frightening speed!
tolerable six feet. Cockpit removal also seaworthiness of the vehicle, but
granted easy access to the battery to our dismay, the Omni-Terrain vehicle made was more like a hovercraft than
pack. We fashioned a platform out of seemed to have lost its sea legs. an airplane, but we were able to leave
cardboard to support the motor and That, however, was an easy land and sea movement uncompro-
attach it to the vehicle, and everything problem to solve. All we had to do was mised. The hovering is actually quite
was bound together by generous displace more water to increase buoyant effective on low friction surfaces, so —
amounts of duct tape. We figured that force, and duct taping Styrofoam to the if the Omni-Terrain Vehicle ever came
enough duct tape would maintain the boat hull was an easy solution to this across a frozen lake — its new hovering
integrity of the vehicles’ waterproof problem. Soon, the boat was once again ability would likely give it more mobility
reputation and the addition of duct able to float. After charging the battery, than its regular land mode.
tape made the project a true hack. we were ready for our final test. Additionally, we gave the Land Sea 2
Even though the manner of attach- All the Omni-Terrain Vehicle need- R/C a nasty weapon in case a combat
ment may sound rudimentary, the ed to do for a “Done” stamp was to fly. robotics competition pops up.
rotor assembly was surprisingly stable. We hit the switch. The rotor spun up. In short, the functional shortcom-
Now that the vehicle was assembled, The vehicle shuddered and even began ings of this project are far from failure;
we were ready for the first test. to hover slowly across the surface of quite the contrary. We learned about
Keeping safety in mind, we brought the driveway ... but it still did not fly. the nature of flight through an interac-
a blanket out during the test in case the tive application of physics and
Omni-Terrain Vehicle went crazy. We Final Thoughts resourceful ingenuity.
really didn’t have a terribly good means In fact, the versatility of this drive
of controlling the vehicle’s flight, except The Omni-Terrain Vehicle was still a system may even serve as a conceptual
that we might use the propellers for the success, despite the fact that it did not prototype for future robotic military
sea mode as stabilizers. give a satisfactory demonstration of fly- reconnaissance vehicles (we’ll keep our
From behind the safety of a trash ing ability. The idea of making a vehicle eyes open for DARPA contracts asking
can, we hit the switch. The rotor spun up capable of land, sea, and air movement for Omni-Terrain Vehicles). After all, we
to a frightening speed, causing the vehi- is certainly a daunting task under any are the Woolley Brothers, not the
cle to shudder like a fish out of water. circumstances — even more so under a Wright brothers. SV
Much to our relief, the rotor seemed time limit. Now that we think about
firmly attached to the motor and it did- it, perhaps the more ideal situation The Omni-Terrain Vehicle was still
n’t appear to have the desire to fly off. would have been to make an a success, despite the fact that it
The vehicle itself, however, did not fly. airplane capable of land and sea didn’t fly.
Back to Physics Also, we may have overestimated
the stamina of the Fisher-Price
To better our chances of getting motor (Power Wheels aren’t meant
off the ground, we can look at the two to fly) and of the battery pack. The
variables we can easily manipulate. battery pack was actually a six-volt
One is the difference in the airspeed pack we happened to have from
above and below the rotor. To make another R/C car and it was far past
that difference greater (and therefore its prime. Oh well. Sometimes, the
the lift greater), we would have to machines on Monster Garage don’t
increase the angle of the bend. With work as expected, either.
the rotor assembled, that would be What we turned out to have
SERVO 03.2005 25
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by Edward Driscoll, Jr.

he dream of a walking mechanical man is almost

T as old as civilization itself. As I wrote in the debut
issue of SERVO, it’s certainly almost as old as the film
industry: 1927’s Metropolis, 1956’s Forbidden Planet,
1977’s Star Wars, and numerous films since all had
walking, human-shaped robots as stars.
However, building a real walking robot has been
more problematic — and controversial. American
robot pioneer Dr. Joseph F. Engelberger once told
me, “I don’t want to see a two-legged robot. I feel
very strongly against legs,” because of the complex
design challenges they present and because of the
better weight ratios and stability of wheeled robots.
Yet, walking robots have seemingly become an
obsession in Japan, most famously with Honda’s
recent Asimo robot.
Closer to home, in the cold, brutal climate of
Alaska, Carlos Owens — a 27-year-old iron worker
and ex-Army heavy equipment mechanic — is
building some unique heavy equipment of his own.
26 SERVO 03.2005
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Take Control of an 18-Foot-Tall Walking Robot

The NMX041-A
Reports for
The Honda Asimo is only
about four feet tall. But
Owens is a man who — at six
feet five inches — not only is
big, but thinks big as well.
He noticed that, “All these
companies seem to be manu-
facturing these robots on a Not having a shop big enough,
very similar scale.” The operator encased in his machine. Carlos builds outside, in the elements.
So he decided to build a
walking robot that’s over three times While it’s the first prototype he balancing it while it walks. Like nature
their height “instead of a five-foot built in 2004, it’s actually based on an itself, four-legged robots are somewhat
robot that looks like all the other five- experiment with an even larger robot: easier to build because they’re
foot robots.” the 25-foot NMX03. “That one was more stable. It may be why industrial
So he designed and is well on the originally going to be 25 feet tall — designer Syd Mead painted an
way to completing an 18-foot-tall, which is far too large — and just
8-1/2-foot-wide, 1-1/2-ton, two- presents a lot of issues. Every Alaskan conditions make building difficult.
legged, two-armed robot that he’s foot that you go up, more and
dubbed the NMX041-A. It is designed more issues need to be taken
so that the operator will sit inside of it. into consideration because of the
“I actually came up with my balance.”
own list of standards for mech-type Fortunately, Owens was able
applications. The N and M stands for to reuse some of those parts in
‘neo-mech’ and X is type of chassis — the only slightly more modest
it’s humanoid-thpe. As far as the num- 18-foot robot.
bers, I started it in 2004, hence the
‘04,’ the ‘1’ is to designate it as the Learning to Walk
first prototype, and the ‘A’ represents
‘arena-type,’ as in a fighting type of Of course, one of the keys to
robot.” building this type of machine is

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SERVO 03.2005 27
Driscoll.qxd 1/28/2005 10:42 AM Page 28


near the engine, where it will

heat it up, will also help. It
shouldn’t take too long for
the system to get warm;
it should have good fluid

The Arena
Robot League
He calls the NMX041-A
a fighting robot and he envi-
sions being the commissioner
The NMX041-A stands nearly 20 feet tall. of an arena league of robotic
gladiators — sort of like cable
without causing any instabilities TV’s Battle Bots or Robot Wars, but on
while in mid-stride.” a much, much larger scale.
He’s not afraid to admit that he “The whole idea behind it is that
wants to keep its design a secret. people would be piloting these
“I’ve already been asked several machines and doing battle with one
times, but I don’t want to get into another. I’ve got a whole slew of rules
The only secrets are the stability controls. the specifics of that unit, which and regulations that I’ve been working
allows the whole system to work. on just for this particular sport that I’m
elephant-like, four-legged walking Anyone can build a giant robot, but in the process of developing.”
machine that predates the Imperial anyone who wants to make it walk — As with many inventors, when
walkers from 1980’s The Empire Strikes they’re on their own!” listening to Owens describe his robot
Back by about 20 years. For much of the year, Alaska is a and what he’d like to do with it, it’s
In a two-legged machine, though, cold and unforgiving environment to sometimes tough to find where reality
extra effort is required to balance it in build in, but Owens is undeterred. He ends and science fiction begins. While
mid-stride. Owens says he has says the only concession against the he’s building quite an impressive
designed “a separate unit which will cold he’s needed to make is to heat looking machine (which vaguely
be attached to the machine upon the hydraulics used to power the recalls the toy Transformer robots
completion that allows it to shift its NMX041-A’s joints. “The way I of the 1980s, but on a mammoth
weight from one side to the other position the hydraulic fluid reservoir scale), he’s certainly happy to
pepper his speech with sci-fi
A frame supports the robot Carlos Owens, on the shoulders of a giant. catch phrases like “mecha,”
while under construction. and his website has paragraphs
that make his one-man
operation sound like the
Tyrell Corporation from Blade
Runner. For example,
Owens’ website is called Say
Owens says it’s a break-
down of a few different words:
“‘neo’ meaning new, ‘gen’ is
short for ‘generation,’ and then
‘tronyx,’ of course, means
electronics. I just spelled it a
little differently; I didn’t want to
do things the standard way. It’s
something different — like my
Perhaps because his project
is so visually exciting, Owens’
28 SERVO 03.2005
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Take Control of an 18-Foot-Tall Walking Robot

home page is getting much fight fires.” This is particularly true

more attention than he originally with forest fires, which involve
anticipated. The popular C/Net dropping loads of flame retardant
website profiled him in December. “I chemicals and water from aircraft.
thought that 7,500 hits over a “It pretty much disperses as soon
two-year period was pretty good, but as it hits the air.” In contrast,
I got 40,000 in under just two days Owens’ walking robots would walk
from that C/Net article!” He’s hoping right into a fire.
it will lead to outside monetary contri- He envisions these walking
butions to his heretofore self-funded robots “as being heat shielded,
efforts. (So far, Owens has sunk about liquid cooled, with the operator a
$15,000.00 into his project.) safe distance away, receiving
video feedback. There could be
Putting Out a several other robots in the area,
all of them coordinated from a
Fire From Inside central command area where all of
Of course, walking robots have the video from the robots could be
many other applications beyond observed.”
bashing each other’s hydraulics into In the meantime, Owens
the ground inside a sports arena. One continues building and refining One possible application is fire fighting.
application that Owens is particularly NMX041-A. “With this robot, I
keen on is fire fighting. Owens says just decided that I wasn’t going just do it.”
that his robots would provide fire to wait around for someone else to do Who knows? With a bit of luck
fighters, “with a much greater this; I thought that I had the and lots of hard work, maybe he and
advantage over how we currently knowledge and the ability, so I should NMX041-A will walk into history. SV

Circle #76 on the Reader Service Card.

SERVO 03.2005 29
Simpson1.qxd 1/28/2005 11:41 AM Page 30

Have you ever wanted to build a hex walker robot? Their interesting,
insect-like gait and seemingly complex leg construction make them one of
the more interesting projects in robotics. Hex walkers are actually more
accessible for the hobbyist than they may seem at first. In this series of articles,
I will show you, step-by-step, how to build a six-legged crawler using only
three servos, and with six legs and three servos,
we can experiment with different
gaits and full directional
control over the robot.
Next month, I will
discuss the electrical
construction of the
hex walker, and the
following month our
attention will turn to calibration,
programming, and control issues.
30 SERVO 03.2005
Simpson1.qxd 1/28/2005 11:42 AM Page 31

Part 1
The Components
Let’s take a look at some of the
components needed to build this
small walker.
The heart of the crawler is the
super small, nine-gram Dragonfly
servo (Figure 1). The small size of
the servo lets us build an extremely
small and lightweight robot. These
tiny servos are very reasonably FIGURE 2. The Perseus microcontroller.
priced at less than $9.00 each.
To control the small servos, we will tion, you will need something to cut
use the even smaller Perseus microcon- out all the wooden parts. I recommend
troller. I chose this microcontroller a scroll saw. I did a complete write-up
because it has a very small 1.25 x 0.75 on various hobbyist level scroll saws in
inch carrier board (Figure 2) that can the February 2005 issue of SERVO FIGURE 1. The super small, nine-gram
Dragonfly servo.
sport up to five servo connectors. Its Magazine. The cuts are not critical, so
through-hole design makes it very well there are only a couple places where
suited to the beginner. The Perseus real accuracy is needed when cutting The Plans
chip, carrier, and RS232 driver board out the parts. A hand coping or fret I have included a full-size set of
can all be purchased for less money saw and knife could also be used, plans for all the cutout parts. You
than most other microcontrollers alone. but it will take you much longer to can download them from the SERVO
The Perseus microcontroller is one of complete the project. website (
several Athena class microcontrollers that You will need a drill with 1/16-, There are index marks on the plans,
were designed to make the jump into 3/32-, 1/8-, and 5/16-inch bits. I used a so you will be okay as long as your
microcontrollers as easy and inexpensive drill press, but a hand drill should work reproduction is set to the proper size.
as possible. The compiler software for just as well. A soldering iron (and solder) When enlarged or reduced, the
these microcontrollers is free and can be will also be needed to connect the two distance between Index A and Index B
downloaded from the Kronos Robotics battery holders and to build the Perseus should be five inches. The distance
website at carrier board we’ll see next month. I also between Index A and Index C should
The software has a difficulty setting that recommend a bit of heatshrink, too. be seven inches.
can be adjusted from beginner to expert You will need a couple of hand
and has a simulator so you can run tools, such as a small Philips screw driver Mechanical
through the included tutorial without and a pair of needle nose pliers. These
purchasing a single item. will be used to tighten the small lock Construction
We will build the base and legs for nuts, as this can’t be done by hand. Now, we come to the fun part.
the crawler out of 1/8-inch Baltic birch In Part 3, we will start program- Let’s start building the walker. Before
plywood, similar to that shown in Figure ming the walker. For this, you will need we begin, let me say a few things
3. You can pick up a 12 x 24-inch piece an EZ232 driver (less than $10.00) and about this design. I designed this
at your local craft store for less than a copy of the compiler software (free crawler with three things in mind:
$5.00. That will be enough for four or from the Kronos Robotics website). A
five robots this size. You will also need PC running Windows and nine-pin • Repeatability — I wanted a walker
some 3/8- x 3/8-inch pine stock as well, serial cable will also be needed. that could be built consistently; it could
which can also be found at a craft
store for less then $2.00. FIGURE 3. A 12 x 24-inch piece of Baltic birch FIGURE 4. The final cuts.
Probably the most difficult plywood works best for the base and the legs.
parts to get will be the hardware.
Most of these will be #2 machine
screws and various washers and
nuts. Kronos Robotics is offering a
package that contains all the hard-
ware, as well as the 3/8 inch stock.

The Tools
For the mechanical construc-
SERVO 03.2005 31
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The Mini Servo WALKER

the two holes.
For the Center Leg Support,
bend the template in half where
the top view and bottom view
come together and place on the
stock as shown in Figure 5.
The most critical cut of all is
the thickness of the notch,
shown in Figure 6. The actual
FIGURE 5. Wrap the Center Leg Support template FIGURE 6. The thickness of the thickness of the notch should
around the stock as shown here. notch cuts are most critical. match the thickness of the ply-
wood stock you are using. It can
be built by 20 different people but still • Cost — I wanted a walker that could be a bit smaller, but not larger; therefore,
behave the same. be built completely for under $70.00 — I recommend that you cut it a bit small.
even less if you have some of the parts You can increase the width, if needed.
• Construction Forgiveness — I wanted in your junk box. Make sure you place a small notch
a walker that could still function even if in the center legs, as shown in Figure 7.
errors in construction were made. The mini servo walker design is This notch will be used later to hold the
very forgiving, as most of the cuts are end of a small rubberband.
FIGURE 7. A small notch is needed not critical. In fact, variations in the
at the end of the Center Legs pieces will give your walker a bit of Step 2:
to hold a small rubberband.
character. For instance, rounding the Attach the two center legs to the
corners on the walker base will make Center Leg Support, as shown in Figure
the walker a bit more bug-like. 8. Use two 3/4-inch #2 machine screws.
Hole placement should be as close Install in the following order: #2
as possible to what is detailed here, but machine screw, #2 washer, Leg C, #2
as long as you are within 1/32 inches, washer, Center Leg Support, #2 washer,
you should be fine. and #2 lock nut. Make sure you install
the two 3/32-inch holes. Tighten so that
Step 1: the legs are seated firmly against the
Cut out all the parts in the plan. support, but still move freely.
Note that some parts require more
than one cutout. For example, you will Step 3:
need four Leg A parts and four Leg B Install the two servos into the servo
parts. You will need two Leg C parts. slots shown in Figure 9. The 1/16-inch
The Rear and Center Leg Supports holes in the base will act as our nuts and
are both cut from a 3/8- x 3/8- x 2-inch hold the machine screws nicely. Use 3/8-
piece of stock. They can inch #2 machine screws and #2 washers
FIGURE 9. Attach the servos, the Center Leg Assembly, be cut from pine, bass- on each hole. You will have to push the
and the Rear Leg Support and Legs. wood, or maple — all of screw firmly to get it started. Don’t over-
which are available at tighten or you will strip the wood. You
your local craft store. can also attach a #2 hex nut, as well.
Place the template for
the Rear Leg Support Step 4:
on the stock and mark Take the Center Leg assembly and

FIGURE 8. Attach the Center Legs to the Center Leg Support.

32 SERVO 03.2005
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Part 1

FIGURE 11. One of two FIGURE 12. Drill four additional

FIGURE 10. The underside of the Center Leg Assembly. four-sided servo arms. 3/32-inch holes into each leg.

attach it to the base, as shown in Figures 9 and 10. You will hole as shown in Figure 11. The 1/16-inch hole is just a bit
use two 3/4-inch #2 machine screws. Attach in the following small for the #2 machine screws; this allows the plastic to act
order: #2 machine screw, #2 washer, base, #2 washer, and as a lock washer once the arm is attached to the leg.
#2 hex nut.
The 1/8-inch holes are oversized so that you can position Step 7:
the support as needed. Make sure the legs move freely and Take the servo arm and center it on the 1/8-inch hole
don’t rub against the base. Tighten the nuts. and mark the four holes you drilled in Step 6. If you insert the
small screw used to attach the servo arm to the servo, it will
Step 5: help you center the arm. Please note that if the arm is not
Install the Rear Leg Support and Legs as shown in Figure 100 percent centered, it won’t affect operation at all.
9. Use two one-inch #4 machine screws in the following You will need to do this with the two remaining legs.
order: #4 machine screw, #4 washer, Leg Part A, #4 washer, Step 8:
Rear Leg Support, base, #4 washer, and #4 lock nut. Drill four 3/32-inch holes into each leg. Insert four 1/4-inch
Tighten so that the legs are firm, but rotate freely.

Step 6:
Take two of the four-sided servo arms and drill a 1/16-inch

FIGURE 13 and 14. Use 1/4-inch machine screws and nuts

to attach the servo arm to each leg.

FIGURE 15. One side of the Dragonfly servo arm.

Circle #82 on the Reader Service Card.

Simpson1.qxd 1/28/2005 11:46 AM Page 34

The Mini Servo WALKER

lower legs to all of the
upper legs by inserting
the notches into each

Step 12:
Now, attach the
Rear Leg Drive, as
shown in Figure 18.
The leg drive is used to
move the rear leg
FIGURE 16. Wrap the FIGURE 17. Remove the left FIGURE 18. Here is the complete when the front leg
servo motor in metal tape. mounting flange on the servo. walker awaiting its brain. moves. Use a 1/2-inch
#2 machine screw in
#2 machine screws and attach the comes in contact with the Center Leg each leg in the following order: #2
servo arm to the leg as shown in Support mounting screw. Place the arm machine screw, #2 washer, leg drive, #2
Figures 13 and 14. Use a #2 hex nut to on the servo so that it points straight up washer, leg, #2 washer, and #2 lock nut.
help hold the screws in place. in the orientation shown in Figure 17. Tighten enough to remove the wiggle.
Don’t worry about the current servo Now, attach the lower legs if you
Step 9: position, as we will calibrate later. did not already do so in Step 11. Leg
Take one of the two-sided Next, position the servo as shown so Parts A and B are held together by
Dragonfly servo arms and snip off one that the arm is dead center of the two friction. If you cut the slots too wide,
side, as shown. Make two snips at a center legs. Do a dry fit, then add a piece they may not hold together; you may
slight angle so you don’t put too much of mounting foam tape and position it in need to apply a drop or two of hot
stress on the arm when you cut it. place. You can pick up some double-stick glue to strengthen the joint.
foam strips at any department or home This concludes the mechanical
Step 10: store. Don’t use the removable type. I construction phase. Go ahead and
When using micro servos, we some- recommend a name brand, as it’s much insert the small screws that came with
times must make special provisions for firmer and holds the servo better. your Dragonfly servo into the servo
mounting due to size or construction. Place a small rubberband across arms and tighten them. This will hold
The Dragonfly servo is held together the top of the two center legs. The the legs in place until we are ready to
with a small plastic band and a small rubberband will cause the leg not calibrate. You can also run the two
label. This prevents us from mounting being pushed down to lift up. The best front servo connectors up through the
the servo reliably using mounting foam place to pick up rubberbands is in the 5/16-inch hole. Take the center servo
tape. To correct this, we simply remove hair care section of a store. (These connector and run it around the side,
the clear plastic label (tape) and the small rubberbands are used to make then back up through the 5/16-inch
plastic band. We then take a piece of small pony tails.) hole from the bottom.
metal air conditioning tape and wrap the
servo, as shown in Figure 16. Step 11: At this point, you have a complete
We must also remove the left Attach the front legs you completed walker eagerly waiting for its power
mounting flange from the servo as it in Step 8. Now, you may also attach the source and brain. Next month, I will
show you how to install these. Here are
Sources some things to check while you are
anxiously waiting for the next issue of
Qty Description Source and part number
3 Dragonfly 9-gram servos
SERVO Magazine:
• Make sure all joints with lock nuts are
1 12 x 24 sheet or 12 x 12 sheet Can be purchased at most craft or hobby not too tight. The piece should move
of 1/8-inch Baltic birch plywood stores. It can also be purchased from
Woodcraft at
freely, but not wiggle.
in 12 x 12 sheets.
• The upper and lower leg joint should
1 Hardware package. Contains all Kronos Robotics at be firm and should not wiggle.
mounting screws, washers, and
lock nuts. Also includes two
3/8 x 3/8 x 2-inch pine blocks for leg • The center servo should be securely
supports. One piece of heatshrink attached to the base and should not
tubing. Includes metal tape and move in any direction. If it does, the
mounting foam. Printed pattern sheet. foam tape you are using is too thick. SV
34 SERVO 03.2005
Goerlich.qxd 1/28/2005 4:12 PM Page 35

by J. Wolfgang Goerlich

The Eastern Canadian Robot Games

(ECRG) are held each fall at the Ontario

Science Centre in Toronto. Teams from all

over North America come to compete,

including Canadians from as far away as

Alberta and British Columbia, Americans

from Tennessee to Texas, and teams from

Mexico. This year saw robots from England

and Iran, too. Over 80 robots competed in

events as diverse as BEAM, sumo, and fire


SERVO 03.2005 35
Goerlich.qxd 1/28/2005 4:14 PM Page 36

Tom Gray’s Four Eyes faces down Copy Cat by Kyle Simmons.
Fred and Ugly compete in the traditional BEAM Photovore Four Eyes is a modified Sumovore with a rear IR sensor
competition. Next year, these robots will be returning system. Copy Cat was a scratch-built mini with
for a new exhibition event. a transplanted Sumovore sensor board.

BEAM Events brought a full-sized sumo, chose to compete against the

remote-controlled sumos, and in a true match of man against
Toronto has long been a hot spot for BEAM robotics, machine, Mark’s sumo won the day.
thanks in large part to the regular BuildFests at Bug ‘n’ Two of the robots in this class were brought in by
Bots. In Solaroller, contestants race solar-powered vehicles. teams from Iran. Aabed Naseri brought Sepanta, while
Turtle, a robot hailing from England, could complete the the Islamic Azad Saveh University ran their IAUS sumo,
course in mere seconds and was easily the fastest of which took third place. First place went to Phantom, Dave
the day. Hylands’ sumo, based on the Lynxmotion Viper, and Space
There was a sneak peak at the rule books for next Junk, a scratch-built bot by Lee Szuba, took second.
year’s Photovore event. ECRG is encouraging solar-powered
micro-sumo and nano-sumo-size competitors, with no limit Master’s Mini-Sumo
on the size of the solar cells. The format will be a day-long
exhibition, where participants can enter up to four solar- The Master’s mini-sumo competition is open for magnetics,
powered robots and have them compete together in swarms and the robots are under the same size and weight restric-
or teams. Judging by these rules, ECRG 2005’s Photovore will tions as the regular mini-sumo competition (10 cm2 and 500
be a lot of fun. grams, respectively). In past years, this has been a contest to
beat Dave Hylands, as he regularly brings with him several
Full-Sized Sumo top contenders to this match.
Because of Grant McKee’s Ender’s Wraith, the
The number of bots keeps growing in the full-sized sumo Master’s was different this year. Ender’s Wraith arrived at
competition. There were not enough robots to run the ECRG fresh from winning at the Western Canadian Robot
competition in the game’s first year, but this year, there were Games and at Robothon; it also took second place at
around 10 robots competing. Mark MacKenzie, who had ROBOlympics and PDXbot. Grant’s mini did it again, taking

Phantom vies with Space Junk for first place in the This year’s Master’s mini sumo champion was Ender’s Wraith
Full-Sized Sumo class. by Grant McKee.

36 SERVO 03.2005
Goerlich.qxd 1/28/2005 4:15 PM Page 37

Harms Way II by Eliot Barker is the scratch-built Truffle Pig by Nicholas Barker features Solarbotics GM10 motors and a
mini that took on not only the competition, microcontroller, sensor, and drive subsystem based on the Solarbotics
but the ring it was competing on. Sumovore. It took first place in line following.

first at this year’s games, while Dave Hylands’ Marauder of this was when Harm’s Way II lost the match and it
took second place. promptly turned around and attacked the sumo ring. Harm’s
One of the fun moments came when the judges pitted Way II pushed the ring — along with the offending mini sumo
Ender’s Wraith up against the winners of the full-sized sumo — some distance before the judge stepped in.
competition. So, how did the 500 gram Master’s champion
fare against the winners of the 3 kilogram class? Ender’s Line Following
Wraith took them down.
Line following is a classic robot competition, and there
Open Mini-Sumo are always a handful of mini sumos that cross over to com-
pete. Perhaps not surprisingly, this is a competition regularly
Since the Solarbotics’ Sumovore arrived on the scene, it dominated by Dave Hylands and Marauder. This year, Grant
has dominated ECRG’s open mini sumo category. This year McKee took it up a notch by designing a particularly tough
was much the same, with the majority of the minis being course.
hacked Sumovores. The hacks ran the gamut from upgraded Truffle Pig, built by Nicholas Barker of Team “Wreck the
sensors to souped-up motors to pipe-cleaner antennas. In Bed,” stole the show. Truffle Pig features a microcontroller,
the end, team WoloBot took first place with their modified sensor, and drive subsystems based on the Solarbotics
Sumovore. Sumovore.
Of course, there were plenty of scratch-built minis, However, it was much, much lighter than a Sumovore
too. One of the more powerful ones was Harm’s Way II, and was using the faster GM10 motors. Not only did it take
built and piloted by Eliot Barker on the “Wreck the Bed” first place, but it also completed Grant McKee’s course with
team. The drive train was comprised of two Solarbotics
GM9s, modified with Qjet speed 200 motors from Bug ‘n’ Bots and Solarbotics held walker workshops prior to the
Gold Scallop. This gave it plenty of power. One fine example Games. The result of these workshops was that the new
ScoutWalker III kits swarmed the walker event. Joe Garcia’s
Ant, the scratch-built walker by students at Malvern CI, ScoutWalker IIIs took first, while Leah Mitchel’s took third place.
took second place in the walker competition.

SERVO 03.2005 37
Goerlich.qxd 1/28/2005 4:17 PM Page 38

“Bruce Sheridan’s robot, Flameout, was constructed from LEGO Grand Valley State University has a history of building
pieces. It had less sensors than many of his other competitors, fire-fighting robots, sych as Gromit. This year they brought
but used an innovative strategy of having a square base on the out their new one – Flamebait.
robot that backed up to a wall after each turn, which correctly
oriented Flameout to run perfectly parallel to the walls. Even
though his robot was almost blind compared to the other robots, Alexander’s Formula.
he earned a fourth place finish.” — John Edwards This meant that Ant had a natural advantage because of
its shorter legs. Indeed, the competition for first place was
only a single pick-up. Of course, it helped that Nicholas close between Ant and Joe Garcia’s ScoutWalker III, with Ant
primed the audience by handing out Truffle Pig temporary only losing on the last run when it became tangled up in the
tattoos. The calls of “Go piggy!” during the last run were carpeting.
very entertaining.
Wellhead Blowout
The ECRG Wellhead Blowout is a competition along the
The students at Malvern — the returning champions from lines of the Trinity College Fire Fighting contest. Robots
2003 — had a tough competition cut out for their Ant Walker. search a maze for a candle and extinguish it, getting points
The Solarbotics ScoutWalker IIIs were out in droves at this for starting with a sound, for completing with the best
year’s competition, and lucky for Malvern, ECRG changed the speed, and for returning to base. This is always a good show
walker competition and adopted rules based on the PDXbot of innovative approaches.
walker contest. The speed points are awarded using That sums up this year’s Eastern Canadian Robot
Games. To find more information on next year’s event and
“Chris Wardell’s robot Xtinguisher ran extremely smooth and what you missed out on at this year’s competition, visit
precise to gain him a second place finish. While all other fire SV
fighters were here in Toronto testing and tuning on Saturday,
Chris was still programming back in Ohio. He arrived in Toronto
at 3 A.M. Sunday morning. When he got ready to run a few test The Eastern Canadian Robot Games are held in the Science
rounds Sunday morning, he discovered Xtinguisher would Centre’s Imperial Oil Room. The spectators bring a lot
do nothing. As it turns out, a wire shaken loose in transport of energy to the events.
was discovered and corrected just in time for a few test runs
and competition.” — John Edwards

38 SERVO 03.2005
Stakem.qxd 1/28/2005 11:33 AM Page 39

Pat Stakem

E very robot builder knows that the visual aspect of your robot is half of its appeal.
With that in mind, I decided to build a robot to recall the one that got many of us
interested in robotics to begin with: Star Wars’ R2-D2.
This project details the construction of a mobile robot in an R2-D2-like case, and to it
I applied several lessons learned from previous robot construction projects. The platform
has two independently driven wheels and two casters. The head of the robot — containing
most of the sensor package — rotates. Two PC-class computers are onboard, operating on
the onboard 12-volt batteries, and the robot is linked to a wireless network. The PCs
provide a layered architecture, ease-of-use, and reasonable power draw, while the overall
project combined aspects of digital and analog design and programming and involved
about two years of on-and-off work.
SERVO 03.2005 39
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R2-D2: A PC-Powered Mobile Robot

Reading Temperature With logo

1. The game interface on the sound card is This displays “counts.”
a simple A/D circuit. Normally used with a
joystick, it expects to see a 100K ohm 4. We calibrate the sensor using ice water
resistance and supplies voltage and a for a low limit and ambient temperature.
capacitor to form a timing circuit.
5. Using the derived cal curve, we can
2. We hook up a 100K ohm thermistor to
the game connector. now display the temperature
in °F. The curve is mostly linear over the
3. The Logo command is: expected range of temperature.


105-82/001) is used to rotate the head, disk controller card. It can use a standard
and power is supplied by dual 12-volt, 3.5 inch, 1.44 megabyte floppy drive and
7.2-amp-hour, gel-cell batteries by IDE-based hard drives and CD drives. In
PowerPatrol (model SLA1075). typical configuration, the board draws
The entire unit weighs 45 pounds one amp at five volts, with four
— excluding the batteries — which add megabytes of memory. It operates from
another 10 pounds. The robot is about a single 12-volt input power supply.
three feet tall and 21 inches wide The head computer interfaces with
across the wheels. Two casters, mounted the sensors to minimize the amount of
FIGURE 1. The complete unit. front and back, provide stability to the wiring passing through the rotating
platform. The motors are mounted in a head to body interface. Monitoring the
Hardware Details wooden frame that is attached to an
18-inch diameter plywood base.
battery voltages and, eventually, the
current draw of the motors can best be
The robot platform consists of a For embedded control, two PC- done closer to those units by the body
wheel assembly and base which mounts class machines are used — one in the computer. The head computer to body
on a shell. The shell and structure are an head and one in the body — and the computer data connection is via a LAN
American Toy & Furniture toy box with advantages of using the PC platform are using an onboard hub.
a Star Wars theme licensed from the standardized interfaces it provides The body computer — a Pentium
Lucasfilm. It is an 18-inch-tall cylinder and the availability of a wide range of 200MMX — has both a PCI and an ISA
that is 16 inches in diameter with a off-the-shelf hardware and software. bus, and it can use either the 72-pin or
hemispherical, molded plastic head. The head computer consists of a 168-pin SIMM memory. A dual serial
The drive is provided by dual Brevel +36 386sx-40 mini motherboard with four-by- and a parallel interface are provided on
volt, permanent magnet gear motors 30-pin SIMM memory slots and an ISA the motherboard, as is USB support.
(model 790-1953075) with seven-inch bus for a serial/parallel board, VGA The circa 1997 AWARD BIOS supports
wheels. A 12 volt Brevel motor (model board, and floppy disk controller/hard monitoring of the CPU temperature.
The board uses the I430TX chipset. In a
FIGURE 2. The molded plastic head FIGURE 3. The head computer. The typical configuration, a 64-megabyte
assembly. The Polaroid ultrasonic sensor power converter is on the right. The module of 168-pin memory is employed
is visible. The ball at the top of the head bracket in foreground is for a hard disk.
is for the video camera.
FIGURE 4. The head rotation motor is
attached to the bottom of the head
mounting plate.

40 SERVO 03.2005
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R2-D2: A PC-Powered Mobile Robot

with a Cirrus 5446 SVGA PCI video board operating off of the parallel
card, a sound/game card, a 3.5-inch, (printer) port. The eight-bit output of
1.44-megabyte floppy, a CD, and a the parallel port is split into two four-bit
four-gigabyte hard drive. sections, each providing a signed three-
The board has been tested with bit (eight level) code. This is more than
both USB and parallel interface web sufficient for the motor control.
cams and supports a 16-bit protocard in A simple ladder network converts
the EISA bus. Wired (Realtek 8139) and this to an analog voltage between zero
wireless (802.11b) network connections and five volts. This is level shifted and
are included. The body computer uses a amplified by a 741 op-amp to a ±12-volt
standard chassis, shortened by 1-3/8 signal and is applied to the input of
inches to fit within the body shell. This the motor driver. The D/A board is
only affected the use of long EISA cards equipped with a disk drive power con-
— such as the protocard — which had to nector and is supplied by +5 and +12
be trimmed to length. volts from the computer. The -12 volt-
Both computers may be attached age is derived via a Maxim 7662 chip
to a keyboard, mouse, monitor, and a from the +12 volt line. The Maxim chip
wired network connection when the requires only two electrolytic capacitors.
robot is on the workbench. Also, both The motor driver board is mounted
computers can boot without having a on a piece of plastic to the left side of
keyboard attached. When connected to the body computer chassis, along with FIGURE 5. Side view of the computer.
The power supply is modified to work
a network, the PC-Anywhere program is connections for power and motor wiring from 12 volts. The battery is in
used to access the robot computers from and the fusing. The A/D board is mounted the foreground.
a PC. The CPU in the body computer was beside it and connected to power and
over-clocked to 225 MHz, but was not the parallel port of the body computer. control of the motors. In March 2002, I
reliable at that frequency and was A manual control pendant is provided reached a milestone and completed a
returned to its nominal clock value. to move the robot in a tethered mode. version of the robot where the head
The power amplifier for the motor This handheld control box has three rotated and the drive motors turned.
drive module is a unit that was devel- switches and LEDs are used to indicate Computer control of the drive system
oped and has been in use for over 10 power. The left and right motors are wasn’t achieved until November of 2004.
years at Loyola College (where I teach) controlled independently with center off,
for an Introductory Physics Lab Program momentary switches, while the third FIGURE 6. The motor amp is mounted
in robotics. The board measures seven switch controls the head rotation. A on the red plastic piece, along with
by four inches and is dual channel. It DPDT switch at the bottom rear of the fusing and power distribution. The
prototype parallel port A/D card is on
uses an analog input and was originally robot selects either manual or computer the right, connected to the computer’s
designed for use with servo parallel port. The battery has been
removed for visibility.
Lessons Learned
operated potentiometers. The
motor drive section uses
2N6286 and 2N6283 power 1. Use consistently color-coded wire.
transistors, and to drive the 2. A main power switch would be nice, along with a
motor amp from the computer, big red emergency stop button.
we need a link between the 3. Include an onboard battery charger.
digital and the analog world. 4. Rapid prototyping in both hardware and software
Various D/A options were is the key to success.
5. Robotics is certainly getting easier.
considered, such as the Maxim
505 and MAX7228 chips. A
D/A card would require a cus- FIGURE 7. Drive motors in their frame.
tom device driver to the control
language (Logo) and a simpler
approach was adopted.
The critical tie between
the digital world of the
computer and the analog
world of the motors is provided
by a cheap-and-dirty, dual,
four-channel digital-to-analog
SERVO 03.2005 41
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R2-D2: A PC-Powered Mobile Robot

NASREM model — based on work at
NIST and NASA — and the Flight
Telerobotic Servicer Project.
This next higher level is the supervi-
sory level, which decides what to do.
Above that level and implemented exter-
nally to the platform is the world model.
Via the wireless Internet, the body
CPU is online to four other machines,
including a storage server with a
DVD drive. This allows for the off
FIGURE 9. Safe robotics. platform allocation of computational
and storage resources to robot tasks.
earlier Hero robot compared sensor The Logo system running on the
readings and implemented binaural MZ-104 presents an abstraction layer
hearing by centering the head on the between the user and the underlying
sound source. Another useful feature is hardware at the servo level. The details of
FIGURE 8. Manual control box. This a computer “heartbeat” indication: a the servo level are hidden. The user does
plugs into a connector at the rear of the
robot, where there is a switch to select signal to indicate the computer is still not operate at the “brain stem” level, but
manual or computer control. working and not hung. This might be rather at the “cortex” level with goals
as simple as an LED that is flashed once and schema, not control and status bits.
Sensors per second under program control.
Design Constraints
Most of the sensors are built into Architectural Control
the rotating head, as there is a bracket The computers in the robot need to
for a Garmin GPS-38 receiver with a Models operate from battery power, have mini-
serial interface. The head assembly has The robot’s body computer acts as mum power draw, minimize their heat
light sensors, a Polaroid ultrasonic the servo level of control, interfacing with production so that fans are not required,
range finder, dual audio sensors sensors and actuators. It also provides an and be tolerant of a vibration environ-
(dynamic microphones), and the web intermediate level of control. Additional ment (as the robot has no suspension).
cam. The two microphone “ears” on computational resources can provide A laptop computer might seem
either side of the head can be brought higher levels of goal seeking control to ideal for the application of the body
together into an analog multiplexer the system via the wireless connection. computer, as they are designed to
and an A/D. A similar set-up on an This follows the general principles of the operate with battery power and are

Further Readings and References

Stakem, Patrick H. and Hynes, Shane Control Architectures for Autonomous ISBN 0465046746.
“Sensors for Robots, the Integration of Mobile Robots,” Abstract 1988, J. Brazilian
Sensed Data, and Knowledge-Based Computer Society, v.4 n. 3 MSW Logo — see
Navigation Systems,” International Personal logo.html
Robotics Conference-1, Albuquerque, NM, Stakem, Pat, Lumia, Ron, and Smith, Dave,
April 1984. “A Computer and Communications Martin, Fred and Silverman, Brian, “The
Architecture for the Flight Telerobotic Handy Logo Reference Manual,” January
Everett, H. R., Sensors for Mobile Robots Servicer,” June 24, 1988, ICG-#20, 12, 1996, MIT Media Lab. http://
Theory and Applications, Natick, MA: A. K. Intelligent Controls Group, Robot
Peters, Ltd., 1995 ISBN 1-56881-048-2. Systems Division, National Bureau of LogoReferenceManual.pdf
Dudek, Gregory and Jenkin, Michael, Mini Book Robot White Paper, December
Computational Principles of Mobile Stakem, Patrick H. “The Brilliant Bulldozer: 2002, Evolution Robotics, www.evolution
Robotics, Cambridge University Press, ISBN Parallel Processing Techniques for .com
0521568765. Onboard Computation in Unmanned
Vehicles”, 15th Autonomous Unmanned AmigoBot User’s Guide, ActivMedia
Stakem, Patrick H. “Use of Zero-power Vehicle Systems Symposium, San Diego, Robotics, v. 1, November 2002,
RAM for Personal Robots,” Robot CA, June 6-8, 1988.
Experimenter Magazine, August 1985.
Papert, Seymour MindStorms, Children, Open Source Motor Controller Project —
Medeiros, Adelardo A.D., “A Survey of Computers, and Powerful Ideas, 1980, see

42 SERVO 03.2005
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R2-D2: A PC-Powered Mobile Robot

small and light. The main disadvantage
is the cost, due to the built-in screen.
Secondhand units with broken displays
can sometimes be purchased inexpen-
sively and used with an external monitor,
when necessary. However, the laptop
cannot take expansion cards without a
special docking station accessory. Later,
we will discuss new and emerging
boards that are even better suited to
this application than laptops.

The operating environment is
Windows-98SE (a 200-megabyte disk
footprint) with the PC-Anywhere
program, Delorme mapping, iSpeak,
and various other utilities. There is
custom wallpaper on the background
with a picture of the robot itself.
The Logo programming language
is ideal for robot control, as it contains
constructs for moving and turning. The FIGURE 10. Screen shot.
problem has been the lack of decent
I/O in implementations, but this is already underway. We might term this now standard. Berkeley Logo — which
addressed in the MSWLogo distribu- “R1-D2.” It will incorporate lessons runs under Linux — is the basis for the
tion. This language was applied in a learned from the first construction, as MSWLogo used in this project.
previous project to update a Hero, Jr. well as advances in technology. The Several off-the-shelf manipulators
robot with an added single chip PC second unit will utilize a radio control (hand and arm assemblies) are now
processor. This used Logo under the manual mode. This is already implement- available for a reasonable cost. These
Linux operating system in a metapro- ed on the motor driver card and only a enable a new series of capabilities. I
gramming mode — the Logo program single computer will be used. This neces- envision a robotic debug assistant that
wrote programs for the embedded con- sitates “spinal cord” wire management can store and display schematics as pdf
troller on the fly and downloaded them through the rotating head interface, but files, incorporate a digital voltmeter,
via a serial connection for execution. the wiring will be minimized and head digital logic analyzer, and oscilloscope
rotation will be arbitrarily limited. and integrate these with speech.
Future Directions The computer will be a mini ITX I already have a serial-to-CAN-bus
form factor from VIA. These mother- interface cable and the software to
First, I want to expand the sensor boards are 6.75 inches square and allow a PC to read the onboard computer
suite. Bart Everett’s book (see the incorporate built-in video and LAN. A in the car. Perhaps the robot can be a
“Further Reading” sidebar) is the defini- transition from Windows to Linux is car mechanic assistant, as well. SV
tive guide to a robotic sensor platform. envisioned, as Linux is the ideal operat-

About the Author

Many of these parts are now sitting in a ing environment for the robot computer
box, waiting for available bench time. system. With Linux, you can control the
These include tilt sensors, an infrared software components in the Patrick H. Stakem is a senior systems
motion detector, a smoke detector, bump system build by including only those engineer and teaches at Loyola College’s
switches along the base, and a digital components you need. The real-time Graduate Computer Science Program. He
compass chip. I also need to complete behavior of Linux is better and exten- was the Principle Investigator for NASA’s
the onboard battery charger, which will sions allow true real-time performance. FlightLinux Project and supported the
charge both batteries from wall power. Many of the newer Linux distributions Flight Telerobotic Servicer Program, a
In spite of its appearance and are getting “fat,” mostly due to the robotic element of the Space Station. He
because there are no manipulators, we GUI. Slimmed down systems — such as has a BSEE degree from Carnegie-Mellon
might term this initial unit “R1-D1.” VectorLinux — show promise, and and MS in Physics and Computer Science
from Johns Hopkins. He has been active in
Interestingly, I have three of the cases, support for devices such as USB connect-
robotics for over 20 years.
so construction of a second unit is ed cameras and wireless networking are
SERVO 03.2005 43
MarNewProducts.qxd 2/3/2005 3:25 PM Page 44

New Products

New Products
expressions and to program the µM-FPU over a RS-232
Documentation and software is provided to support
a wide variety of very popular microprocessors. The
µM-FPU V2 Floating Point µM-FPU is available in an eight-pin DIP or a 20-pin SSOP
Coprocessor package at a price of $14.95, with volume discounts

icromega Corporation is offering a new version
of the µM-FPU
For further information, please contact:

1664 St. Lawrence Ave.
Kingston, ON K7L 4V1
Corporation Canada
Coprocessor. The new Tel: 613•547•5193
version — µM-FPU V2 — Website:
now supports both I2C Circle #87 on the Reader Service Card.
and SPI interfaces. The
I2C interface supports
bus transfers at Orangutan Robot Controller
speeds up to 400 kHz
and the SPI interface sup-
ports speeds up to four
MHz. A 32-byte instruc-
P ololu has intro-
Orangutan robot con-

tion buffer has been troller, a complete con-

added for improved throughput and easier inter- trol solution for small
facing. Several new instructions have been added, robots. Orangutan
including new data transfer instructions, 32-bit integer includes an eight-char-
logical operations, conditional execution, table look-ups, acter x two-line liquid
and Nth order polynomials. crystal display, two bi-
The µM-FPU interfaces to virtually any microcon- directional motor
troller using either an I2C or SPI interface, making it ports, a buzzer, three
ideal for applications requiring floating point math, push-buttons, and up to 12 user I/O lines, yet the com-
such as converting sensor readings, robotic control, pact module measures only 2.00 x 1.85 inches and
data manipulation, and other embedded control weighs less than one ounce. Because of the complete fea-
applications. ture set, very few additional components (such as sensors
The µM-FPU provides support for 32-bit IEEE 754 com- or motors) need to be added to complete the electronic
patible floating point operations and 32-bit integer opera- portion of a small robot. The small package allows for
tions. A PIC compatible mode is also available to support greater flexibility in incorporating the electronics into the
PIC format floating point numbers. An extensive list of mechanical design of a robot.
functions are built in, including floating point math, long Orangutan is based on the Atmel MEGA8 microcon-
integer math, exponential functions, trigonometric func- troller, which features eight Kbytes of Flash program
tions, data conversion, and formatting functions. A built- memory, 1,024 bytes of SRAM, and 512 bytes of EEP-
in debug monitor is available to assist in developing and ROM. Up to eight channels of 10-bit analog-to-digital con-
debugging code. version is also available. Because the user has direct
A unique feature of the µM-FPU is the ability to define access to the microcontroller, any development software
user functions. User functions are defined as a series of for Atmel’s AVR microcontrollers — including Atmel’s free
built-in operations and are stored in Flash memory on the AVR Studio and the GCC C compiler — is compatible with
µM-FPU chip. Since they are stored internally, the majority Orangutan. An in-circuit programmer — such as Atmel’s
of communications overhead is eliminated. This results in affordable AVR ISP — is required for programming
dramatic speed improvements and greatly reduced code Orangutan. For applications requiring more program
space requirements on the microcontroller. Software is memory, the MEGA168 microcontroller with double
provided to define user functions using standard math the program space can be substituted for the MEGA8

44 SERVO 03.2005
MarNewProducts.qxd 2/3/2005 3:26 PM Page 45

microcontroller. cost, active balancing robot kit for

The Orangutan input voltage is hobby, research, and educational
5-10 volts, making it well-suited for applications.
use with small DC motors and five- to The thrust behind BalBot is to
eight-cell NiCd or NiMH battery not only provide a robotic platform
packs. The motor driver can supply for inventors, researchers, and stu-
up to a maximum of one A per motor dents, but to do so in a way that
channel, subject to power dissipation evokes a new level of creativity, moti-
requirements. Total power consump- vation, and excitement from the user.
tion (with motors and buzzer off) is With its innovative technology and
under 15 mA. form factor, BalBot is designed to
The unit price for the fully assem- inspire and free users to build upon
bled and tested Orangutan robot con- this platform to produce their own
troller is $79.00, with free shipping in ingenious creations. Why build
the US. a “standard” robot when you can
For further information, please build one that’s more fun and
contact: maneuverable?
6000 S. Eastern Ave. Ste. 12-D BalBot is available in two different
Pololu Las Vegas, NV 89119 kits. The BalBot Basic™ and BalBot
Tel: 877•7•POLOLU or Advanced™. The BalBot Basic provides
Corp. 702•262•6648
Fax: 702•262•6894 an active balancing platform — com-
Email: plete with real-time balancing control
circuitry — and is ready for the user to
Circle #99 on the Reader Service Card.
add a microcontroller (if navigation is
The BalBot Advanced adds for-
ROBOT KITS ward-looking sensors and a full-fea-
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For further information, please

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Circle #45 on the Reader Service Card.

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SERVO 03.2005 45
RobolinksMar.qxd 2/3/2005 1:33 PM Page 46



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46 SERVO 03.2005
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Sapiens and Doggies and Raptors, Oh My!

WowWee, Ltd., rocked the house at the Consumer Electronics Show

(CES) 2005 in Las Vegas, NV. The toy shop behind the Robosapien family
of entertainment robots unveiled five spectacles of modern technical
innovation, three of which we will take a closer look at.

by D avid G eer

SERVO 03.2005 47
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Robosapien2 C omes t o L ife W ith D omestic a nd P rehistoric C ompanions

More ‘Sapien-like all the time,
Mark T ilden a nd W owWee Robosapien2 can sit, stand, lie
down, and get back up. Extra
WowWee, Ltd., is a Hong Kong motions that help to facilitate these
consumer electronics and leisure product behaviors include bending over and
manufacturer launched by robotics
twisting at the waist.
physicist Mark Tilden.
Robosapien2 can detect and
Formerly with JPL, DARPA, and NASA,
Mark has introduced the bigger, more
avoid obstacles, track movement,
powerful, and adaptive Robosapien2, as and grasp objects that are given to
well as new Roboraptor and Robopet him. He does this with the aid of
robots as of the 2005 CES, held in January. his infrared, radar vision eyes. He
Mark shared his original Robosapien can also tell objects from human
creation with the world about two years flesh via his built-in vision color
ago. The product has since been dubbed system. These talents enable
the most advanced human-like robot Robosapien2 to wave when he
available — and he has many more robots recognizes someone or to respond
in the works today. with a handshake.
A full 14 inches tall, the first Robosapien2 can hear and talk
Robosapien had 67 pre-programmed func- up a storm. His stereo sound detec-
tions; Robosapien2 will have a surprisingly tion system enables him to respond
“My, w hat b ig h ands y ou h ave?!” higher number of functions, though not
to the surrounding auditory envi-
“The b etter t o f etch y our b everage w ith, everything about this toy release — slated
ronment. Laser tracking capabilities
my f ine r oboticist f riend.” for September — is yet known.
enable him to follow a path, which
you can trace on the floor with a
Robosapien2 and Friends — laser that comes in the remote control unit.
Robosapien2 can guide his new WowWee robot
Playful? Practical? companions — Robopet and Roboraptor — and interact with
them. Robosapien2 is due out in September ... along with his
The next iteration of Robosapien — Robosapien2 — is also friends.
a toy, yet it’s bigger and more capable than its predecessor.
More an example of total evolution than slight improvement, Robopet
Robosapien2 stands 24 inches tall — a full 10-inch gain over
his older brother. He can lift, throw, and drop with his much With a build and ears comparable to those of a Basenji,
larger, four — not three — fingered hands. Yes, Robosapien2 Robopet is your high energy dog-tronic playtime friend.
has three fingers and an opposable thumb! He has several lively, interactive sounds and animations in

How m uch i s t hat f inely t uned, The F uture o f R obosapien a nd F riends

alien-ee ared d oggy i n m y c amera l ens?
(Hint: L ess t han a d og f rom t he All the intel we could squeeze out of the WowWee grapevine is that there are
additional generations of the products in development now. Judging by current
pound w ith a ll i ts s hots.) year-to-year progress, might we see a four-foot Robosapien3 in 2006? Might it have
hundreds of programs and capabilities? Might it become fully autonomous? Will
advanced versions of Robosapien cross over from toys to tools, doing chores and
working side-by-side with human masters? Stay tuned as these and other questions
are answered in future versions of WowWee robots.

WowWee Alive
Think WowWee only has Robosapiens? Not by a long shot — what else is WowWee
up to? They have a new line called WowWee Alive. Think wall-mounted singing fish
developed many times over or animal heads more lifelike than Disney animatronics
and you’ve got the idea. These mentally engaging, emotionally stimulating, realistic
creatures are intelligent, well-crafted interactors you can add to your environment.
Full of complex capabilities and other surprises to make you wonder whether they’re
alive, these critters are sure to challenge your love of Furby. These robot busts — which
include a chimpanzee head, for example — can be programmed and controlled via
R/C or function fully autonomously in their free roam mode. Like Disney animatronics,
these robotic conversation pieces can interact with you and each other.

48 SERVO 03.2005
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Robosapien2 C omes t o L ife W ith D omestic a nd P rehistoric C ompanions

If I d idn’t k now i t w as R oboraptor’s R C, I ’d s wear i t w as a A w ink, a s mile, a f lash o f t he c amera, a nd I ’m h aving

model f or s ome f unky, n ew c atamaran. S ee t he t iger s tripes? this p hotographer f or l unch!

his repertoire. including walking, running, and stealthy, predatory stalking.

Fundamentals include the ability to crawl, walk, sit, stay, Another member of the multi-sensing crowd, Roboraptor
and even run and jump. Robopet can lie down, beg, bark, can see, hear, and feel environments and people. Touch
howl, and roll over. Additional tricks and training can be sensors on both head and tail and sonic sensors help him to
programmed in. accomplish these feats.
Like a real dog, he responds to positive (and negative) As you might expect of any dinosaur, Roboraptor
feedback and reinforcement. Multiple sensors give Robopet exhibits three very different moods. (Can we say Bi-polar-
object recognition and avoidance techniques. He can react to saur?) He can take on the personality of a hungry hunter or
sound, making him ever on the alert and fit for guard duty. be cautious or even playful.
This bot also follows laser drawn paths. If you caress his face when he’s in playful mode, he’ll
nuzzle up to you, but if you get near his jaws when he’s in
Roboraptor hunter mode, he’ll become an aggressor. With his powerful
jaws, Roboraptor can lift objects or bite down — snap,
What’s bigger than a breadbox, smaller than snap, snap!
Robosaurus, and happier than Julia Roberts after giving birth
to twins? It’s Roboraptor! Just look at that beautiful smile! Thank You. Thank You Very
Remember, when you can’t brush, eat something that carries
away plaque — like a car or your sibling’s femur bone. That’s
what Roboraptor does to maintain his pearly whites. Prior to the holiday season, the premiere Robosapien
Yes, Roboraptor may look wired on caffeine, but he’s received 30-some honors from top industry observers and
actually wired on ... wires, from head to tail. Look at those publications. Many awards were proffered as a result of child
big, buggy eyes — what else could keep a dinobot that jazzed testing panels. The response has been the same worldwide.
other than consistent jolts from electric volts? See “Resources” for information about these honors and
This R/C robotic dinosaur stretches 32 inches in length. awards. Imagine the response Robosapien2 and friends will
All his talents appear to come in sets of three. For example, generate during the holidays this year. SV
Roboraptor has three markedly different gaits for movement,
Robosapien H its V egas 1. Check out the Robosapien2 online at ... gee, what’s that link?
Oh, yeah! where you’ll also find
CES 2005 was the spot where WowWee’s robotic arm
reference to the numerous awards and recognitions
lifted the veil to uncover Robosapien2, two other advanced
RoboSapien has garnered.
robots, and other spell-binding technologies.
Roboraptor and Robopet join the taller, more capable
2. Get a gander at the new WowWee arrivals at www.
WowWee is, in fact, so wowed by the response to its
offerings to date that it is expanding its robotic platform and
3. Have you Googled for “how to hack Robosapien” lately?
lines to include Robonetics entertainment robots — a whole
Expect some serious Robosapien2, Robopet, and Roboraptor
other story in themselves.
hacking this year!

SERVO 03.2005 49
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by Steve Grau Figure 1

robot’s ability to determine where it is spacially and landmark-based localization, accumulated error is less of
A where it needs to go remains one of the most important
aspects of sensing and programming. In Part I of this series,
a concern, as the robot measures its position off of fixed
landmarks that don’t drift over time. However, the robot
we built several user interface components, and this month, has to deal with difficulties in identifying landmarks and
we will put those components to use as we add intelligence navigating through areas where it is unaware of landmarks.
to the RidgeWarrior II robot we’ve been programming. Since Localization is a difficult problem. Choosing an effective
we are focusing on robotics software, we have chosen to
use an off-the-shelf robot kit — the IntelliBrain™-Bot from Figure 2. Navigation and Localization class diagram.
RidgeSoft, shown in Figure 1. We are programming in Java™
using the RoboJDE™ software development environment,
which is included with the IntelliBrain-Bot kit. Java source
code for this series of articles is available at www.ridge\articles\ridgewarriorii\ridgewarriorii.htm
Our next major goal is to develop components that give
our robot the ability to track its position, a process called local-
ization. One common method of localization is dead reckoning,
where the robot uses measurements of speed, heading,
and time to deduce its position.
Landmark-based localization Figure 3. Hybrid Localizer class diagram.
is another common method,
and although many methods of
localization exist, none is perfect.
Dead reckoning is dependent
on accurate speed, heading, and
time measurements, and meas-
urement errors will result in an
error in the robot’s deduced
position. The error will tend to
increase over time, causing the
robot’s deduced position to drift
further and further from its real
position as it travels about. With
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Creating Reusable Robotic Software Components

support a variety of localization methods. By designing a

generic interface to any “localizer” component (Java class),
we can allow various localization methods to be used
interchangeably and also allow multiple methods to be
combined into hybrid methods. The localization function can
be implemented as a cohesive component that is loosely
coupled to other software components that make up our
robot’s control program.

The Localizer Interface

We will define a generic Java interface named
“Localizer,” which allows different localization methods to be
used interchangeably. Figure 2 shows a class diagram depicting
navigation and localization classes. In order to navigate the
robot from place to place, the Navigator relies on the
Localizer to provide the robot’s current position and heading:
its “Pose.” Figure 3 illustrates how multiple localizers could be
used to form a hybrid localizer that tracks the robot’s position
using a combination of localization methods.
Figure 4. Nubotics WheelWatcher WW-01 sensor. Our generic Localizer interface will need to declare a
method to retrieve the current Pose (position and heading).
method will depend on the requirements for a particular We will also declare methods to set these values so the
robot, while combining several methods may be effective. robot’s initial position can be set and so the position can be
For example, a robot might use dead reckoning to navigate corrected from time to time. We will define this interface in
to the vicinity of a landmark then switch to landmark-based Java as follows:
navigation, just as a ship’s captain might use dead reckoning
public interface Localizer {
while out of sight of land and then switch to landmark-based public Pose getPose();
navigation when land is in sight. public void setPose(Pose pose);
public void setPosition(float x, float y);
What to Do? }
public void setHeading(float theta);

So, what method of localization should we use for our Our Pose object will need member variables to keep track
robot? Rather than attempting to pick an ideal localization of the position in x and y coordinates — we won’t worry about
method, we can instead choose to design our software to elevation changes — and the direction the robot is heading,
which we will call theta. Since the Pose class is very simple,
Figure 5. Analog wheel encoder. we will make the member variables directly accessible to other
classes by declaring them “public.” This will allow faster
access to these variables than if they had to be read through
get methods such as pose.getX() and pose.getY(), saving
computing power for other tasks. We also want to prevent a
Pose object from changing while it is being used for naviga-
tion calculations. Therefore, we will make it immutable by
declaring its member variables “final.” Final member variables
can’t be changed after an object has been constructed.

public class Pose {

public final float x;
public final float y;
public final float theta;

public Pose(float x, float y, float theta) {

this.x = x;
this.y = y;
this.theta = theta;
The Localizer interface is not specific to one localization
technology or another. This allows other software components
52 SERVO 03.2005
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to work interchangeably
with a variety of localization
methods. We’ve defined the
Localizer interface such that it
provides a cohesive function
— tracking the robot’s posi-
tion and loose coupling to
other software components
— promoting reusability and
interchangeability of classes
we develop to the Localizer

a Localizer
We are now ready to put
the Localizer interface to
work. The IntelliBrain-Bot kit
we are using includes two
infrared photoreflector sen-
sors that can be used to
create encoders that sense
rotation of the robot’s Figure 6. Analog encoder data.
wheels. Our robot can use
these sensors to measure its motion, allowing it to keep track previous article. All this function will do is power the servo,
of its position using dead reckoning. For greater accuracy, we wait briefly to allow the wheel to reach full speed, then sample
can use WheelWatcher™ WW-01 sensors from Nubotics, the detector output every five milliseconds for half a second,
shown in Figure 4. Working with two different encoder storing the sampled data in an array. Once the data has been
sensors will allow us to further experiment with building collected, the function will wait until the START button is
reusable and interchangeable software components. pressed, then print the data to the debug output stream
Therefore, we will go ahead and program our robot to work System.out. We can then copy the data from the RoboJDE
with either type of wheel encoding sensor. “Run” window and paste it into a spread sheet program to
graph the data. The following Java code implements this:
Analog Encoders public void run() {
The IntelliBrain-Bot comes with wheels that have eight try {
spokes, as shown in Figure 1. The spokes are separated by Thread.sleep(500);
eight oblong holes in the wheels. We can detect wheel } catch (InterruptedException e) {}
rotation by mounting the Fairchild QRB1134 sensors that int[] samples = new int[100];
come with the IntelliBrain-Bot such that the spokes and holes long nextTime = System.currentTimeMillis();
for(int i = 0; i < samples.length; ++i) {
in the wheels pass in front of the sensors as the wheels turn. samples[i] = mEncoderInput.sample();
Each QRB1134 sensor consists of an infrared emitter and nextTime += 5;
detector pair. When the sensor is close to a solid surface, the try {
detector will sense infrared light from the emitter reflecting Thread.sleep(nextTime -
off of the surface. When there is no surface to provide a } catch (InterruptedException e) {}
reflection, the detector will not sense the light output from }
the emitter. By mounting a sensor near each wheel in such a mServo.setPosition(50);
way that the holes and spokes in the wheel pass in front of while (!mButton.isPressed());
for (int i = 0; i < samples.length; ++i) {
the sensor (as described in the IntelliBrain-Bot Assembly System.out.println(
Guide), our software will be able to use the signal from the Integer.toString(i * 5) + ‘\t’ + samples[i]);
detector to sense wheel rotation. }
Let’s first implement a small test function to sample one }
sensor’s detector signal. This will enable us to create a graph
showing the behavior of the sensor’s output as the associated The chart in Figure 6 shows the results from this test. The
wheel rotates. We will create a class named TestEncoder and sampled value is low when a spoke is in front of the sensor
add it to the list of selectable functions we created in the and high when a hole is in front of the sensor. The rising and
SERVO 03.2005 53
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Creating Reusable Robotic Software Components

falling edges correspond to the edges of the spokes. The if it sleeps too long, however, it will miss spoke edges. It will
rising-edge-to-rising-edge time is roughly 150 milliseconds also be a good idea to enclose all of the code in the run
when the wheel is spinning at full speed. Since the wheel has method in a try-catch block to catch and report any errors that
eight spokes, we can calculate that it takes about 1.2 seconds occur. We don’t expect there to be any errors, but if there is
(8 x 150) for the wheel to turn one revolution. The top speed a problem with our code, it will be much easier to debug if it
of the wheel is approximately 50 revolutions per minute. Our prints out a stack trace rather than just allowing the thread to
software will need to sample more frequently than at least terminate silently. The following code lays out this structure:
every 75 milliseconds to ensure it sees each spoke go by. If
we sample at a high enough frequency to count the passing public void run() {
try {
of both edges of each spoke, we can measure the wheel
// take initial sensor sample
position to an accuracy of 1/16 of a revolution. :
while (true) {
Creating an AnalogShaftEncoder // sample the sensor and count
// spoke edges
With Java’s multi-threading capability, it will be easy to set Thread.sleep(mPeriod);
up a thread to sample each wheel encoder sensor periodically. }
All we need to do is create a new class — AnalogShaftEncoder }
— which is a subclass of Java’s thread class. Each instance of catch (Throwable t) {
the class will be a separate thread that monitors the rotation of }
a single wheel. Our RidgeWarriorII class will create two }
instances of this class: one for each wheel.
The run method of the AnalogShaftEncoder will loop In order to count spoke edges, the run method will need
forever, checking if the edge of a spoke has passed by the to keep track of whether the sensor signal was high or low
sensor since the previous check. After each check, the thread on the previous check, then adjust the spoke edge counter if
will need to sleep to allow other threads to execute. The the sensor switched to the opposite state. We can implement
longer the thread sleeps, the less CPU time it will consume; this easily by using a Boolean variable to keep track of
whether the previous reading was high or low. The following
code uses the “wasHigh” variable to do this:

int value = mInput.sample();

if (wasHigh) {
if (value < mLowThreshold) {
// update count
wasHigh = false;
else {
if (value > mHighThreshold) {
// update count
wasHigh = true;

The low and high thresholds are the software equivalent

of a Schmitt trigger in an electronic circuit. This threshold
checking makes the state of the wasHigh variable sticky —
that is, it adds hysteresis. Thus, the state will only change
with large swings in the sampled value and our encoder will
be less susceptible to noise causing false counting.
Finally, our AnalogShaftEncoder will need to be told the
direction power is being applied to the wheel and to know
whether to increment or decrement the encoder count each
time an edge is detected. To do this, we will create a
DirectionListener interface:

public interface DirectionListener {

public void updateDirection(boolean isForward);

Circle #94 on the Reader Service Card.

Grau2.qxd 1/28/2005 3:57 PM Page 55

The code controlling the motor will then be able to tell the
encoder which direction the motor is applying power. The
encoder will set the state of a member variable — mIsForward
— each time it receives an updateDirection call. The encoder will
use the direction information when updating the edge count to
determine if the count should be incremented (wheel is rotating
forward) or decremented (wheel is rotating backward):

if (mIsForward)

We will also need to implement the getCounts method

to give other classes access to the encoder’s counter:

public int getCounts() {

return mCounts;

WheelWatcher Encoders
The analog shaft encoders we have just created acknowl-
edge 16 counts for each revolution of the wheel. Assuming
there are no other errors, the robot can measure its position
to 1/16 of the wheel circumference, which is approximately
1/2 inch. This accuracy is fine for forward motion, but it Figure 7. Circle traced by robot turning in place.
only allows the robot to measure its heading to a precision of
13 degrees. With this level of precision, our dead reckoning we can create a class that will keep an estimate of the robot’s
localizer will not be highly accurate. Pose. If the robot moves straight ahead, the distance it travels
The WheelWatcher WW-01 from Nubotics is a quadrature is simply the average number of encoder counts the two
shaft encoder designed for hobby servos. These sensors wheels turn times the distance the robot travels per encoder
mount nicely on the IntelliBrain-Bot and accrue 128 counts count. This can be calculated by the following equations:
per wheel revolution. The quadrature technique they use
also allows the sensor to sense the direction of the wheel. distancePerCount = Pi * diameterWheel /
We will need to replace the wheels, however, because the
adhesive code wheel can’t be attached to the stock deltaDistance = (leftCounts + rightCounts) / 2 *
IntelliBrain-Bot wheels. Using this sensor will improve the distancePerCount;
precision of heading measurements to within two degrees.
Of course, this is assuming there are no other sources of If the robot rotates in place by turning its wheels in
error. Wheel slippage and other sources of error will reduce opposite directions, the wheels will trace a circle whose diam-
the accuracy. eter is equal to the track width of the robot. The robot’s
The IntelliBrain robotics controller has built-in support heading changes as the wheels make their way around this
for quadrature shaft encoders, so we will not have to create circle. The robot will rotate 2π radians (360 degrees) when
any additional classes to use these sensors. Instead, we can the wheels have traversed the circumference of this circle.
simply use the IntelliBrain.getShaftEncoder method to get a The number of encoder counts to rotate a full circle depends
quadrature encoder object and then initialize it with the two on the geometry of the robot and can be calculated by:
IntelliBrain digital input ports the WheelWatcher sensor uses,
as follows: countsPerRotation = (trackWidth / wheelDiameter) *
leftEncoder = IntelliBrain.getShaftEncoder(1);
This is the number of counts for a single wheel. If we
IntelliBrain.getDigitalIO(1), take the difference in counts between the two wheels and
IntelliBrain.getDigitalIO(2)); note that each rotation is 2π radians, we can rearrange this
equation into the following two equations:
Tracking Using Dead Reckoning radiansPerCount = Pi * (wheelDiameter/trackWidth) /
With the ability to measure the rotation of each wheel,
SERVO 03.2005 55
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Creating Reusable Robotic Software Components

work in a timed loop in its run method, as follows:

long nextTime = System.currentTimeMillis();

while(true) {
// read encoders
// calculate change in pose
// update position and heading estimates

nextTime += mPeriod;
Thread.sleep(nextTime -
Reading the encoders is simply a matter of
calling each encoder’s getCounts method:

Figure 8. Calculating discrete position changes. int leftCounts = mLeftEncoder.getCounts();

int rightCounts = mRightEncoder.getCounts();
deltaTheta = (rightCounts – leftCounts) *
Conveniently, this code does not depend on the specific
where deltaTheta is the angle in radians the robot rotates. type of shaft encoder sensor the robot uses. The
Given the left and right encoder counts, these equations ShaftEncoder interface has enabled loose coupling between
enable our program to estimate the robot’s position — the encoder classes and our localizer class,
provided it moves straight ahead or rotates in place — but facilitating interchangeability. Hence, the localizer can work
what if the robot moves along an arbitrary path? with any encoder that supports the ShaftEncoder interface.
Our localizer class can estimate the robot’s position Updating the position and heading estimates is just a
along an arbitrary path by treating the robot’s motion as matter of adding the ∆x, ∆y, and ∆Θ values into the previous
many small, discrete movements. By summing all of the position estimate. However, because there are multiple
discrete movements the robot makes, the localizer can threads accessing the Pose data, we have to be careful to
estimate the robot’s current position. ensure that another thread doesn’t read the Pose data while
As shown in Figure 8, the robot moves a small distance, the localizer thread is updating it. We can use Java’s built-in
∆d (deltaDistance), while it travels forward in the direction synchronization mechanism to coordinate access to the
Θ (theta). Assuming the direction the robot is heading shared data by putting the update code in a synchronized
doesn’t change significantly during each step, the change in code block and adding the “synchronized” modifier to all
the position along the x axis, ∆x (deltaX), and change in methods that allow other threads to access the Pose data.
position along the y axis, ∆y (deltaY), can be calculated using The following code will update the position:
the following trigonometric calculations:
synchronized(this) {
float deltaX = deltaDistance * (float)Math.cos(mTheta); mX += deltaX;
mY += deltaY;
float deltaY = deltaDistance * (float)Math.sin(mTheta); mTheta += deltaTheta;

// limit theta to -Pi <= theta < Pi

The ∆x and ∆y values can then be added to the previous if (mTheta > PI)
mTheta -= TWO_PI;
position estimate to obtain a new position estimate. As with else if (mTheta <= -PI)
several other classes we have created, the Odometric- mTheta += TWO_PI;
Localizer class will extend the Thread class and do its main }

Finally, we will need a getPose method to allow other

RESOURCES threads to read the Pose data.
RidgeWarrior II Source code\articles\ridgewarriorii\ridgewarriorii.htm public synchronized Pose getPose() {
return new Pose(mX, mY, mTheta);
IntelliBrain-Bot Kit\intellibrainbot\intellibrainbot.htm

WheelWatcher WW-01 Quadrature Encoders Testing
In order to test the AnalogShaftEncoder and Odometric-
56 SERVO 03.2005
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Localizer classes we’ve now constructed, we will need to Java’s multi-threading and interface features to design
construct left and right encoder object instances and con- these classes such that they are loosely coupled to other
struct a localizer object instance in the RidgeWarriorII main components that make up our robot’s control program.
method, as well as implement a few test classes. The This facilitates reuse of these classes in other robot
OdometricLocalizer class requires the wheel diameter and software projects. It also allows us to replace the classes
track width measurements of the robot to be provided in its with other classes that provide the same function but in a
construction. For the IntelliBrain-Bot, these are approximate- different way. We demonstrated this by allowing our
ly 2.65 inches and 4.55 inches, respectively. analog shaft encoders to be used interchangeably with the
We will need two new screens: one to view the WheelWatcher quadrature shaft encoders. In the future,
encoder counter values and the other to view the Pose data we could make use of other localization techniques — for
from the localizer. We will also need a few test functions to example, landmark recognition — by replacing the
move the robot in different ways so we can verify the OdometricLocalizer with another class that uses a different
encoders and localizer function correctly. Source code for localization method. The Localizer interface allows the
five test classes — EncoderCountsScreen, PoseScreen, localizer function to be a cohesive component with
TimedForward, TimedRotate, and TimedSquare — is plug-and-play interchangeability.
available online. The latter three classes power the servos In our next article in this series, we will implement classes
for fixed periods of time to cause the robot to move in a that use the output of our localizer to navigate the robot
specific pattern, as indicated by the name of each class. By from place to place. SV
running these tests and observing the data displayed on
the LCD screen, we can validate the functionality of our
encoder and localizer classes.
Steve Grau has been developing software for over
Conclusion 20 years. He is the founder of RidgeSoft, LLC, and the author
of the RoboJDE, a Java-enabled robotics software development
In this article, we’ve added two more reusable classes environment.
that support shaft encoding and localization. We have used

Circle #101 on the Reader Service Card.

SERVO 03.2005 57
BookstoreMar05.qxd 2/3/2005 10:04 AM Page 58

Mind Cday’s
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SERVO 03.2005 59
Geerhead.qxd 2/2/2005 12:48 PM Page 60

by David Geer

These Walking Forest

Machines can cut
and fell trees about
20 inches thick.

Finland’s Plustech Oy Timberjack Walking Forester

What has six legs, weighs more than 10 tons, and walks through the forest
with a grace near that of a gazelle? It’s not a dancing machine, but it is a
Walking Forest Machine. Its computer intellect controls walker direction,
speed, step height, walking gait, and ground clearance.
60 SERVO 03.2005
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Mobility is placed in the hands, or hand, of the operator They can lift trees of about 1.5 metric tons each, depending
via a single, intuitive, user-friendly joystick. on the reach of the particular prototype’s boom.

Finnish Forest Forager variety — have been doing the lumber-

jack’s work for years, so why have they
come in weights of 11 and 15 metric
tons, and they can lift trees of about
Finland is noted for its contribution decided to develop a walker all of a 1.5 metric tons each, depending on the
to cell phone media with the house- sudden instead of these other means reach of the particular prototype’s
hold name of Nokia, but Finland isn’t of mobility? It seems that the wheeled boom. These Foresters are also agile,
only just “a phone call away.” It’s also and tank-like tracked vehicles tend to walking up 30-degree slopes without
“a walk in the park!” damage sensitive forest soils. Walkers losing their balance, and since they
A division of John Deere (and a are much less of a problem for the run on diesel fuel, they can work a
subsidiary of Timberjack, the world's environment. double shift — a full 16 hours —
leading designer, manufacturer, and without refueling.
distributor of forestry equipment), Six-Legged Tree Though the Walking Foresters do
Plustech Oy makes the Timberjack Spiders less harm to the soil than tracks or
Walking Forest Machine, an industrial wheels, they do face some of the same
strength, working robot that walks up The Walking Forest Machines developmental challenges as other
mountains and through forests to cut,
fell, and carry off monstrous trees in DOING THE TIMBERJACK STRUT!
minutes. The same giants of the wood-
lands that once took two men with Plustech (a division of John weight to balance itself over varying
strong arms, heavy axe heads, and a lot Deere) makes the Timberjack Walking landscapes. It finds solid footing
of perspiration to tackle are now razed Forest Machine, which traverses for each of its legs. Ground pressure
as easy as a florist clips a long-stemmed
forests with ease via six legs and feet can be adjusted because of its
These Walking Forest Machines to harvest trees while protecting the changeable shoes.
can cut and fell trees about 20 inches ground from the damage wheeled Because of the walker’s advanced
thick. These are all signs that say many and tracked vehicles would other- control system, the operator only
a future lumberjack will be a heavy wise do. needs to move a single joystick to
equipment operator sitting in the The machine acclimates itself select direction and speed. The
sweet seat of a machine just like to the terrain automatically by automated computer system does all
this one. responding to input from sensors. other thinking and responding
Actually, non-walkers from The machine can redistribute its where movement is concerned.
Timberjack — the track and wheel
SERVO 03.2005 61
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The Walking Foresters can step over obstacles instead of The Walking Forester’s ability to turn in place makes it highly
attempting to drive through them. desirable for confined spaces.

types. Speed, cost, and reliability are all all directed by one joystick, which also of its operator.
concerns of Plustech’s R&D. controls the Walking Forester’s
ground clearance, frame tilt, and roll Backbone and Brains
“It’s Got Legs!” angles.
The Forest Walker can step ahead, From the legs to the nerves, from
The Walking Forester’s legs are back, side-to-side, and diagonally. the nerves to the brain ... the Forester’s
more than just three pairs of oversized It can step over obstacles, turn in nervous center is a computer system
stocking stuffers. Each of its six agile, place, and adjust to the terrain by with a high IQ. Its computer intellect
ambulatory appendages is about nine altering ground clearance and the controls the Forester’s direction, speed,
feet wide and 30 feet long. These are height of each step with the assistance step height, walking gait, and ground

KHR-1 Robo-One Robot Kit
These awesome kits are the latest craze in Japan.
Robot has 17 motors for fluid movements.
Programed and Controlled via PC.
Upgradable to Bluetooth wireless.


Circle #60 on the Reader Service Card.
62 SERVO 03.2005
Geerhead.qxd 2/2/2005 12:57 PM Page 63



One of the most popular Because Timberjack machines development centers in Canada and
questions is how you sustain a are on the job in over 80 countries, Finland. The Walking Forest Machine
project that requires so much the brand has a solid foundation project is the fruit of Plustech, a
spending on the development of from which to grow into the future. Timberjack affiliate that specializes
an unconventional, experimental They have determined that this is in long-term R&D.
technology over such a long period? the direction in which to move, and Plustech is only a portion of
The wheeled versions of the if they intend to stay in this business, Timberjack’s massive European R&D
Timberjack forest machines have they must make this kind of an Center in Tampere, Finland. The
been available since 1947. Products investment. current overarching goal of the
include a wide range of machines Timberjack has, in fact, machine is to examine just how
for harvesting, terrain transport, invested in product development appropriate walking technology is
and log loading. through two primary research and for harvesting forests.

clearance. with the Walking Forest Machine. required a great deal of research
The Walking Forester’s tree Though still not in production, the and testing in new automation
harvesting head is controlled by the Walking Forester has been
Timberjack measuring and control developed and tested in several of USING TREES FOR CHEW TOYS!
system, while the loader and engine the world’s forests to adapt it to a
are controlled by yet another system variety of working conditions and Like non-perambulating Timberjack
called the Total Machine Control environments. harvesters, the Walking Forest Machine
system. The testing will continue
prototype is outfitted with a Timberjack
Mobility is placed in the hands, or until Plustech is certain the
3000 measuring and control system and
hand, of the operator via a single, machine will hold up long-term
intuitive, user-friendly joystick. in the demanding working harvester head.
environments of the world’s Via this system, an operator can set
Forests of the Future forests. Plustech wants to parameters for timber harvesting based
develop Walking Foresters for on the priorities of the forest owner. An
Advocates of forest soil preserva- every type of foresting condition operator can also monitor production
tion have demanded a solution to the and requirement. based on tree species and volume of
ravaging of modern forestry for some The current Walking trees taken.
time. In 1995, Plustech Oy responded Foresters prototypes have already

SERVO 03.2005 63
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In time, we should
expect to see them or their
Author, Author!
variants hard at work clear- Encore, Encore!
ing forests and preserving
forest floors through their The Timberjack Walking Forest
walking technology. Machine has been honored with
several awards, including the 1997
Adapt to the European IT Prize. In selecting the
Environs recipient of this award for design and
innovation, 25 finalists were pulled
R&D has so far demon- from a pool of 319 entrants from
strated that walking tech- 27 countries.
nology is highly suitable to In 1996, the Walker was highly
steep slopes and soft commended in the eco-design
ground types where other category of the Better Environment
harvesting machines and Awards for Industry. This event
methods prove to cause recognizes those innovations that
irreparable damage to the favorably impact the environment as
forest, specifically in the compared to other technologies.
The machine can redistribute its weight to balance form of ground erosion.
itself over varying landscapes. The Walking Foresters Has It Sprung a Leak?
can step over obstacles
technologies and mobile hydraulics. instead of attempting to drive through During a press event and live
They also need to meet these them. It can optimize the distribution demonstration in Finland, a radio
requirements while keeping down the of ground pressure in order to step commentator was caught off guard by
ultimate price tag. lightly — so-to-speak — as well as one of the Walking Forester’s less
minimize disturbance of soil and reported behaviors. As is prone to
RESOURCES tree roots. happen when the Walker has just been
The Walking Forester’s ability to cleaned, when it swung and tilted its
The walking forest machine comes turn in place makes it highly desirable body some remaining water spilled out
in three prototypes (one basic for confined spaces, and whatever of the frame.
platform and two forest harvesters). the legs are doing, the carrier can It looked as if the Walker had just
These are introduced on the Internet maintain an even keel so the taken, err, uh, sprung a leak! The
at Forester’s operator can maintain an commentator responded, ”A-a-a-and
Check out other Timberjack acceptable level of comfort. now some kind of liquid is coming out
The Walking Foresters are of the machine’s body!”
foresters and equipment at www.timber
extremely stable and precise for
accurate crane movement and usage. Let’s See One Up Close
Though highly mobile, the Walker’s speed, cost, From inside the cockpit, the operator can con- Plustech provides live
and reliability are concerns for Plustech’s R&D. trol ground clearance, frame tilt, and roll angles. demonstrations of the
Walking Forest Machines
at local fairs in Finland.
Though they’ve tossed
around the idea of holding
demonstrations in the US,
no decision has been
made as yet to follow
Someday, I’m sure —
especially once they come
into commercial use — you
can expect Plustech and/or
John Deere to bring over
these Walking Foresters to
show them off. SV
64 SERVO 03.2005
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by Jeff Eckert
re you just an avid Internet Hubble mission will follow two US an existing nominee, stop by www.
A surfer who came across some-
thing cool that we all need to see?
military satellite missions that will utilize
MDA-devised solutions to perform

similar tasks involving a classified

Are you on an interesting R&D
observation program and a satellite
group and want to share what
service mission. The $154 million may
ScanEagle Goes Wireless
you’re developing? Then send me
sound a bit pricey for a repair job, but
an email! To submit related press
maybe we can try to pay them in
releases and news items, please
Canadian dollars.

— Jeff Eckert
Nominate a Robot
Robots to Fix Hubble for
$154 Million

The ScanEagle UAV now facilitates

secure wireless communications.
Photo courtesy of Insitu Corp.

In case you aren't familiar with it,

ScanEagle is a long endurance,
autonomous unmanned aerial vehicle
(UAV) developed by Boeing (www. and The Insitu Group
( for military
Artist’s depiction of Hubble Telescope and homeland security applications.
and repair vehicle. As of late 2004, it had logged more
Photo courtesy of MDA. than 1,400 hours of service in Iraq.
ScanEagle is four feet in length and
Since 1993, the Hubble Space has a 10-foot wingspan, and the
Honda’s ASIMO robot is a recent
Telescope (HST) has been periodically inductee into the Robot Hall of current model can remain on duty
serviced by astronauts aboard a Space Fame. Photo courtesy of for a shift of more than 15 hours
Shuttle, replacing aging hardware and Honda Motor Co., Ltd. (with a version that offers 30
installing more advanced scientific hours of endurance in the works). As
instruments. As fallout from the In case you missed it, the Robot a standard payload, it carries an
Columbia tragedy in 2003, the next Hall of Fame, created by Carnegie- electro-optical or infrared camera
service mission was cancelled last year, Mellon University in 2003 to honor and it can track both stationary and
in part over concerns about astronaut both real and fictional robots that moving targets from greater than
safety. The obvious solution is a fully have affected our lives, inducted 16,000 feet.
robotic service mission, and it was five new members last year. These The latest news is that ScanEagle
recently announced that British are Honda's humanoid ASIMO, has been upgraded to perform high
Columbia-based MacDonald, Dettwiler Shakey — the autonomous robot from speed wireless communications relay
and Associates, Ltd. (MDA, SRI International, the animated functions. Enabled by Harris, has secured a character Astro Boy, Robby the Robot Corporation's National Security
$154 million contract from the — a movie prop turned merchandising Agency approved Type 1 classified
National Aeronautics and Space gold mine, and Star Wars' C-3PO. SecNet-11® Plus technology in the
Administration (NASA, www.nasa. If you want to nominate your favorite UAV's avionics bay, streaming video
gov) to provide exactly that. The automaton for 2005 or vote for and voice-over IP communications

SERVO 03.2005 65
Robytes.qxd 2/2/2005 1:19 PM Page 66


were sent from a ground control which is an Italian civil engineering

station over a secure high bandwidth company.
network to ScanEagle 18 miles away. Weighing in at about 3,800 kg
The data was then instantaneously (10,000 lbs) and with a base of 2 x
relayed to ground personnel six miles 2.5 meters (6.6 x 8.2 feet), it
from the UAV. qualifies as one of the world's largest.
In practical terms, this means that Using remote technology originally
it can be used by troops on the ground developed by the European Space
to receive situational data on the Agency (ESA,,
battlefield, securely and without delay. Roboclimber recently was put to the
The company also produces the test in a successful effort to reinforce a
Seascan UAV, which is designed for nearly vertical rock wall rising from the
aerial reconnaissance at sea for fish valley of Alta Val Torre in the
finding, search and rescue operations, Friuli-Venezia Giulia region of Italy. The
coastal patrol, and other purposes. nation is plagued by more than 400
Aqua — an adaptation of the RHex
Photos, videos, and detailed specs are landslides every year. robot — dons flippers and takes
available at the Insitu website. Basically, the robot employs an to the ocean. Photo courtesy
onboard Web camera to allow it to be of McGill University.
maneuvered into the proper position
from a safe distance. It then engages The autonomous hexapod critter —
Big Bot Prevents Landslides a 28 kW drilling machine to drill a hole patterned after the esteemed cock-
in the wall, up to 20 meters in depth roach — was created as part of a study
and 76 mm in diameter, into which in computational neuromechanics that
stabilizing rods are inserted. The drill “applies mathematical techniques
can penetrate any rock-hard material, from dynamical systems theory to
on any gradient. problems of animal locomotion and,
According to a project coordinator, in turn, seeks inspiration from biology
“Assuming a typical landslide front of in advancing the state of the art of
5,000 square meters and requiring robotic systems.” Translation: They
5,000 meters of deep drilling, we want to figure out how roaches can
estimate that the Roboclimber system walk without falling over.
can save 75,000 euros (about RHex is a pretty successful
$100,000.00 as of this writing),” concept, and current versions can
as opposed to performing the move at better than five body lengths
reinforcement process manually. “The per second (2.25 m/s), climb slopes
most important factor is that, with exceeding 45 degrees, and climb
Roboclimber, we can secure steep, stairs.
Roboclimber prevents landslides rocky walls without risking human Possibly the most fascinating
without endangering human life. health and lives. We can do it faster, incarnation so far was created at
Photo courtesy of D'Appolonia S.p.A. more efficiently, and yet much more McGill University's Ambulatory
safely.” Robotics Lab. A waterproof version
Gravity is a pretty useful thing was dropped into a reef environment
overall, but, as California readers and remotely controlled with the help
can attest, it has an ugly habit of of two on-board cameras. The
pulling heaps of earth from high
RHex Learns to Swim “Aqua” RHex showed impressive
places to lower places, much to the Backed by $60 million in funding maneuverability in the underwater
detriment of real estate values in from the Defense Advanced Research environment. To view underwater
both locations. Projects Agency (DARPA, www. videos and access some relevant links,
However, landslides are becom-, the insect-like RHex
ing more and more preventable, robots have been around for several robots.html General info is available
thanks to Roboclimber — a large scale years, crawling around and multiplying at SV
robot that was developed by ICOP, within a number of universities.

66 SERVO 03.2005
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by G ordon M cComb

T he smallest of robots can be built

by only using a thin sheet of
aluminum or plastic. Just stick motors
of robot playtime with little cost and
construction time.
Larger robots, however, need a
you can find much of what you need at
the local hardware store. Mail order
provides an even greater assortment
and other parts to it and you have a stronger framework, as larger motors, of unique parts, such as extruded
robot. You can even build simple robot batteries, wheels, and other parts add aluminum framing.
bodies using only an electronic circuit weight. To support this weight, your In this column, I’ll discuss building
board or solderless breadboard. As robot needs a reliable structure — the robot structures using traditional fram-
long as the batteries and motors bones of the bot. ing techniques with simple steel
aren’t too heavy, these construction Fortunately, building strong robot and plastic brackets, metal stock, and
techniques will provide many hours bodies isn’t difficult or expensive, and aluminum extrusions.
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Steel Brackets to Bolt are fastening together. Common lengths

(in inches) are 1/2, 3/4, 1, and 1-1/2.
Even more sources for brackets:

Things Together • Mirror clips (hardware store) can be

Using Specialty used as small brackets. Most mirror
Brackets are used to hold two or Furniture Brackets clips have only one hole and may not
more pieces together usually (but not be in the familiar L-shape. You can
always) at right angles. Hardware brack- The better hardware stores stock a always drill more holes and bend the
ets are ideal for general robotics con- small assortment of replacement parts clip to the shape you want.
struction, as these brackets are available for shelves, cabinets, and furniture.
in a variety of sizes and styles. You can Among these parts are several sizes and • Small metal L-brackets (computer
use the brackets to build the frame of a styles of brackets made of either metal supply) are used to construct electronics
robot constructed with various stock. or plastic. In my local hardware store, and computer systems. You’ll have
The most common brackets are these parts are socked away in little better luck finding these online.
made of 14- to 18-gauge steel (the yellow drawers. You buy them in single
lower the number, the thicker the quantities and prices are a little high. • Extra metal and plastic parts from
metal). In order to resist corrosion and Another source of handy brackets Erector Sets and similar construction
rust, the steel is zinc plated, giving the for robotics is the local cabinet-making toys make for inexpensive brackets.
brackets their common “metallic” look. shop. Though reselling parts isn’t their
(Some brackets are plated with brass, main business, you never know • Self-made brackets can be constructed
and are intended for decorative uses. what you can get unless you ask. Look from aluminum or brass metal, which is
They’re more expensive and they have for heavy duty “KD” (knock-down) available at hobby stores and some
limited use in robotics). Common sizes brackets, which are used to lash hardware stores. Drill the holes, cut to
and types of steel brackets are: together two pieces of heavy wood. length, and bend as needed.
With the right fastener, they’ll even
• 1-1/2 x 3/8 inch flat-corner brackets hold together heavy robots. Metal Stock at the
— used when joining pieces cut at 45° Along the same lines are catalog
miters to make a frame. retailers of KD furniture such as IKEA. Corner Hardware
Check for availability of spare parts. Store
• 1 x 3/8 or 1/2 inch corner-angle brack- Depending on the retailer, spare parts
ets — used when attaching the stock to are only available as replacements for You can build a sturdy (nearly
base plates and when securing various specific products, so you must know indestructible!) robot using the metal
components (like motors) to the robot. what to order before you can order it. stock commonly available at most any
One way around this dilemma is to find hardware store. A very handy material
• The above also come in sizes up to a piece of furniture in the store that is the “extrusion,” so called because
about 2 x 2-3/4 inches. has the part you need. You can then the metal is produced by extruding the
ask if spare parts are available for it. heated, molten material out of a
Keep in mind that angle brackets Remember, metal brackets can shaped orifice. The metal cools in the
are made of fairly heavy steel and are, add substantial weight to a robot. shape of the orifice, which can be a
therefore, heavy. If you use a lot of Plastic brackets add little weight, but — round tube, a square tube, and various
them, they can add considerable weight unless you’re careful — they don’t L, T, I, and U shapes. Metal extrusions
to your robot. If you must keep weight provide much holding power. Such is can be used to construct the frame of
down, consider substituting angle brack- not the case with “gusseted” brackets. a robot, for example, or to custom-
ets with other mounting techniques, A gusseted bracket is made of make brackets and other parts.
including gluing, brazing (for metal), or plastic, such as high-density polyethylene Just about all metals are available
fastening screws directly into the frame (HDPE), which makes it very light. To add in extruded shapes, but — for the
or base material of your robot. strength, the bracket uses molded-in gus- purpose of robotics — the three most
Most brackets are pre-drilled to sets that reinforce the plastic at its critical useful extruded metals are:
accept #6 to #10 size machine screws stress points. The result is a bracket that
(you can use wood screws if you’re is about as strong as a steel bracket, but • Aluminum, usually 6061 alloy,
attaching the brackets to wood). For at only a fraction of its weight. anodized with a brushed silver appear-
small robots, choose a smaller fastener Alas, plastic gusset brackets are ance. It won’t rust, but corrosion is
size — it’ll save weight. A good all- not easy to find. They are available possible if left outdoors. This material is
purpose machine screw for most hobby from some furniture building outlets reasonably easy to cut and drill and is
robots is 6-32. The “6” means it’s a size and select online resources, such affordable. It’s available at most
#6 fastener, and “32” means there are as Budget Robotics. Sizes are fairly hardware stores in various sizes and
32 threads per inch. Choose the screw limited, but those sizes tend to be quite lengths. A typical aluminum extrusion
length to accommodate the material you adequate for most jobs. is a one inch equal L-angle; this means
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an L-angle shape is one inch on each Extruded aluminum and steel Perhaps the most common
side. The typical thickness of aluminum comes in even numbered lengths from application for metal extrusions is
extrusions is 1/32 to 1/8 inch. Lengths two to eight feet per section; some building sturdy robot frames. As noted
are from short, one foot pieces to eight stores will let you buy cut pieces. above, common shapes are the U- and
foot ones. Aluminum is lighter and easier to work L-channel; the U-channel is my personal
with, but steel is stronger. Use favorite. A handy size is approximately
• Mild steel, for general house and steel when you need the strength; 1/2 x 1/2 x 5/8 inch — large enough to
yard work. The steel is sold uncoated, otherwise, opt for aluminum. accommodate fasteners, L-brackets,
can be welded, and will rust if not Extruded aluminum and steel are and other hardware, but not so large
painted. This material is suitable for available in more than two dozen that the metal unnecessarily adds to
larger, heavy duty robots, such as those common styles, from thin bars to pipes the weight of the robot.
meant for combat. Typical thickness to square posts. Although you can use To construct a frame, the extrusion
ranges from 1/8 to 1/4 inch. any of it as you see fit, a couple of is cut to length, then joined either to
standard sizes may prove to be itself or by way of brackets. Metal or
• Brass and copper extrusions are particularly beneficial in your robot- plastic fasteners can be used, as needed.
available at some hardware and hobby building endeavors. For a lightweight robot, use either
stores in limited sizes and varieties. nylon fasteners (if the frame is fairly
Most extrusions are round and square • 1 x 1 x 1/16 inch angle small, say under eight inches) or 4-40
lengths of tubing with thickness from steel machine screws. You can also
1/64 to no more than 1/16 inch. You’d • 57/64 x 9/16 x 1/16 inch channel substitute aluminum pop rivets rather
use these when you need lightweight than screws, but this naturally makes
metal that can be soldered or brazed, • 41/64 x 1/2 x 1/16 inch channel the frame construction permanent.
such as constructing the legs of a small Weight can add up quickly when
hexapod robot. Brass and copper • Bar stock widths from one to three using brackets, so choose the smallest
won’t rust if left unpainted, but both inches and thickness from 1/16 to available that is consistent with the
can tarnish. 1/4 inch. overall load bearing on the frame. Extra

Affordable Motion Control Products

Robot Building

Motor Speed

PID Motor
Solutions Cubed
Phone 530-891-8045 Solutions
Circle #73 on the Reader Service Card.
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Robotics R esources
galvanized mending plates, joist
hangers, and other metal pieces to
join lumber together. Most of these
come in weird shapes, but flat plates
are available in a number of widths
and lengths.
You can use the plates as they
come or cut them to size. The material
is galvanized steel and is hard to cut, so
be sure to use a hacksaw with a fresh
blade. The plates have numerous
pre-drilled holes in them to facilitate
hammering with nails, but you can drill
new holes where you need them.
Mending plates (sometimes
referred to as Simpson ties — after the
name of a major manufacturer) are
available in four, six, and 12 inch
lengths that are four or six inches
wide; they are also available in two
inch wide T shapes. You can usually
find mending plates, angles, and other
steel framing hardware in the nail and
FIGURE 1. Ace Hardware stores dot the country and provide a horde of useful fastener section of home improvement
bits and pieces for robot construction. stores.
Ready-made steel angle brackets
large steel L brackets are not necessary Mending Plates and are convenient and cheap for the bulk
for a robot under about 12 to 15 of any robotics project.
inches. Opt instead for the smaller 1 x Iron Angle Brackets Sometimes, you need a size or
1 x 1/2 inch steel brackets or plastic shape that’s just not available at the
brackets. The typical wood-frame home uses corner hardware store. Other times,
the typical steel bracket is too heavy
FIGURE 2. Home Depot’s Maintenance Warehouse is the mail order arm and an aluminum version would be
of the gigantic Home Depot. perfect — only they don’t have many
brackets in aluminum. The solution:
Cut your own brackets out of metal
Most brackets have one or more
holes per “leg,” so start by drilling the
holes you’ll need to mount the bracket.
Remove any burrs or flash around the
drill holes. Once drilling is complete,
mark off the metal for cutting. An
electric chop saw makes this job easy,
but a hack saw and miter block can
also be used.
Be careful! By their nature, brackets
are small and dangerous to cut on an
electric saw without using some form of
clamp to hold them down. Clamp the
extrusion on both sides of the blade. A
small C clamp or spring-loaded clamp
should be sufficient. The idea is to use
the clamp and not your bare fingers to
hold the small bracket while it’s being
cut from the main piece. Cut off the
metal, not your fingers!
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Even More Hardware

Store Finds
Let’s take a virtual stroll down the
aisles of a well-stocked hardware store.
Here, you’ll find plenty of parts you can use
for your robot creations. It’s impossible to
list all of the goodies you’ll likely spot
and even less practical to discuss every
conceivable use, but here’s a sample list
to get your creative juices flowing:

• Rubber grommets protect wiring,

but also act as springy material for
whiskers, sensors, and linkages.

• Cable clips for wire and small piping

and tubing (e.g., aquarium tubing) are
useful for wiring containment, as well
as attaching parts (small motors,
sensors, etc.).

• In addition to electrical applications, FIGURE 3. Lowe’s home improvement stores offer a number of specialty parts
use large wire terminals for crimping in their hardware department.
cables for grippers and leg mechanisms.

• Springs have 1,001 uses, such as in

found in the electrical section to make a
very heavy duty frame for a larger bot.
touch sensors, bumpers, and even Ace Hardware
robot decoration. • Shower and patio door parts include
rollers (nylon, ball bearing) for use as This is an independently-owned
• Rubber and metal feet for small small casters and wheels. chain of hardware stores. In my experi-
furniture and appliances make ideal ence, a number of the Ace Hardware
walking pads for legged robots. • Weather stripping and rubber door stores I frequent have a number of
insulation are perfect for robot products not carried by the “Big Guys”
• Use metal conduit and EMT fittings bumpers. (Lowe’s and Home Depot), such as

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Robotics R esources
Lowe’s Companies, Inc.
Lowe’s is an alternative to Home
Depot with a selection of fasteners and
other hardware through retail stores and
online sales. Check the web page for a
store locator. Lowe’s has 600+ super-
stores in some 40 states. The site includes
a “how-to library” on home repair and
remodeling. I looked ... nothing about
building robots. Still, some of the articles
might be useful to learn about materials
and tools and the best way to use them.

Rockler Woodworking and

Rockler carries hand and power
woodworking tools, hardware, and
wood stock (including precut hardwood
plywoods). Among important hardware
items are medium-sized casters, drop-
front supports (possible use in bumpers
FIGURE 4. Use the store locator feature at the True Value website or joints in robots), and drawer slides.
to find a store near you.
Small Parts, Inc.
unusual fasteners and hardware. Don’t C & H sells motors, gears, pneumat-
overlook the small stores in your area ics, pumps, solenoids, relays, and lots of Small Parts stocks a variety of
for unique components for your odds and ends. Their catalog regularly components, including a large inventory
robots. Ace has store locations across contain dozens of quality surplus DC of fasteners.
America and in 70 other countries. (geared and non) and stepper motors.
Check the website for a store locator. True Value Company Corporation
American Science & Surplus True Value Company is the Now, you can go to the hardware corporate parent of a number of
Realizing that robot building is an store using only your computer. hardware stores, home improvement
important aspect of their business, is like the neigh- centers, and industrial supply outlets.
AS&S dedicates a special section to borhood hardware store, except it’s
robot parts. Find the Robot Parts link in open on Sunday. Their inventory includes • True Value — Major hardware store
the table of contents area of their plenty of brackets and other parts. chain in the US:
website and you’ll find the latest
offerings. When I last looked, they had Home Depot • Induserve Supply and Commercial
ball transfers (great for robot support Supplies — 210,000 items for small to
caster wheels), large heavy duty and Home Depot Maintenance large businesses: www.induserve.
wheels, pneumatic cylinders, roller Warehouse com and www.commercialsupplies.
chain, and more. com SV
Home Depot has a printed catalog
Aubuchon Hardware for maintenance and repair supplies — a big one — with lots of pictures,
Online and local Aubuchon stores illustrations, and specifications. It’s Gordon McComb is the author
dot the Northeast. The online catalog ideal for figuring out exactly what you of several best sellers. In addition,
boasts over 70,000 items. Products need for your bot. Depending on he operates a small manufacturing
include hand and power tools, fasteners, where you live, same day or next day company dedicated to low cost
hardware, plumbing, and electrical. shipping may be available to you; amateur robotics, www.budget
otherwise, you’ll wait two or three days He can be reached at
C & H Sales to get your stuff. Use the locator at the site to find a warehouse near you.
72 SERVO 12.2004
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Send us a high-res picture of your robot with a few

descriptive sentences and we'll make you famous.
Well, mostly.

Bot Builders Gear Up for the Second ROBOlympics

by Dave Calkins

In 2004, robot builders came from around the world

to San Francisco, CA to meet the Americans in the
first-ever Robot Olympics — ROBOlympics. From March
24-27, 2005, they’ll be returning to San Francisco State
University to compete again, with more robots from
more countries and more competitions. Will you be
joining them?
While robot competitions are held throughout the
world, competitions tend to be singular in nature, such
as Robot Soccer in Pittsburgh, PA or Fire Fighting in Los
Angeles, CA. ROBOlympics is a unique event, offering
robot builders a chance to meet their peers from across
the world and with many different styles of robotics.
Many builders outside of Japan have never seen Robo-
One before, but will be quickly inspired by the Asian
androids, much as they were when 11 contestants flew
in from Tokyo last year.
The goal is not to hold the biggest robot event Fire is always a big crowd pleaser.
ever. The goal is to get builders from all countries and
all fields of robotics to meet each other. In last year’s
competition, the Americans swept the combat robot
categories, while the Japanese took home all the
medals in the Robo-One events and the three-kilogram
sumo classes.
Robot Soccer — probably the most difficult of all
robot competitions — is a major part of ROBOlympics.
Last year, the top contenters — Korea and Japan — were
upset by Slovenia (the Cinderella surprise team). This
year, we’ve added Aibo soccer. If you can get four Aibos
together, you can play, too!
Of course, there is Robot Combat. Robots weighing
as much as 240 pounds cut, burn, turn over, and destroy
the other robots behind bullet-proof glass, while the
audience screams in both delight and fear.
Last year, the Americans swept the class; this
year, with several experienced teams from Europe, South
America, Australia, and Asia, we can’t take a sweep
for granted.
A clean sweep by the Robo-Ones!

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Ribbon Climbing — a new sport — involves solar-

powered robots climbing a thin ribbon as fast as possi-
ble. This competition is to help build interest in “The
Space Elevator” — a new concept that involves sending
things into space by a floating ribbon with an elevator
rather than via rockets.
Don’t laugh! It’s a viable concept. Jack Buffington
got a gold medal and a trip to Washington, DC to pres-
ent his robot to politicians, who are now considering
funding a space elevator platform, a concept only first
proven to be feasible at ROBOlympics 2004!
The Fire Fighting competition may sound exciting,
Combat robots too noisy Silver medal winner A-Do will but it also has an admirable goal: build a robot that will
for you? How about Robo-One make all the other Japanese turn itself on and put out a fire quickly. There are also
boxing for a change? androids jealous. line following robots, maze solving robots, and a host of
other categories.
Even the most famous robot in the world came in
2004: R2-D2. He’ll be back in 2005 to entertain both the
audience and the competitors, along with Stormtrooper
So, why let athletes have all the fun and get all the
glory — join us at ROBOlympics! The 2005 International
Unified ROBOlympics Competition includes all of
these exciting events, in addition to the established

Biped Race — This new event challenges competitors to

build robots that can walk.

Robot Triathlon — Robots compete in a three-stage race:

legs, wheels, and water.

The Line Slalom — Negotiate a 10-foot track without

losing your way.

Ribbon Climber — Climb a ribbon with autonomous

power supplies.

RoboMagellan — Remember the Grand Challenge?

Camp Peavy and his robot, Springy Thingee. Smaller scaled bots navigate across campus.

74 SERVO 03.2005
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Balancer Race — Two-wheeled balancing robots match

programming and balancing power.

Best of Show — Those bots that don’t fit into other class-
es get their chance to shine here!

BEAM — Hack a Robosapien or build a junkbot.

Exo-skeleton — Both lifting and carrying. Sound familiar?

Robo-One — The coolest androids ever. They box, stand

on their heads, and open doors!

Art Bots — A fusion of hard science and artistic beauty.

Four classes will amaze you.
Okay, all together now: “These aren’t the droids …”
Even if you can’t bring a robot, come to witness the
latest tech! See the website for full details: www.

P erform proportional speed, direction, and steering with

only two Radio/Control channels for vehicles using two
separate brush-type electric motors mounted right and left
with our mixing RDFR dual speed control. Used in many
successful competitive robots. Single joystick operation: up
goes straight ahead, down is reverse. Pure right or left twirls
He shakes, picks up cups, The Hurosot soccer vehicle as motors turn opposite directions. In between stick
and can turn on a dime. robots play autonomous positions completely proportional. Plugs in like a servo to
Johnny5 is alive! soccer!
your Futaba, JR, Hitec, or similar radio. Compatible with gyro
steering stabilization. Various volt and amp sizes available.
The RDFR47E 55V 75A per motor unit pictured above.
Order at
(888) 929-5055
SERVO 03.2005 75
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Zoë on the Atacama

How a Sliding Autonomous Rover Is Learning to Explore
New Worlds by First Exploring Our Own
by Ryan Lee Price

ccupying much of northern Chile, the arid Atacama Desert is such a harsh environment,

O rainfall is measured not in inches per year but in millimeters per decade. Here in the
oxidant-rich soils, microscopic organisms struggle for existence, gleaning what moisture
they can from an occasional fog and adapting to convert high levels of UV radiation into usable
sustenance. What sets this desert apart from any other in the world is that its characteristics are
very similar to that of Mars, and that makes it the perfect location for the astrobiologists from
Carnegie-Mellon University. Together with the support of several other universities in the US, the
team of scientists, along with an autonomous robot named Zoë (in Greek, it means “life”), may
better understand how life might survive on other planets by first exploring the limits of life here
on Earth. More importantly, they'll learn how best to detect and analyze life.

© 2005 Carnegie-Mellon University

76 SERVO 03.2005
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Scientists also plan to images of rocks and making

map the habitats of the hours-long spectroscopic
area, including its morphol- observations (as the Mars
ogy, geology, mineralogy, Exploration Rovers did)
texture, and physical and Zoë will test a novel life-
elemental properties of the detection strategy: Samples
rocks and soil. With this of rock and soil will be
information, they hope to sprayed with a series of
document how life modi- fluorescent dyes that light
fies to its environment, up in the presence of life’s
characterize the geo- and chemical building blocks. A
bio-signatures of microbial camera equipped with
organisms, and create special filters then would
scientific procedures on look for the glow associated
how best to discover life. with DNA, proteins, carbo-
“Our goal is to make hydrates, or lipids.
genuine discoveries about life and Called sliding autonomy, Zoë can Some organisms fluoresce naturally
habitats in the Atacama and to create smoothly adust from one method of while others can be made to do so
technologies and methods that can be control to another. For example, it can with special chemical dyes. These dyes
applied to future NASA missions,” said decide for itself how, when, and where are carefully engineered to fluoresce
David Wettergreen, an associate to perform a mission or function, but if once attached to specific organic mole-
research professor at Carnegie-Mellon’s it detects strange behaviors from its cules. The excitation and emission
Robotics Institute. He is leading the sensors or it decides the mission is wavelengths of these dyes can be
robotics research team on the “Life in impossible, it can send a help message made to vary and thus be distinguish-
the Atacama” project. and stop to await further instructions. able from one another. Zoë will be
Robotic astrobiology is an important Running on a bank of solar cells using four different dyes to identify
method used to study how life can that generate nearly 600 watts and proteins, lipids, carbohydrates, and
exist in such extreme environments. batteries that can store approximately DNA. It will be programmed to do spot
Because it is inconvenient, inefficient, 3,000 watt-hours, Zoë follows the sun checks of target sites, as well as inch-
or most times impossible for people to on its daily 1.5-mile missions around the by-inch surveys of a stretch of desert.
directly study these various environ- base camp in search of microorganisms. For this year, scientists will be standing
ments found in the Solar System and In order to identify even the slightest behind Zoë, spritzing the fluorescent
here on Earth, robots have been traces of life, Zoë is equipped with tools dyes onto rocks and soil for Zoë to
developed to collect the necessary borrowed from other technologies or check with its camera. Eventually, the
measurements instead. Such a robot is developed specifically for its mission. spritzers will be built into the rover.
Zoë, an aluminum-frame rover nearly Fluorescence occurs when a
nine feet long and weighing in at over Fluorescent Imager substance absorbs light of one wave-
400 lbs., capable of operating length and emits light of a longer
completely autonomous or via remote. Instead of taking microscopic-scale wavelength. At an atomic level, this

Opposite Page: Life on the Atacama

Desert is harsh and desolate for
man and machine.

Top: Because of the distance factor,

Zoë had to be built at the camp.

Right: At the top of its mast is

the majority of the sensors and
landscape cameras.

SERVO 03.2005 77
Zoe.qxd 2/2/2005 1:52 PM Page 78

phenomenon occurs when an soil. Stored in the underbelly, the

electron absorbs the energy from plow will be lowered to the ground
an incoming light photon and and held in place while the robot
jumps to a higher energy state. drives forward, thus digging a
Since this excited state is unstable, small trench. The fluorescence
the electron will eventually return imager and spectrometer would
to its natural state, and in doing so, then be used to examine the newly
release energy as heat and light. exposed surfaces.
The emitted light has a longer
wavelength, lower frequency, and Visible/Near
less energy because some of the
energy is released as heat. Infrared
The fluorescent imager provides
Though obvious to us, detecting organisms
visible and fluorescent images of
such as this is still difficult for Zoë
targets underneath the rover, in an in real-life conditions. Zoë will be equipped with a
approximately 8 x 6 cm area. The visual/near-infrared spectrometer
images are used to identify life by activated, a normal reference image is tuned to detect chlorophyll or the con-
detecting naturally fluorescent organ- captured with the unfiltered camera. version of light energy into chemical
isms, primarily chlorophyll, but possibly However, using only a single color of energy that can be used by biological
others, such as carotenoids. LED and capturing from one of the systems.
The bottom of the electronics filtered cameras provides a fluorescent A spectrometer works by analyzing
box is a Fresnel lens, on which are image. Changing the LED color and the light reflected from a sample, and
mounted red, green, and blue LEDs, filter allows detection of different fluo- it was discovered that the reflected
which are all focused on a central area rescent signals, but the signal of greatest light contains a great deal of informa-
underneath the imager. A hole is cut interest is chlorophyll (the molecule in tion about the atoms contained within
in the center of the lens, and three plants and bacteria that performs a sample. Just like everyone has a
inexpensive off-the-shelf RGB web- photosynthesis), which returns a strong unique fingerprint, each atom has
cams sensitive to light from 400,950 red fluorescent signal under blue particular wavelengths of light that it
nm are pointed down through the illumination and the 700/75 filter. reflects, called its emission spectrum,
hole. One camera is unfiltered; the and a complimentary set of wave-
other two have a 665 longpass and a Plow lengths that it absorbs, called its
700/75 bandpass filter, respectively. absorption spectrum. By spreading the
The main rover processor can switch Since some organisms may not be reflected light out into a spectrum —
the LEDs and control image capture living on the surface, Zoë will be much like a prism creates a rainbow —
from the three cameras. equipped with a simple plow-like device to the spectrometer can measure the
When all three LED colors are flip over rocks and expose subsurface intensities of light at different parts of

Above: The plow scrapes away the

top soil before closer examination of
possible subterranean life.

Left: Back at Carnegie-Mellon, Zoë

has its solar panels removed for

78 SERVO 03.2005
Zoe.qxd 2/2/2005 1:56 PM Page 79

the spectrum and thus detect what larger than 50 cm. Their coloration
atoms are present. Zoë's spectrom- varies widely, from rare bright
eter will only look at visible yellow and orange specimens to
and near-infrared light, which more common greens and grays.
constitutes only a small portion of
the entire light spectrum. In The Future of Zoë
increasing frequency and energy,
the forms of light include radio Carnegie-Mellon's operations
waves, microwave, infrared, visible, for Zoë will be based at Salar
ultraviolet, x-rays, and gamma rays. Grande, a salt flat near the city of
Antofagasta, near the west coast.
Location Sensors “It's quite barren,” Wettergreen
said. “It's not like the Sahara
On the low-tech side of Zoë, Cameras not only capture real images, but Desert, where you have shifting
it is able to observe common they provide a host of environmental data. sands. There's really just soil and
weather occurrences and detect rock. It is sort of reddish in color,
various levels of sunlight to support of view of 21.1 degrees, corresponding so I guess in some regards it may be
research on the habitat of any to a footprint of about one square Mars-like. Actually, when the light is
organisms found. It is able to measure meter when pointed at the ground good, early in the morning and in the
temperature, pressure, humidity, wind, nearby. In selecting the camera design evening, it’s quite beautiful there — but
insolation and UVA/UVB light. before the first Atacama expedition, it is profoundly empty.”
the main driver was the project’s tight Zoë is by no means the first CMU
Panoramic Imager tight schedule, which forced the team robot to travel in the desert. Two other
to borrow as much as possible from an robots — Hyperion and Nomad — have
The stereo panoramic imager existing design, in this case the Pancam helped make a robot like Zoë possible.
cameras provide high-resolution developed for the Mars Exploration Besides validating the concept of a sun-
images and allow three-dimensional Rovers (MER). tracking robot, Hyperion served as a
reconstruction of the landscape to be The most visible and accessible testbed for technologies that are used
used to plan local traverses and scientific signs of life was in the coastal range on Zoë, while Nomad was originally
operations by the rover. The cameras area of the Atacama where lichens designed to search for meteorites in
are mounted on a pan-tilt unit atop a were present on the surface of rocks. Antarctica. The technologies used on
2.5-meter mast near the front of Their presence or absence varied. In these projects raised the bar for
the robot, allowing them to view some areas, they were found on nearly autonomous, long-distance traverses.
approximately 180 degrees in front of every rock, but in others, they were Will Zoë ever see the horizons of a dis-
Zoë. Each camera returns a 1,280 x completely absent. Individual lichens tant planet? Probably not, but a distant
960 color image, with a horizontal field are small, rarely covering an area cousin of Zoë most certainly will. SV

Above: The conditions aren’t ideal, but team members

Daniel Villa and Stuart Heys make the best of it.

Right: Zoë can traverse most any obstacle in the

Atacama Desert autonomously, and if not, it’s
programmed to find a way around what is
blocking its path.

SERVO 03.2005 79
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So You Want to Build Robots?

by Dan Danknick
t’s always funny to see world, by far the most com-
I how people react to the
unexpected. The other day, I
mon is the soft programmed
variety. For this, you’ll need to
was talking to a few of my learn some sort of computer
coworkers about a robot proj- language that corresponds to
ect that was just entering the the CPU in the bot, your
design stage. A principal development tools, and your
scientist from a different budget. Many people
department walked over and incorrectly think that faster
gestured to us, remarking, computing makes for better
“So, these are the roboti- robots. The truth is that cleverly
cists!” Everyone looked at thought-out abstractions and
each other in bewilderment, algorithms make for good
and with nervous laughs, we robots. Don’t be fooled into
replied: “I’m just a physicist.” a fealty for a particular
“I’m a special effects engi- language or CPU. Your goal
neer.” “Me too!” But the should be to develop the skills
unavoidable truth, as just to solve problems with the
revealed, was that 10 years of computing lump at hand.
robot building — machining,
welding, wiring, programming — had SciFi authors and Ph.D. candidates.) Material Science
transformed all three of us into some- It’s probably safe to also say that
thing different: roboticists — one of the robots have three main functional I can’t stress the importance of
hot job titles of the next two decades. parts: a sensor, a processing unit, and learning about materials nearly
I receive four or five emails every an effector. The sensor reads some enough. What makes a piece of steel
month from students who are parameter of the world — sound, light, hard? What makes it tough? When
wondering how they can become the presence of an obstacle, depth, or should you ditch steel and use
roboticists. But before I can answer speed. The central processing unit aluminum or even wood? The best way
that question, a more fundamental uses those measured parameters in a to learn about materials is to work
discussion of exactly what constitutes a formula (or algorithm) to create an with them and develop an intuitive
robot must ensue. Everyone has a output that then affects change in the knowledge for selecting and designing
different idea, and scores of USENET world by moving, diving, making a with them. This weekend, go to
flame wars have been devoted to this sound, or blinking a light. Each of the your local home improvement store,
(apparently) perplexing question. three parts requires certain disciplines get some raw materials, and build
In 1979, the Robot Institute of of study in order to develop a good something. Then break it. You’ll learn a
America wrote a definition that working knowledge to, well, let you lot from the process.
included a core requirement for a robot work with them. I’ll cover a few that
that most people miss, that of are less obvious, yet important to the Electronics
reprogrammability. If a machine is journey.
programmable, that program should You can’t know too much about
be alterable in order to qualify it for Software analog and digital circuit design and
robotic status. (Note, that this also operation. It’s true that, today, there
opens up the possibility of self-repro- Although there are mechanically are more off-the-shelf parts available to
gramming robots, a favorite topic of (hard) programmed robots in the wire up robots than ever before. Just
80 SERVO 03.2005
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Because the art of building a robot is so diversified, On the other side of the spectrum, knowledge
skills and knowledge of a wide range of fields is of hardware, software, and electronics are all
necessary, such as working with metal and plastics. a hefty requirement.

because you can un-box and plug it in, don’t gloss over those features! in your knowledge.
however, is no reason against at least One of the projects I am working
understanding the principles by which Failure Analysis on right now relies on human/robot
it works. If you go back through older interaction. By the time it is done, all of
issues of SERVO and read the questions This is a powerful topic that many my machining and welding skill may be
that Mr. Roboto fields, you’ll see that people don’t see the need for. Heck, overshadowed by what I learned in a
many of his answers start by teaching who expects their robot to fail? How human factors class: This robot may
the theory behind various electronic you analyze a failure and craft a solu- work best if the operator is simply
devices. tion is, in many ways, the summation allowed to learn to work with it.
of many of these disciplines. If a sensor In the early days of computers,
Fastening system isn’t working, should you fix the there were no software engineers.
mechanical mount, tune the electronics, There were chemists, physicists, and
I know this looks a bit out of place, or write a software filter for the data? mathematicians who used this new
but it isn’t. Learning how to bolt, weld, It’s not unusual for the answer to computing invention as a tool to get
or cast things into existence is a real encompass a bit of each, but you their work done. The more programs
core of robotics, especially if you won’t know that unless you really they wrote, the more they discovered,
expect those creations to have any sort understand the nature of the problem. and the more they helped the technol-
of lifetime in the real world. It’s If you’re a student about to ogy develop. One field of study
staggering to discover all of the ways embark on a future of robotics, the spawned a new one. So don’t be
we’ve come up with to attach material world is wide open to you. Take every surprised the day someone points
X to material Y. The pages of SERVO class you can, find mentors who know toward you and says, “Hey, let’s ask the
are rich with information on this, so more than you, and strive for diversity roboticist!” SV

Advertiser Index
All Electronics Corp. ............................19 Lynxmotion, Inc. ...................................45 Robotics Group, Inc..............................57
Cleveland Institute of Electronics .......11 Net Media ...............................................2 Robotic Trends .....................................17
CrustCrawler .........................................13 NUBOTICS .............................................19 Smithy .....................................................19
Custom Computer Services, Inc. ..........9 Parallax, Inc. ...........................Back Cover Solutions Cubed....................................69
Hitec ......................................................29 PCB123/PCBexpress ...............................3 Sozbots..................................................62
Hobby Engineering ..............................16 PCB Fab Express ...................................54 Technological Arts ...............................71
Jameco ..................................................83 Pololu Robotics & Electronics .............27 Vantec ...................................................75
Lemon Studios .....................................33 ROBOlympics .......................................63 Zagros Robotics ...................................19

SERVO 03.2005 81
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Yesterday’s Technology Points Us Toward Tomorrow
by Tom Carroll

M any of us who are old enough to remember the EICO

and Heathkit electronics kits may remember the day that
Heathkit brought out the first robot kit — the Hero 1. I was
part of the newly-formed Southern California Robotics
Society back in 1978 (later re-named the Robotics Society of
Southern California) and were meeting in the Norwalk, CA
city library when a member mentioned that he had heard
about Heath mulling over a kit-built robot. A few years
passed until 1981, when we had a representative from Heath
give a presentation of the Hero 1 at our meeting. It was an
instant hit with the members. The Hero (Heath Educational
RObot) was in full production the next year.
Based on the Motorola 6808 microprocessor, it was an
ideal teaching tool for many aspects of electronics. It had a
“massive” four K of RAM and eight K of ROM that contained
the “robot monitor” — a good preparation for the PIC and
similar microcontrollers with tiny memories that were to
come years later. The robot also had a flimsy and strangely
configured arm with a gripper that was surprisingly adept at
many object-manipulating tasks.
Hero also had an ultrasonic motion and range detector,
sound and light sensors, a 17-key Hex keypad to enter pro-
grams, and an experimenter’s board all on its head, which (remember HAL in 2001?) and could play a few games, avoid
could rotate almost 360°. A nice feature was its ability to obstacles, and seek out people with its sensors.
speak to people who were programming or interacting with The most sophisticated Hero was the Hero 2000, a
it. It could even download and store programs on its cassette 78-pound, 33-inch-high, well-designed machine with a 16-bit
tape drive. Unlike the more popular differential “tank drives” 8088 master microprocessor and 11 eight-bit peripheral
on most experimental robots today, Hero used two fixed processors, 64 K of Basic ROM, 24 K of RAM (expandable to
wheels and a maneuverable front drive wheel. Weighing in 576 K) and an optional six-axis arm that had real capabilities.
at 39 pounds with its four six-volt gel cell batteries and stand- The Hero 2000 also had a remote RF-linked console that
ing 20 inches high, it also came with a charger and teach served as a program input device or a basic controller and an
pendant. It could drive you nuts when it frequently broke automatic docking/charging capability. The arm could be
down, but could also purchased separately as a training device, as could a very nice
entertain and teach you “Robotics and Industrial Electronics” course that came in two
for hours and hours. three-inch-thick notebooks. I still have this course material
With the success of and refer to it.
the original Hero 1, Considering that these robots were designed over a
Heath came out with a quarter of a century ago, their capabilities are still amazing
stripped-down version to this day. Sadly, Heathkit Educational Systems and all
called Hero, Jr. It had no of Heath was dissolved in the mid 90s and another
arm and no moving Michigan company — Mobile Ed Productions — took over the
upper torso and was rights and the few robots and parts left for their teaching.
more of a security device The fantastic educational challenge aside, people just did not
and alarm clock that want to build complex electronic equipment from kits when
roamed about the they could buy them assembled for much less. If any of
house. It had 32 K of you readers still have any of these robots, I suggest that
ROM that stored a few you hang onto them. They were the first “crown jewels” of
songs, such as “Daisy” experimental robotics. SV
82 SERVO 03.2005
CoverInside.qxd 2/7/2005 4:19 PM Page 2

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