Rocket Brand Studios Tadpole (Let's Make Robots Version)


Introduction: Rocket Brand Studios Tadpole (Let's Make Robots Version)

Let's Make Robots is the biggest robot hobbyist website in the world and I am proud to be an Elder Member there. From the beginning, LMR has featured the "Start Here" robot, featuring very simple assembly and basic operation. It has been a great platform for many budding robot folks to get started in the robot building world.

Here at Rocket Brand Studios, we took this basic "Start Here" concept and modified our already popular Tadpole kit to be a bit more like the original Start Here Robot. This is a great beginner's platform and able to teach you all the basic parts and concepts of a hobby robot. These lessons, once learned, will translate easily to bigger robots and more complex robots in the future.

This Instructable:
This Instructable is for the assembly of the Let's Make Robots Start Here Tadpole. If you are building the Tadpole or the Tadpole Educational kit, you should be using the instructions found here.  As we go along, I will mention when different accessories can be added, but  will not get into too much detail. If you would like additional information on each accessory, please visit its product page at Rocket Brand Studios.

**It should be noted:  The Tadpole is constantly being improved. You may notice slight variations between the photos here and the parts you have. Don't get too stuck on this and I promise nothing will be confusing.

Step 1: Getting Started

If you take a look at the pictures included with this step, this is more-or-less what you should have gotten.
  • Plexiglass
  • Motors
  • Battery Pack
  • Breadboard
  • Roller thing
  • O-rings
  • Bag of screws and stuff
  • Micro Magician brain
  • Servo
  • Sensor
Also make note of the pack of hardware. If you look at the picture and read along, it goes like this (clockwise from upper left)
  • 15mm brass standoffs and M3 screws (the short fat ones)
  • 2-56 nuts
  • Tail roller kit (in its own bag and with its own screws)
  • Motor clips (included with the motor hardware) ***Note*** Don't mix these up with other screws! They are metric!
  • 2-56 x 7/16 screws (if a specific screw is not specified in the instructions, use one of these)
  • 2-56 x 1/4 flat-head (these are the only flat-head screws in the pack and are for the battery)

What you will need for assembly:
  • One small Phillips head screwdriver
  • Maybe some tweezers or needle-nose pliers might be nice (but you don't really need them)

What is that smell?

Yup, you smelled that huh? Yes, the acrylic (Plexiglass) used in the chassis of these robots has a distinctive smell coming out of the laser cutter (you should smell it when its fresh!). Its just kinda a "plastic-y" smell. There is very good news though: The vast majority of that funky goodness is in the paper backing of the plexi, not the plexiglass itself. Unwrap your pieces and throw the paper backing away outside. The smell will go with it, I promise.

Step 2: Assembly 1

So let's get started for real this time.

Take out all your plexi and go ahead and unwrap it. Feel free to unwrap as you get to each step or unwrap it all now. There is no good way of doing it, just get your fingernail under an edge and just peel it back. I would shy away from an X-acto knife or the like, unless you are really really careful.

Step 3: Assembly 2

We will start nuts-and-bolts assembly with the bottom plate. 

Start by taking a quick peek at the pictures included with this step and be sure you have the plate itself the right-way-up (it is not reversible). We will be installing the battery pack and as you can see, the wires will go through the hole in the plate allowing the battery pack itself to sit flat against the chassis. 

Go ahead and install the battery pack with the (2) 2-56 x 1/4" flat head screws and a couple nuts. They will be the shortest and the only flat-head in the pack. (Your tadpole may use the two outside holes of the battery pack.)

Tail roller:
The tail roller and screws comes in its own baggie however, we will need one or two of the plexiglass spacers. If you are doing a color Tadpole, use one of the spacers. If you are doing an educational kit with clear plexi, use both spacers. The (2) 2-56 x 1/2" screws go through the tail roller, through the spacer(s) and then through the chassis. The roller should end up on the same side as the battery pack. Tighten it down with the (2) nuts.

Step 4: Assembly 3


Cool, lets do motors. In one bag are your two motors and two baggies of parts. In one of these baggies are the (4) bent-clips, (8) screws and the pointy screws we will use to mount the wheels eventually. Be sure not to mix these screws up with the rest of the chassis hardware! The screws included with your motors are metric.

We will mount the clips to the motors as shown in the pictures. We need to make a right and a left, and to make it more complicated, one clip goes "forward" and the other "back". I could sit here and try to describe this all day, but really, just look at the pictures. Go ahead and tighten the (4) clips to the mounting ears of the motors.

You may now take the other (4) metric screws and get them started in the bent clips attached to the motors. Just thread them in (just a bit) so they remain attached to the motor clips, but still have the head of the screw exposed and are "hanging down". --Note the picture. 

If you look at your chassis plate, you will see there are slotted screw holes for the motor screws. These slots end in a "keyhole". Simply take your "motor assembly" --the motor, clips and screws hanging down, and simply slip the screw heads through these "keyholes". Now, slide the motor slightly to the outside, straighten the motor so it is parallel with the chassis and tighten it down.

Try to get the screws sorta centered in the slots and tighten them down. You may later want to loosen them just a bit so you can fudge the motors straight. The best way to do this is to "eyeball" the bottom edge of the servo against the large center hole of the chassis. These two edges should be parallel. --In one of the photos, I am pointing to this area with a small screwdriver.

Step 5: Assembly 4

Whew. Done with motors --You know, I always seem to make two rights or two lefts...

On to easy stuff:
Install the (4) 15mm standoffs. What more can I say? Make it look like the picture.

Step 6: Assembly 5


***Update!!   January 1, 2013 ******

I had a couple customers request slightly easier wheels to assemble. I took this request and created a new system. It is about 1000% easier and faster as well.

New super-simple Wheel Assembly


You may now slip on the (2) O-rings onto your wheels. You may also slip your wheels on your robot. Go ahead and install the center screw as well. Be very gentle with this screw --You just need it snug.

***My tires seem like they are going to fall off!
No problem, this is fairly common and easy to fix. First, don't "roll" your o-rings on to the wheels, you will put a "1/2 twist" into the o-ring and it will always be trying to "roll back off" --you need to gently stretch them onto the wheels. If you are still having issues, simply loosen the (2) screws that hold the 3 wheel discs together. Do this while the o-rings are still on the wheel. This will allow the o-ring to "seat" a bit deeper into the center groove and sit more securely to the center disc. --Loosen the screws, smush the o-ring down into the center groove, and tighten the screws. It will never come off again.

Step 7:

Hey, hey...   ...Top plate stuff.

We'll start easy with the breadboard plate. Find it, and your little black breadboard. The breadboard is self-stick so just peel off the back and stick it down. It should be noted that these things stick like green-on-grass and you will not get it back up once it is stuck.

You only have one chance at this, Skippy...   ...Don't screw it up.

Top Plate:
Ok, the top plate is not reversible so take a moment and glance at the pictures to figure out which way is up.  You can go ahead and mount the breadboard (on its plate) to the chassis now using (4) 2-56 x 7/16 screws. 

Mount the servo and sensor:
If you look in the baggie that your sensor comes in, you will find the screws needed to mount the servo. You will use (2) 2-56 x 7/16 screws and (2) 2-56 nuts. There is nothing really tricky here, just be sure the the shaft of the servo is closest to the front of the robot. 

You may also mount the sensor to the servo horn. Also included with the servo is a baggie of horns and screws. We will need the (2) longer pointy screws (with washer heads) from this bag. We also need the "double straight" horn. --There are two horns like this, you need the one without the extra "ears" attached (the simple one). On the back of your sensor you will find a printed outline where this servo horn goes. Stick it there and attach it with the (2) pointy screws. See pictures.

Pre-Mount your Brains:
We need to install the little stand-offs that we will later use to mount our micro controller board. You will notice there are more holes that you actually need. This is so one kit will fit many different boards. The easiest way to figure out which holes to use, is to simply hold your board to the chassis and simply see which holes line up. That's it!

If you are using a Mini Driver or Micro Magician board, hardware has been included. Install your hardware now.

Mount the top plate:
You can grab all your stray wires now (motor wires, sensor wires, encoder wires, battery wires) and feed them through the large hole in the top plate toward the tail of the robot. You can now keep a wee bit of tension on these wires as you slide the top plate down into place. Snug it down with the last (4) M3 screws.

Step 8: Assembly 7

Lets get stuff plugged in.

..and it goes a little something like this...
  • (2) pairs of motor wires go to the end of the board, opposite the end with the USB connection. NOTE!! Do not mix these up with the wires coming from the battery!
  • Sensor wires --The 4-wire ribbon cable should be plugged into the sensor starting with Brown going to "gnd" the the following wires connected in succession (Brown --> gnd     Red --> +  Yellow --> S   Orange --> Dout)
  • The other end of this 4-wire cable goes to your Micro M board. We are plugging into A3 (Analog pin 3) with brown to the outside, red in the middle and yellow to the inside. The remaining orange wire connects to digital pin 13
  • The servo gets plugged into digital pin 9, brown to the outside, orange to the inside
  • Finally, we connect the red wire from the battery to "Vin" and the black wire to "gnd" at the 4-pin connection next to the switch. Note: There will be 2 pins unused between these two wires.
Study the pictures below and get everything plugged in. --Carefully! Getting things connected wrong here can lead to damaged parts.

Step 9: Done!

Woo Hoo! Done with Assembly!

So what do I do now?

Well, you need to install the Arduino software, the MicroM library and then hop into the tutorials. Conveniently, all the information you may need is in one place. At this point, I would proceed to the link below. There, you will find example code, getting started stuff and tutorials to get you from a blinking LED to an autonomous robot.

                                                                                       Tutorials Main Page




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    Please be positive and constructive.




    OK, This is a statement of opinion and should not be taken as reprisentative of anything else.

    I do see Mr Kiteman's point, though I suspect it was worded a little harshly. However, there ARE several parts that would have to be bought specifically for this project, and "Oh Look! I can get them all in the same box from one person". I haven't checked the costings but I'll bet there's a cost benefit from buying the kit as opposed to buying the parts separately, especially when you consider that you also get some nicely laser cut chassis parts and other hardware. It seems to be nicely designed and well thought out...

    Mr Carpenter sir?
    An awful lot of your kit is fairly standard material and it would be more in keeping with the whole instructables open source ethos to offer some suggestions for alternative off the shelf parts and diy advice, as well as some ideas for upgrades and improvements. I have to say, I'd rather see instructions like this than the Picasso sketches that fall out of the ikea box.

    I do think LMR is cool, I recommended it to another user just the other day

    I think frizel hangs out on here from time to time and there ARE several versions of the "Start Here" robot, already on instructables. Perhaps Chris the Carpenter would consider a link to some of those in the introduction as inspiration for those who can't or won't buy the whole kit. Maybe you'd also consider offering an "Export" version, by which I mean a variant of the kit with the more common parts removed to reduce postage for international orders? I do rather resent having to pay postage on a handful of screws which I could buy down the road for less than the postage on the kit, especially when I probably have the right screws in my "Stuff" anyway.

    Mr Carpenter, you are doing good things, and you have some very creative design solutions. The finished project does look awesome, thank you for sharing it.

    So, to follow your instructable, we have to buy your kit first?

    That's kind of spammy, isn't it?

    Or have you included a parts list and cutting template somewhere I haven't spotted yet?

    5 replies

    Its a wee bit later now and I have sorta "sat" on your comment for a bit now. Everything I said in my previous response still stands, but I have to admit, the fact that you called me a "spammer" is starting to grate on me a bit. I don't think you bothered to give anything the benefit of the doubt and I think it was a bit impolite. I think I might even be a little offended.

    In response, I offer you a free kit. If you would like a kit, I would be happy to send you one, I will cover the cost of the kit as well as the shipping. Send me an email, DM, IM, or PM with your address and color choice and I will get one out the following day. (This is not a joke, I am not being sarcastic, if you want a kit, its yours)

    Can I have a kit too, I promise not write something mean. By the way, well put together instructable for a novice to put it together.

    You know what, sleeping? You got it. If you really want to get into this stuff and you are hurting for cash, I am happy to send you one. Just show it to kids and tell them that being a nerd is cool, huh? --Shoot me a PM with your address, I'll get one out quick as can be for you.

    I use to be a teacher and still teach alot of students at work. I do it because someone also taught me once. You put alot of work putting this instructable together. I appreciate that I can learn from it. If anyone says something differently. I would say, don't listen to them. Thanks for the offer. I would take advantage of it, but I would feel guilty.

    Wow, I think you might be looking at this a bit backward. For those who have purchased a kit, these would be the instructions they would use for assembly. These instructions have not be "imposed" on you in any way and yes, there are folks in the world who sell things for a living and use resources like Instructables as a convenient way to post instructions. Based on the fact that Instructables has featured many of my other kits, I think this is pretty far from spam.

    Now, all my stuff is Creative Commons and I use what I call a JAN license. "Just ask nicely"... If you would like access to any or all of my design files or parts lists you are more than welcome and I will be happy to send them to you, however this kit uses very specific parts from very specific suppliers and I guarantee one will spend twice the price of the kit if they were to try to source their own parts.

    I encourage you to use your Freedom as a consumer to vote with your dollars. If you feel my actions are spammy, simply refrain from buying a kit.

    @kiteman-with all due respect, There are plenty of instructables specific to products made by one manufacturer-how many "Repair your iPod" or "How to re-machine the tailpipe on a Harley Fatboy" tutorials are there? Are they spammy? Would they be more or less so if Apple or Harley put them out? Probably less, right? If you want, I'm certain you can buy the Tadpole Assembled (though that would defeat the purpose it was created for) but these instructions make it easier to DiY. RocketBrand has an INCREDIBLE pro-bono record, by the way.

    1 reply

    Because, for those, step one isn't "go and buy this product in which I have a vested interest".