Hi! I'm new 'bout these parts. I really did look at the FAQ and Tutorials first for my answers, so please don't beat me up. :-(
I am a computer programmer by trade. I have always been interested in Robotics, and now that I am older and financially able to throw money into it, I want to learn more about making robots.
That said, my main interest is really in the coding. I want to be able to make robots that folow commands, learn, etc. I know it's a challange. That part, I can handle (it's my job after all). So, I can deal with the programming aspects.
What I lack is a platform. You know - an array of sensors, wheels, actuators, those types of things
Now, I know I need to walk before I can run. I am willing to invest the time to learn the basic of robots and make ones that follow lines and bounce off walls before I make Lt. Commander Data. :-P (kidding).
However, I do not have a degree in either electrical or mechanical engineering, and I am hoping to not need one. I do want to understand as much as I need to so that I can work with the forces which my computer has to drive, and talk intelligerntly about it, etc. However, I am hoping to not get 3 PhD's in to do it since I am really only interested in knowing enough about it to make the coding understandable and sensible.
I have played around with Lego's Mindstorm - but honestly, I am going to need a microprocessor MUCH more complicated then that! Making feedback circuits which detect light/dark and activate the appropraite servo to follow the line is great... but I am not sure if it will help my ultimate goal which is more along the lines of having a PC make intelligent decisions rather then a capacitance circuit making low level switching. I am thinking more along the lines of an R2-D2 sized droid complete with a PC inside of it (I have a decent scrapped motherboard and screen for the brain). So, while I find things like the BASIC stamp interesting, I am not sure they are REALLY going to put me in the direction I want to go.
Given all this... how much DO i need to know? Am I going to have to learn all about circuit desiigns and force calculations, capacitance, etc, etc, etc - many things that might my brain hurt - just so I can grasp the basics of building a robot platform that I can start programming on?
All I really want is a nice base with servos, motors, and sensors, a place I can mount my computer on and an interface that I can use to control all those sensors and motors.
I would even pay for pre-built ones if they existed.
Given all this.... where should I start? At the beginning making a $50 robot, or is all that not really in the scope of what I need to know, and is there a more direct route to what I am looking for?
Thanks for the advise!