HOW TO FUND YOUR ROBOT
If you are reading this, you probably have accepted the fact that you cannot
build an entire robot with just parts lieing around your house. And if you
haven't accepted that fact yet, this page can probably help you live your
fantasy slightly longer. I will be talking about the many ways you can get
parts for your robot by spending as little as possible.
First thing to remember, you get what you pay for. So if you are not willing to
pay much, you cannot get the latest and greatest. You must settle for less,
take shortcuts, and be a little more patient and innovative.
Yeap I mean exactly that. Find a dumpster and jump right in. Serious.
People throw away some pretty cool stuff. One man's trash is another man's
robot. Just about anything electronic, although as a whole may not work any longer,
has millions of useful parts. Those old 3.5" floppy drives? They have
stepper motors and gears in them. Old computer cases? Great for a metal chassis.
Not to mention the thousands of LED's, resistors, pots, and gears with all
You may have to search a little for that particular
resistor value, or perhaps combine a few big capacitors you find to get
the value you want, but most of it is all there. Just go behind a big
apartment and search through. Hackers dumpster dive. They usually look
for old harddrives that people like you through away with your passwords
still on it. Wanna be like Neo? Take the red dumpster. Cough. A great place/time
to dumpster dive is at university dorms and apartments at the end of the school
year. Students are moving and can't take everything with them, so they
throw the rest away. You can probably furnish an entire apartment with the stuff
you can find during that time. Side note: wear protective clothing . . .
Beg Like a Hobo
Serious again. Call up friends/family and ask them for old electronics they
no longer use, but have not yet thrown away. Go to GoodWill and buy stuff
super cheap. Go down to junkyards and ask if you can search through it for scrap.
Old cars have billions of high powered electronics in them.
Yeap, companies are itching to give stuff away for free. Basically if you
work at a company, and are working on a prototype, parts manufacturer companies want you to
sample their parts in an effort to convince you to use them again for mass production.
But I seriously doubt this is your case. But hey, why not apply for free samples,
have them shipped to your 'company,' and tell them it is for a 'prototype' robot.
Obviously this system can be abused, ruining it for everyone, so I won't
tell you which companies are good victims. But it is usually the manufacturer of the part.
Electronics manufacturers are the best, because it costs so little to make parts.
You can usually apply for the samples right off of their website. If not, call.
Make Your Own Parts
If you can make your own part, you can save a lot of money . . . in exchange for
reduced reliability and increased frustration. Many circuit schematics are available
online. Take out your saw and make your own wheels. Whatever works. Custom made parts
are also more rewarding too . . . if they work. Duct tape, anyone? This site is basically
dedicated to teaching you how to make your own parts, so no more details needed here.
Now for people with too much pride . . .
There are other more 'respectable' ways to get robot parts, but it generally
requires a lot more work.
Apply for Grants
If you are a university student, your university probably has research grants
being offered. Ask your proffesors about them. My university called me a
'regular customer' of their research grant program. Generally you will have to
write a several page grant proposal, consisting of your reasoning to make your robot.
This means your robot has to have some useful function to society. Basically
state your design, how you will go about doing it, how it benefits society,
and how you are going to dessiminate the knowledge (tell everyone about it).
Most grants have specific purposes, like to help the disabled, or to improve
a process through better automation or something.
Generally applying for grants
limits you on what kind of robot you can build. Your robot basically has to cure cancer,
not look cool and smash other robots. You will probably also have to give
presentations and write essays/scientific papers. But hey, writing an essay about
your robot is much more fun then writing about the 7th president of the US like
you did for class. Who cares anyway? There are generally about 3x more grants
for minorities and women too. So if you are not a white male, you have more opportunities. But if you
are a whitey like me, learn to speak english with a spanish accent . . . I speaka engalish. Look
into the minority groups around your area and ask them about grants. To sum it up,
if you want to be a robotics engineer or research scientist in the future,
taking the grant approach is really good experience. Hey, it got me my current job =)
Apply for Corporate Donations
Not a university student, write like George Bush,
and afraid of territorial homeless guarding their dumpster? Well you have one more option.
Basically this entails calling up dozens of companies, and asking them to donate
or loan one of their products.
But don't expect to get something 100% for free. Expect to earn it.
If you are
lucky, they have lotsa money to give away for donation tax breaks.
A collegue of mine
once got $20k from a well known ketchup company to build a robot for a competition
with no strings attached. But I wouldnt count on it happening to you. So basically call
them up, say hey I got this neat idea, I need this particular product, and
this is how it will benefit you and your company. That last part is very important.
You need to convince the company they will increase their profits if they give you
a part. Battlebots get a lot of donations because they advertise on national TV. Most
big competitions are great for advertising to like minded engineers. So tell them
you would put their company logo really big on your robot. They might possibly
have a newer version prototype and would love to have a slave beta tester. If possible, ask them for
parts that they have in stock and are not selling very fast. Tell them its for your
highschool team's education. Convince them that it is for a good cause and it will improve
their corporate image. Also be persistent. Keep calling back if they do not give you
a definitive answer. Call different divisions within the company too. They consider
that dedication that you will follow through with your plan.
Win Money In Robot Competitions
Compete in a robot competition where they have cash prizes. Usually the prize will
only be enough to pay back about 50% of your costs, but it helps, does it not?
This is a great way for beginners to stock up on parts for future robots. You can reuse
the parts in the future. After awhile you can build robots without paying a cent.
I once scrapped 5 of my old robots for parts, built a new robot in only 2 weeks, did
not pay a penny for anything, and won $300 from the competition. Yeap, rent wasn't an
issue that month . . .
Aware of my $200 robot competition, yet?
Join a Local Robotics Club
I cannot stress this much more. Best place to get 'connections,' ever. Any equipment you
need they will loan to you. Any odd part they are not using they will let you have. In return
you do the same for other members. A win-win situation. More experienced members will also
teach you how to improvise to reduce robot costs and the time you spend making one. Just google
search '[hometown here] robotics club/society.' You can probably find someone to split the
costs of making your first robot with, too.