Author Topic: How much electrical and mechanical engineering do I need?  (Read 1475 times)

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Offline LiniasTopic starter

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How much electrical and mechanical engineering do I need?
« on: August 14, 2009, 02:17:42 PM »
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!

Offline Weird Fishes

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Re: How much electrical and mechanical engineering do I need?
« Reply #1 on: August 14, 2009, 03:18:17 PM »
The iRobot create may be a good starting point. It has a fully driving base all incorporated into it so you can get it and start coding right away. You could also attach things to it, like servos, PC's, etc. to advance your robot.

Robotics isn't something that you learn all at once and then jump in to. You don't need to know everything (or pretty much anything if you look at the $50 robot) and you learn stuff as you go. Take that create as an example. When you program it, you can get it to do a bunch of cool stuff, but it is limited, because it is really only a base. This leads to the necessity of advancing it. So you get an idea, and build an "extension". Now you need some sort of actuator (a motor or servo or whatever). So you do some research. blah blah blah. 1 month later you've mastered the servo's. Essentially, I think this is how most robot hobbyists function. (and to some extent, professional robotic engineers).

Hopefully that'll help, and if you get anything out of this, it should be that you need to take baby steps and once you jump in those will present themselves. It's just a matter of constantly having ideas that are just beyond your current abilities.  

Offline LiniasTopic starter

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Re: How much electrical and mechanical engineering do I need?
« Reply #2 on: August 14, 2009, 04:58:37 PM »
I never saw that iCreate before.  I had heard that the Roomba could be hacked when it was released, but I didn't know they made it into a full serviceable base.

I like that idea to at least get me started! I will look into that further.  Thank you very much for the information!


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