Introduction: Robotics Guide

About: I am an engineer and a maker who loves technology challenges.

We maybe aren’t aware, but robotics is one among many sciences, that are most important in today’s world development. For everyone who is interesting in it is very important to know its concept, history, terms, etc. Low prices of developing tools have brought us opportunity to develop robots in our basements, garages and workshops. Educational institutions took this opportunity and started a series of robotics competitions.

I started with robotics in middle school and in high school I was also part of organization comities on local competition. What was bothering me was so little knowledge from robotics among contestants. So let me try to present some of this knowledge to those who lacks it.

In this instructable I will write down short history of robotics and describe basics of different types of robots. I am aiming to the younger generations – those who have much to learn.

Step 1: History of Robotics

Before we go to deep, let me define what a robot is. This is one of many definitions:

Robot is a reprogrammable, multifunctional manipulator designed to move material, parts, tools, or specialized devices through various programmed motions for the performance of a variety of tasks.

Robot Institute of America, 1979

First mention of word robot reaches to year 1921. Karel Čapek used the word within his drama, called RUR. He was not the one who came out with it and he was not willing to used it, but creator of the word, his brother Josef convinced him so. However, word robot existed in such or different shape in eastern Slavic languages and it was a synonym for hard physical work.

Word robot caught on and the next artist that used it was Isaac Asimov, American writer of Russian nationality, in his collection of short stories, called I, Robot. Asimov set three laws of robotics in I, Robot that are considered as fundamentals in understanding and developing robots till today (above all for humanoid robots). Although discussions run about reasonableness of Asimov’s laws, we must mention them:

0. A robot may not harm humanity, or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.

1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.

Technology development brought us first computer, transistor, computer chip and the first robotic arm. First robot arm was developed in Japan, but was made in US by UNIMATE in 1962. Development of robots went on in next decades, but first humanoid robot followed in 1973 by Waseda University, Tokio, called Wabot-1.

Today we can see and even make robots of all shapes and sizes – from small robot finding a path through labyrinth or following a line to colossal industrial robot arms, intelligent humanoid robots and even robotic vehicles.

Step 2: Robots Categories

Different sources define categories of robots differently. However common to every categorization are those categories: the industrial robots, humanoid robots and turtle robots. Still there are others categories that are not able to qualify to any of those three categories. Robotics vehicles are one such category. Robotics vehicles already conquered land, air and water and were never more used than now. Agricultural and building robots deserve their own category since usage of robots in those two fields has skyrocket. One large category, military robots, is single largest category but because of usage of them to harm people or other robots, military robots are in conflict of robotics laws and will not be presented in this instructable.

Step 3: Humanoid Robots

Most people know robots only by this category (you ask them what is a robot and most of the time you get description of humanoid robot). Robot is a humanoid robot when it meets this definition:

Humanoid robot is the robot that was deisigned to mimic behavior of human and looks like one.

Long story short, humanoid robots is a robot, that have a torso with legs, arms and hands and it moves like a human does. Subcategory is android, which are more like human and less like a machine.

There is not much to tell about this category since it is one category where most of the research is done and it is hardest in terms of developing it in your garage.

Nevertheless I can present some of the most sophisticated humanoid robots that world has developed. Those are presented with pictures above and videos bellow.





Step 4: Industrial Robots

On many occasions we name industrial robots with robot arms or robotic manipulators. Most of us have already been in contact with this category. Small robot arms – toys, are available on market and building a DIY robot arm was never easier.

Robotic manipulator can carry out many different tasks, like welding, painting, grinding, handling, etc. Every job has its special needs so all manipulators do not share the same construction. Manipulators constructions are derived from mathematical space models (coordinate systems) and types of joints. There are two main types of joint: rotational joint and translational joint. Constructions are divided into types as follows: Cartesian, polar, cylindrical, SKARA, articulated and delta (parallel) manipulators. Most widespread construction is articulated manipulator, mainly because it can operate as a human arm and can replicate movement of every other type. It is also the most recognizable robot manipulator.

Some would thing that robot manipulators can have very high resolution and they would be wrong. CNC machines that have resolution in rank of few microns can be made in garages and robot manipulators have resolution around few millimeters. We must know that industrial robots are not meant for machining materials. Manipulator’s biggest advantage is repeatability of movements up to few microns accuracy every time.

Beside robot manipulators there is another subcategory – logistical robots. They belong here because we are using them mostly for assistant in production and in storages. Robot transport carts and warehouse robots (Cartesian robots) are most common logistical robots.

Step 5: Turtle Robots

Name of this category is not the best and it has many variations, but I think this one is more suitable. Robots that fit this category are mainly devoted to education. Many subcategories where developed. Here are some of those categories:

- The Turtle: developed around the idea of programming environment LOGO, that was meant for learning programming skills within 80s and 90s; it is a programmable robot on wheels of smaller dimensions that is most often equipped with obstacle sensor; we know them also as obstacle avoiding robots

- Line Follower: robot, that follows a black line on a white surface; this is a wheeled robot of smaller dimension and it is equipped with color detector (simple light sensor)

- The Mouse: does the same as white mouse in laboratory – it is finding a way out from a labyrinth; more complex robot on wheels and of smaller dimensions; it is equipped with distance sensors, mostly ultrasonic, IR or mechanical

- The Sumo: is fighter robot; its task is to push other robot from battle surface; it is a smaller robot on wheels; it is fully autonomous and independent

- The Battle ‘Bot: big brother of the Sumo robot; it is not fully autonomous (driver controls it via wireless controller); Battle ‘Bot’s size ranges from few 100 g to several kg beast; goal of battle is to disable opponents robot using a variety of weapons, like flippers, spinners, flame throwers, etc.

We could add some other robots to those listed above, like wheeled robot football (soccer) players. Main thing in common for robots listed above is that they are all on wheels.

Step 6: Where to Start?

This is only short introduction into the world of robotics. Now is necessary for you to expand knowledge from robotics by you own and be aware that robotics is extremely hard and it will take time and great effort to learn much of robotics.

For beginners the right path is to start with turtle robots. Their developing is simple and much about the topic is available online. I suggest these robots to start with: